Tuesday, August 21, 2007

WTO conference fails to yield results

from the Herald

THE 6th World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference failed to yield any meaningful results for a straight second day during intense deliberations here yesterday as the United States offered African cotton farmers cosmetic duty-free access to its markets, providing the only glimmer of hope.

The move, however, was given a lukewarm welcome by the African cotton growing countries and the European Union, and immediately dismissed as "an empty promise" by stakeholders.

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Industry and International Trade Cde Obert Mpofu immediately took a swipe at the intransigence displayed by US and EU in the trade negotiations, as US Trade Representative Mr Rob Portman said progress towards an overall trade liberalisation pact was unlikely in Hong Kong.

Cde Mpofu spoke as World Bank vice president for poverty reduction and economic management Mr Danny Leipziger blamed double standards of developed countries majors — US and the EU — for the floundering discussions saying urgent action was needed if the Doha Development Round of trade talks was to deliver on its promise for the world’s poor.

"So far, there has been too much talk about development and too little action. The major trading economies of the developed world are keeping the big issues off the table and as long as that happens, the poor will suffer; they will not get the chance they need to earn more from selling their goods on world markets.

"Discussing farm subsidies and protection for certain crops and industries may be uncomfortable for many of the countries represented here in Hong Kong. But their discomfort is nothing compared to the suffering of hundreds of millions of people who live on less than US$1 a day.

We have to create opportunities for those desperately poor people. Trade is the engine of growth and hope for them. The trade talks can deliver that but so far they have disappointed," Mr Leipziger concluded.

"If we don’t make all the progress we’d hoped for in Hong Kong, and I’m afraid we won’t, I feel strongly we would set a date (for a new meeting) before we leave here," he added.

Yesterday, Mr Portman said Washington was prepared to allow West African nations duty-free access to its cotton market.

"The United States is willing, under the duty-free, quota-free commitments we will make, to provide duty-free access to cotton for West African countries," he said at a Press conference.

The move by the US would be part of a package of measures aimed at helping the world’s poorest countries that is under discussion here.

Later in the day, the group of least developed countries within the WTO represented by South Africa, Brazil, India, Zimbabwe and Argentina, warned there was likely to be a "hardening of positions unless developed countries begin to offer tangible concessions."

African cotton producers have already warned they would refuse to endorse any consensus that might emerge in Hong Kong if rich countries failed to commit themselves to reducing official cotton subsidies.

Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the summit, Cde Mpofu said developing countries were being short-changed by the global trading system, and the current talks here were falling far short of fixing the core problems.

He said Zimbabwe and its counterparts were under heavy pressure from developed countries which wanted them to open up their markets for Western industrial goods through tariff reductions.

"Developing countries want policy space so that their industrialisation policies are not compromised through to precipitate tariff reductions. The West’s domestic markets are saturated and productivity is at an all-time high. Some among the advanced developing countries, Brazil and India, have offered to reduce some of their tariffs in exchange for the opening up of the developed countries agriculture markets.

"On the whole, the developing countries are together in resisting the demand to open their industrial goods markets. Many derive a lot of revenue from import tariffs," said the Cde Mpofu. He said Zimba-bwe would want to protect her nascent industries by keeping within the developing country groups which do not wish to be bullied into foregoing their own industrialisation.

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