While disagreeing on what caused the recent trade talks in Cancun to collapse and how to revitalize them, major trade negotiators at a Second Committee (Economic and Financial) panel discussion on Friday afternoon concurred that trade was the best tool for enabling nations to achieve the millennium anti-poverty targets and implement the Monterrey Consensus.
Clodoaldo Hugueney, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Technological Affairs of Brazil’s Ministry of External Relations, said agricultural trade alone would produce benefits of $400 billion by 2015, much more than those promised by official development assistance (ODA) and private resource transfers. Fair policies governing cotton trade could go a long way in helping many developing nations, particularly in Africa, whose economies depended on cotton exports. Many who had posted enormous economic losses due to falling international prices for cotton were seeking redress from dispute mechanisms.
Pascal Lamy, European Union Commissioner for Trade, said trade facilitation was the key to development. While the European Union supported multilateral negotiations and viewed them as efficient and fair, they could not be “sponsored” only by one or two players. The failure of the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Cancun was not an accidental collision, but a deep-seated problem based on several factors. They included the lacklustre support in the United States Congress and that country’s public of the trade round. Opposing views of cotton trade policy, the general fatigue over globalization’s constant pressures and challenges, particularly concerning trade liberalization, as well as inefficiencies and doubts over the WTO’s legitimacy had resulted in Cancun’s failure.
Since then, the European Union had been rethinking its position, consulting European insiders and checking the intentions of third countries, Mr. Lamy said. It was also holding talks with Parliament, Member States, non-governmental organizations and the business community to gear up for the December meeting of the General Council.
Mr. Hugueney agreed that the multilateral talks must be revived. However, they must be well-prepared and should leave open no more than three or four points of discussion in order to give trade ministers sufficient time to make concrete decisions. Moreover, the position of the “Group of 20” nations, which included Brazil, India, China and others, reflected its understanding of differing interests in agricultural trade among all its members. The United States and European Union must also have an open mind and be inclusive, he said, adding that it was within the power of rich nations to eliminate subsidies, so that small countries did not suffer from trade liberalization.
Special trade preferences or differential treatment for agricultural and textile products had not been in the best interests of developing nations, he added. Instead, agriculture and textile trade policy must be an integral part of trade development rules. Everyone needed to reflect on what happened in Cancun. However, there must be positive signals before 15 December and a road map for the next trade round.
During the ensuing question-and-answer period, which was chaired by Second Committee Chairman Iftekhar Chowdhury (Bangladesh), a delegate asked whether the WTO development round was frozen. Mr. Lamy said perhaps it was. Cancun had been a big shock, at least for Europe, and the issues being negotiated there were now being studied very seriously. The European Union’s position –- on the Singapore issues, agriculture or cotton -- would depend on what was supported by the majority of its members.
In response to another question, Mr. Lamy said the development round was not only about special trade preferences, but also about tariff escalation, an issue the Europeans were willing to forcefully address. Nor was it only about North-South issues, he added, but also focused largely on South-South trade.
Roberto Bissio, Instituto del Tercer Mundo, said trade liberalization was good for some nations and bad for others, and that negotiations tried to reach a balance, so that all could win. For developing countries, winning would mean eliminating agricultural subsidies, taking the Singapore issues off the table, and protection for commodity prices.
However, major players in the global trading system resisted such measures, he said, and the most ambitious dreams of developing countries in Cancun went unrealized. Some 90 countries in Cancun had opposed the Singapore issues, but their stance went unnoticed, and was not included in the text. Someone said WTO procedures were medieval, and if so, perhaps they should be changed.
Responding to Mr. Bissio, Mr. Lamy said the WTO was about negotiations and about trade, and the practice of give-and-take made it a win-win game. He agreed that the WTO was a medieval organization that needed updating, but no one was willing to tackle that problem. It was difficult enough moving on the Doha Agenda, without rocking the boat by attempting to change the organization.