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Manufacturers, Exporters, Wholesalers - Global trade starts here.

Bo: Offer Tangible Benefits to Poor Countries

Rich countries should open up their markets and do more to help the poorest and most vulnerable people in the developing world, Chinese Minister of Commerce Bo Xilai said on Wednesday at the plenary session of the Sixth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong.

He called on developed nations to provide the poorest nations with immediate duty-free and quota-free market access, and urged that developing countries be given special treatment when they open their markets.

"If the theme of development is all slogan with no substantive content, the world will be disillusioned about the Doha Round," Bo said.

It is the first time that China has sent such a strong message to negotiators from developed nations since it joined the multilateral trade body in 2001.

Using trade to promote development is a priority for the current round of WTO negotiations, launched in 2001 in Doha, Qatar.

At the core of the talks is agriculture, which is critical for developing countries to access global markets. But expectations of an agreement have been scaled down with developed countries failing to offer enough.

"We should have some 'early harvest' for developing countries in the form of visible and tangible benefits to boost their confidence in the Doha negotiations," Bo said.

"If rural populations which are already in poverty are exposed to more serious negative impact, disasters could be triggered. Developed countries wouldn't be free of trouble, either."

Bo said the Doha round should achieve a balanced agreement to benefit both developing and developed economies.

While the United States spends around US$20 billion and the European Union more than US$80 billion every year on agricultural support for their fewer than 100 million farmers, most of the 2.5 billion farmers in developing countries are living in poverty.

Even if developing countries are keen to, and are sincere, about pushing forward trade liberalization, they have to consider the basic livelihood of hundreds of millions of poor farmers, Bo said.

He also said it is not reasonable to treat some large developing countries differently from the rest of the group. Nations such as China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Egypt and South Africa are facing great pressure in development and feeding a majority of the world's population, he added.

Despite China's rise as a trading power, it still has 740 million farmers and 200 million people living on less than US$1 a day.

China has already opened its markets as per its WTO commitments, Bo said.

Its average tariffs on agricultural imports have dropped from 54 percent to 15 percent, and on industrial imports, from 42.9 percent to 9 percent. "To cut tariffs on such a big scale within such a short time is a huge task," Bo said.

China agreed with a US proposal to scrap all export support by 2010, but a clear timetable is needed, he said.

As China is the biggest victim of the abuse of anti-dumping measures and rising "new protectionism" in some developed countries, Bo called for greater transparency in the world trading system and an amendment to global regulations regarding anti-dumping actions.

Bo also noted that the value of China's import volume is expected to reach US$600 billion in 2005, compared to US$561.4 billion in 2004.

(China Daily December 15, 2005)


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