More work ahead, says trade minister

South Africa is concerned and disappointed that trade ministers from across the world were unable to reach a “definite and concrete” outcome at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in Cancun, Minister Trade and Industry Alec Erwin said on Monday.

He said, however, the Group of 20+ indicated there was a possibility that developing countries could attain meaningful outcomes in the areas of market access, domestic support and export competition in agriculture, while understanding the concerns of food security and rural development, and those of least developing countries.

The Group of 20+ includes Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, India, China and Nigeria.

“For the first time in the WTO, the developing world, united not on ideological grounds but on key and well-articulated interests, acted in concert to advance its developmental agenda.”

He said this unity marked a new chapter and a new dynamic in WTO negotiations and this could be decisive in advancing negotiations to address the basic structural fault line in the global economy that obstructs development and growth.

Erwin headed the South African delegation attending the fifth ministerial WTO conference in Cancun, Mexico.

“The concerted effort of developing countries led by the G20+ ensured that we were able to secure some positive shifts from the [European Union] and [United States] in these key areas of agricultural trade.

“Obviously, maintaining the ambitions of Doha on these areas was continuously emphasised as an important element that should not be lost sight of. We are therefore of the view that we were able to enter some serious dialogue on these and other important issues of the Doha round,” he said.

“It is necessary to keep in mind that this round should continueto be a developmental round.”

He said the complexity of the agenda therefore required some understanding and appreciation that developing countries have tried their best at creating a level playing field and trade environment that would expand opportunities for their economic development.

“When they insist on the removal of subsidies that distort trade it is because they want equity that will make their integration in the multilateral system of trade meaningful,” he said.

He said what emerged very clearly from the experience of Cancun was that a large and complex agenda needed detailed and intense ministerial-level contact for advancement.

Erwin said Africa made detailed proposals on this but the balance made it difficult to make progress in such a short time.

“In agriculture the Group of 20+ was able to marshal considerable political and technical resources and was able to engage with the EU and US in detail and in a very professional and constructive manner. This process resulted in progress.”

“On the critical and complex issues of agriculture, some important advances have been made. These would form the basis for future work in the areas of domestic support, market access and export subsidies.

“We had a prospect for ensuring substantial reductions in domestic support, including tightening rules on the kind of support industrial countries can provide to its uncompetitive farm sector including the possibility of moving towards eliminating export subsidies,” he said.

Erwin said this was essential to creating a level playing field that would allow farmers in developing countries to produce and export to world markets in a manner that promoted sustained economic growth and development.

“Our disappointment at not achieving a concrete outcome in Cancun is tempered by the advances that have been made.” — Sapa

  • Developing countries flex muscles
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