13 December 2005 United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged wealthy countries to set an unambiguous date to end “trade-distorting subsidies” and take other steps to give market access to developing countries, especially in agriculture, allowing trade to improve living conditions around the world.
“Trade has been a critical force for development,” Mr. Annan said in a message delivered by Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), to the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which has convened in Hong Kong to continue the so-called Doha Round of world trade talks that aim for more equitable global commerce.
“Development – real gains in real peoples’ lives – remains the primary benchmark for success of the Doha Round,” he said. “Whatever other smaller steps your negotiations achieve, development writ large is the standard against which your efforts will be judged.”
The Secretary-General said that in the past four years there have been some laudable initiatives to advance this cause, and to address the marginalization of developing countries, particularly least-developed, landlocked and small-island States.
However, purveyors of goods and services in developing countries continue to be subjected to protectionism in precisely those areas where they can be most competitive, he said, pointing to crop subsidies in developed countries as particularly harmful since they reduce the prices that farmers in developing countries receive for their produce.
At the same time, he acknowledged that subsidies and protectionist measures are politically popular in rich countries. For that reason he urged them to reject not just protectionism, but populism as well.
“They will have to speak honestly to their people about the changing economies of the 21st century, and about global interdependence and the fact that prosperity elsewhere means prosperity and jobs at home,” he said, adding that they will also have to help vulnerable people in their own societies with training and other support.
Just before the opening of the trade talks today, Anwarul K. Chowdhury, the UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States affirmed that the world’s 50 least developed countries had only a 0.64 percent share of world exports in 2004, even though they represent 11 per cent of the global population.