Poorest countries seek re-launch of WTO talks

The “news(link to BBC news report)”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3688259.stm from the meeting of trade ministers of the “least-developed countries”:http://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/whatis_e/tif_e/org7_e.htm in Dakar (Senegal) is that the group wants to see the Doha negotiations re-engage as soon as possible. But their willingness to make procedural concessions on the organization of talks doesn’t, unfortunately, add up to much progress on the substance of issues such as access to markets or the elimination of export subsidies by Europe. The trade ministers say that, to get things moving, they are prepared to allow one of their sharpest demands at Cancún—the resolution of the dispute over US domestic subsidies on cotton—to be addressed on the same timetable as other issues, including ‘trade facilitation’. bq. “We remain open and flexible to ways and approaches likely to resolve the various aspects of this issue and we expect, from the concerned countries, concrete proposals to resolve urgently the problems raised,” the declaration said. (Reuters via “Forbes”:http://www.forbes.com/home/newswire/2004/05/05/rtr1360860.html) It’s a sad irony, of course, that this group that helped pull down the September 2003 meeting of WTO in Cancún, Mexico now realizes that they are among the biggest losers if the WTO makes no progress on eliminating agricultural subsidies or on better access to markets for products such as garments and services (remittances from temporary labour abroad are among their biggest sources of foreign exchange). Trade facilitation is the least controversial of the four ‘Singapore issues’ that were the final stumbling bloc to agreement at the September 2003 meeting of WTO in Cancún, Mexico. Slowly, the developing countries that objected to the negotiations are beginning to understand that not only should it be top priority for their own economic management, but WTO agreements may be of some help in complementing their own efforts. “Here’s(link to WTO website)”:http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news04_e/gc_ddg_stat_29apr04_e.htm a report on the gradual thaw taking place on the issue from one of the WTO’s Deputy Directors General. In a typically oleaginous statement, Pascal Lamy, the EU’s soon-to-retire Trade Commissioner addressed the meeting: bq. “My presence here is a sign of friendship and commitment to dialogue with you and to move forward”, said Pascal Lamy, European Union Trade Commissioner.(“BBC news”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3688259.stm) Lamy hinted that the recent London “meeting(link to subscription page on the Financial Times site)”:http://search.ft.com/search/article.html?id=040430000965&query=london+zoellick&vsc_appId=totalSearch&state=Form had made progress on the (somehwat ambitious) plan to relaunch the negotiations by July. But since he’s sitll playing with words when it comes to the topic of eliminating EU agricultural subsidies, his hints deserve the scepticism that the poorest countries at Dakar must, surely, have felt.

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