WTO: Pact will help poor

WTO: Pact will help poor

NUSA DUA - Trade negotiators say developing countries will benefit as they hailed a free trade deal reached on Saturday at a World Trade Organization (WTO) conference on Bali.

"It is only through multilateral agreements that many of the poorest and most vulnerable countries can truly benefit from international trade," Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan said, after the deal was clinched on the fifth day of talks on the Indonesian island.

The so-called Bali package is the first international trade treaty that the 159-member WTO has managed to negotiate in nearly 20 years.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo waves as delegates congratulate him after the closing ceremony of the WTO conference in Bali. (Reuters photo)

It aims to simplify bureaucratic procedures hampering trade. It also contains measures to help poor countries access developed and emerging markets, as well as other aid measures.

The deal also foresees the lowering of agricultural subsidies.

"This deal will help developing countries save around 325 billion euros per year," European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said.

Trade ministers also pointed out that the successful outcome of the talks helped unblock the stalled Doha round of negotiations, which was started in 2001 with the agenda to help developing countries implement the WTO's free trade rules.

Formal agreement on the negotiated draft texts was delayed on Saturday as Cuba insisted for several hours that the five-decade-old US economic embargo imposed on the Communist Caribbean country be
lifted.

But a far bigger stumbling block was removed already on Friday when negotiators found a solution for India's demand that it be allowed to subsidise agricultural products to feed the poor.

Under the compromise reached, India will not be allowed to continue this policy forever, but only for four years. India will also have to ensure that its products do not end up being exported to other
markets, where they could deflate prices.

"For the first time in our history: the WTO has truly delivered," Director General Roberto Azevedo said.

Leaders at the conference stressed that the Bali agreement was key for making sure that the WTO stays relevant amid recent efforts by the US, the EU, China and others to conclude regional rather than
global deals.

"Today, we have saved the WTO and the Bali package," De Gucht said.

Azevedo said the WTO would spend the next year developing a fresh approach for moving forward with the Doha negotiations.

The idea behind the WTO is that if all countries play by the same trade rules, then all countries, rich or poor, will benefit.

But some critics say WTO rules may hinder countries from setting their own priorities for environmental protection, worker rights, food security and other areas. And they say sudden reductions in import tariffs can wipe out industries, causing job losses in rich and poor countries.

Oxfam welcomed the breathing space on food subsidies given to poor countries but said the agreement, and the move to simplify customs in particular, was "no game changer" overall.

"Its gains have been grossly overestimated, while the costs of implementation for poorer countries were completely ignored," the aid and development group said in a statement.


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