12/17/2005, 00.00
HONG KONG - VATICAN - WTO
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WTO: Holy See paper on "common good", aid to poor countries

The paper was distributed at the conference yesterday. It recalls the WTO aims, summed up in the holistic development of all. Aid to poor countries is upheld as a matter of interest for all.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/UCAN) – "Trade liberalization is not to be enthroned as an end in itself but as a means for achieving ultimate objectives such as the integral development of each and every person, along with the reduction of poverty." This is the thrust of a five-page document by the Holy See entitled "Reflections on the Occasion of the VI Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO)", distributed during the meeting.

A Vatican delegation is present at the WTO meeting in Hong Kong, made of up five members who hold observer status. The group is led by Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi. His intervention at the conference to formally voice the concerns of the Holy See is slated for today.

The document says the summit offers "an occasion to pursue the common good of the entire human family". "Common good" covers whatever "belongs to everyone and to each person", which "is and remains 'common' because it is indivisible and because only together is it possible to attain it, increase it and safeguard its effectiveness, with regard also to the future." In fact, "at the core of all social and economic relations, and hence of trade relations, is found the human person, with dignity and inalienable human rights".

Thus, "international trade rules should be aligned with a wider commitment to human development and to the lifting of living standards of the poor". The document augurs that the WTO will be able to guarantee to all countries, especially underdeveloped ones, equal opportunities for participation in and contribution to trade agreements and defence of their rights.

The document tackles specific development themes as well as those related to agricultural and non agricultural markets, which have been at the heart of talks and conflict in Hong Kong. The concern for the development of poor countries is central, although not as some kind of compensation by right, but within a framework of solidarity and means which allows reciprocal advantages.

The document recalls what was established in the 2001 Doha summit, to reiterate that the "development" of all should be the thread running through the negotiations. Noting the different economic and social standings of states, one must keep in mind "the priority in sectors like food, health, education, work safeguarding the environment and others", not least through aid from industrialized countries to less developed ones, especially in the sectors of food and assistance for technical development.

The agricultural sector is held to be a "key sector of developing countries and has the potential to lift millions of the world's poorest out of destitution". The document denounces current high import tariffs which hinder production in developing countries, but also acknowledges the difficulties in reaching liberalization because developing countries would no longer be able to offer competitive prices on many agricultural products.

The document highlights the necessity of granting less developed countries preferential access to all trade sectors, with tax exemption quotas. This should be together with an initiative by rich countries to support the development of the organizational and services sector, so as to "enable them to transform their economy, today agricultural".

"Export subsidies in developed countries" to support domestic products distort trade of agricultural products, keeping prices on the global market artificially low. This "threatens the food security and the livelihood" of many countries which depend on agricultural exports for more than half their export earnings. "Recent studies have demonstrated that the removal of protection and support in the cotton sector could increase Africa's cotton exports by 13%," said the document.

The document also criticizes the current system of food aid, which although necessary, should be considered only as an emergency provision, which should tend towards enabling the poor state to become self-sufficient.

Even in the non-agricultural market sector, a balance must be struck between access opportunities for industrialized countries' products and the danger that these more competitive products will suffocate fledgling industries in poor states. "In accordance with the duty of solidarity among WTO Member States, developed countries especially should promote the transfer of technology and knowledge to the weak economies in order to increase their competitiveness." This could take place only with "gradual liberalization".

The services sector is also decisive in furthering the development of poor countries; this must come about in a way that avoids exploitation of local labour and damage to the environment.

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