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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