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Manufacturers, Exporters, Wholesalers - Global trade starts here.

Substantive Progress Urged in WTO Talks

China looks to the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks to achieve substantive progress as the Hong Kong meeting is approaching.


"China firmly supports the WTO talks on the Doha Development Agenda, hoping the upcoming Hong Kong meeting will achieve substantive progress," said Zhang Xiangchen, director of the Department for WTO Affairs under the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM).


China hopes this round of talks will end by 2006 as scheduled and that the Hong Kong meeting will get "early harvest" in areas where the members have reached broad consensus, Zhang said.


The sixth WTO's ministerial meeting, the international organization's top decision-making body, is scheduled from Dec. 13 to 18 in Hong Kong.


The Doha Development Agenda was kicked off as a new round of talks to liberalize trade in November 2001 during a WTO members' meeting in the Qatari capital, Doha.


The original aim of the Doha Round was to conclude a treaty by Jan. 1, 2005, but now the members hope to make it by the end of 2006.


An impasse over farm trade is believed to be the crux of the Doha Round talks, according to analysts.


Developing countries want developed countries, including European Union, the United States and Japan to cut down their farm subsidies and import tariffs.


However, the latter are unwilling to do so in the excuse that their governments are faced with great pressure from domestic agricultural organizations.


Meanwhile, the developed countries demand the developing ones to cut tariff on manufactured goods and to open up service sectors to wider international competition.


In early November, the WTO Director General Pascal Lamy proposed a readjustment of vested goals, essentially a tune-down, for the upcoming WTO's ministerial conference because progress at the moment was insufficient to produce a package that could comprehensively address all major issues in the Doha Round.


Is it a time that the 148 members of WTO have to take a cold-eyed perspective at what can realistically be achieved in Hong Kong?


The MOFCOM official Zhang acknowledged it as pragmatic to set a lower expectation for the Hong Kong session, however he encouraged the WTO members to keep their ambition in promoting the Doha-Round negotiations.


"All members try to consolidate what they have achieved in previous talks, and at the same time, press forward in a step-by-step manner." said Cheng Guoqiang, researcher with the Development Research Center of the State Council.


Yet no one will put the cards on the table until the last minute, he noted.


According to an analysis released by the World Bank, if the Doha round negotiations can meet its goals, the total returns on global trade is likely to increase by US$300 billion.


It is estimated that of the 8 trillion US dollars world trade volume, only a small portion of 700 billion were on agricultural products with high tariff rates. But there is great potential for increasing returns through a cut of tariffs.


At present, the world average tariff rate levied on agricultural products is 62%. The rate is even set at 700% to 900% for some products in certain members such as rice in Japan.


China's average rate of tariffs stays at 15.3%, a comparatively low level. Only four members adopted lower rates than China.


According to sources with the Ministry of Commerce, China supports to urge the developed countries to substantially reduce all kinds of domestic support that distort the global trade and to call off their export subsidies in various forms before 2010.


"Fundamental corrections should be made to change the long-distorted international trade on agricultural produce. Those exerting high tariffs and subsidies ought to do more to this end," said an official with the MOFCOM, who declined to be named.


For the participating members to the Doha round talks, their difference is actually not only confined to agricultural issues. Gap remains in addressing non-agricultural problems, service trade and relevant rules.


Cheng Guoqiang characterized the Doha round talks and other multi-lateral trade talks as "step-by-step".


He said, "when the time is right, success is sure to come. Only with full preparations to address all possible technical problems and with the political will from all involved parties can the talks achieve its goal."


Even if the Hong Kong meeting fails to be a breakthrough, it can solidify what has been achieved in the past and facilitate talks in the future, Cheng said.


(Xinhua News Agency December 11, 2005)

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