Developing states hit out at US zero tariff plan

Developing countries on Monday rejected a US call at world trade talks to abolish tariffs on industrial and consumer goods by 2015, saying it would hurt poorer states.

While almost unanimously applauding the United States for setting ambitious targets for World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks, most developing countries said they could not afford to go along with the plan.

A number of countries, including India and Pakistan, said that import duties were too important for state finances to be abandoned altogether, while others spoke of the continuing need to give their industries some protection from outside competition.

”We are not able to accompany you in this high level of ambition,” said Malaysia’s representative at the Geneva talks. ”We need to give appropriate tariff protection to our industry,” he added.

Members of the WTO are holding two days of talks on liberalising commerce in non-agricultural goods, part of the Doha round of free trade talks launched in the Qatari capital 13 months ago.

The United States, which first announced its zero tariff plan in Washington last week, says its vision of a ”tariff-free world” would put billions of dollars into the pockets of consumers around the world.

The scheme calls for duties to be dismantled in two steps, with the first being the elimination of all tariffs currently below five percent and the capping of all others at eight percent by 2010.

”The… proposal aims to provide a shot in the arm to the Doha agenda’s goal of opening markets and promoting economic development and prosperity around the world,” US ambassador Linnet Deily said.

Washington says the plan could benefit developing countries particularly because industrial goods make up 89% of their total exports.

But many developing states said it was unrealistic to think that all the WTO’s 144 member states could do away with tariffs.

”We need to be realistic and not idealistic,” said Pakistan’s representative. ”We will not be able to reach zero tariffs in our life-time,” he added.

Some other developing countries that are also big exporters of farm goods, like Uruguay, expressed disappointment that the United States had not been as ambitious in setting targets for negotiations on agricultural trade.

Washington, which like the European Union gives huge financial support to its farmers, has called for sharp cuts in such programmes but not their elimination. – Reuters

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