12/16/2005, 00.00
Send to a friend

Few hopes for an overall trade agreement at WTO meeting

Developed and developing countries are still retrenched behind their respective positions. This is favouring bilateral or regional accords. India and China demand a greater say in how world trade is run arguing this is "the century of Asia".

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Fears are growing that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting might end without any agreement because of a stand-off in agriculture. India and China are in the meantime demanding a greater say in how world trade is run; the European Union and the United States seem however less inclined to make any concessions.

The EU has refused so far to set a date for ending its subsidies to farmers and is only willing to reduce import tariffs on agricultural products by 46 per cent unless other countries open their industrial and services markets.

This has led South African Trade and Industry Minister Mandisi Mphahlwa to complain that the EU's proposal is meant only to favour Europe.

The US is willing to give up import tariffs on African textiles but has resisted demands to cut   the US billions a year it pays out in aid to US cotton farmers.

African governments have objected to the US proposal saying that it was an "empty gesture" since tariffs are only at 2 per cent; domestic subsidies are the real problem. They have argued that the pay-outs drive down world prices leaving farmers in Africa unable to compete.

Many observers note that the WTO's had the great ambition of opening domestic markets to increase trade in goods and ideas. It might however only mean that richer countries will make some concessions to the poorest countries such as tax-free access to certain goods.

In this context, India and China want to play a greater role on the world scene.

"They (the US and the EU) [. . .] are not competitive. You can't try being artificially competitive and thrust your subsidies down our throats," said Kamal Nath, Indian Trade Minister.

"This is the century of Asia," he stressed. "We must recognize that the mass of development, the mass of people, the mass of consumers are all in Asia. That is the changing economic architecture of the future."

China's Trade Minister, Bo Xilai, made a stinging attack against developed countries for failing to do enough to advance the Doha round of negotiations.

He said that of the world's 2.6 billion farmers, 2.5 billion were in the developing countries and most of them were living in poverty.

Even if developing countries are sincere and determined to promote trade liberalisation, they must look after the basic livelihood of their own farmers, whose numbers range from tens of millions for some nations to hundreds of millions for others, he said.

For the first time since joining the WTO in 2001, Beijing is asserting itself on such issues. But, China's situation is different from other populous and rapidly developing nations such as Brazil, India, Mexico and South Africa.

In China, there is a great gap between the 740 million farmers and the affluent residents of the towns and cities on China's eastern coastline.

"China has a lot more faith in bilateral deals rather than binding themselves to all these multilateral deals," said Enzio Von Pfeil, the chairman of Hong Kong-based Commercial Economics Asia.

China has put most of its effort into negotiating bilateral or regional free trade deals.

In November, it concluded its first bilateral free trade deal when it agreed with Chile to cut almost all tariffs in their two-way trade to zero within 10 years beginning July 1 next year.

The Chinese government was offering special preferential tariff rates to about 30 least developing countries next year, Finance Minister Jin Renqing said.

China will also apply zero import tariff rates to 'early harvest' products made by the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as of 2006.

Anti-WTO protests in Hong Kong continue in the meantime. Increasingly however, they have become a stop on sightseeing tours with tourists gawking at the protesters. (PB)

Send to a friend
Printable version
See also
More migrants drown off Yemen’s coast
11/08/2017 20:05
Rich and poor countries wrangling over respective trade barriers
Worldwide job losses could reach 51 million in 2009
WTO: Holy See paper on "common good", aid to poor countries
Global trade agreement collapses as US, India and China trade accusations


Subscribe to Asia News updates or change your preferences

Subscribe now
“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”