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WTO Talks Must Continue Despite Disputes

At the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference 2004, trade ministers from China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines explained their countries’ policies at a specially scheduled meeting.


Despite the failure at Cancun last year and existing difficulties at multilateral negotiations, all six trade ministers praised the system for the genuine progress made in multilateral trade liberalization.


“The multilateral trading system embodied in the WTO is certainly not perfect, but it has provided predictability and consistency in the world’s trading rules,” said Cesar V. Purisima, the Philippines’ secretary of trade and industry.


New Zealand Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton said that failure at Cancun served no one’s interests.


“Do not see Cancun as a rejection of trade liberalization,” he said. “Finding the balances to allow all 148 members to agree to a successful outcome was always going to pressure the Doha Round’s three-year time frame.”


Japan’s Senior Vice Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Goji Sakamoto believes that the WTO will continue to function at the center of the multilateral trading system.


Japan sees the Doha Round as crucial to bringing all countries, developed and developing alike, together for hand-in-hand growth, Sakamoto said. He suggested flexibly balancing aspirations and reality, focusing on growth for the developing economies and emphasizing the need for a comprehensive package.


Sakamoto said that Japan heartily supports reaching an agreement on a framework for agricultural and non-agricultural products by the end of July.


But, he said, “In agriculture, we need to facilitate diverse agricultural interdependence, promote agrarian reform and achieve balance between the demands of the exporting countries and those of importing countries such as Japan.”


Mark Vaile, the trade minister from Australia, said that the most intractable problems in global trade, especially agricultural subsidies, need resolution through multilateral channels with all key players acting together to remove distortions.


Yu Guangzhou, China’s vice commerce minister, urged cutting the subsidies, domestic support and high tariffs in the farming sector from the WTO talks. He also asked the developed countries to shoulder the responsibility in opening the market while giving more consideration to developing nations.


New Zealand’s Jim Sutton said that regional and bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) can serve as building blocks rather than stumbling blocks for the multilateral process.


Mark Vaile believes that closer economic integration, including FTAs, may deliver gains more quickly than the WTO in some areas.


“Such integration can be an important complement to the multilateral system,” he said.


Korean Trade Minister Hwang Doo-yun focused on Asian economic cooperation, especially the growing worldwide trend toward regionalism.


“WTO has been a powerful vehicle in promoting greater openness in the multilateral trading system. However, the brief history of WTO has also coincided with the period of strongest growth in regional trading arrangements.”


He pointed out that each time the multilateral liberalization efforts stalled, a stronger rise in regionalism followed.


The trade ministers unanimously expressed their confidence in future talks.


“I have faith that the WTO Doha round of trade negotiations will still come to successful conclusion.” Vaile stated that the world cannot afford to let slip by the opportunity to reform the global trading system, particularly agriculture.


The Doha round of WTO trade negotiations is due to conclude by January 1, 2005.


(China.org.cn by staff reporter Tang Fuchun, April 25, 2004)

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2004 Boao Forum for Asia
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