WTO Ministerial Conference 13-18 December 2005 - Hong
focus by the United Nations Office of the High Representative
for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing
Countries and Small Island Developing States
Trade talks make development top priority
By Donna Borak
UPI Business Correspondent
Published 12 December 2005
HONG KONG -- While trade ministers are less
than hopeful of making any major breakthroughs in liberalizing
agriculture during a key ministerial in Hong Kong this week,
the United States, along with other key developed nations, is
seeking to put forth a detailed package for least-developed
"We know we won't get as far as we had hoped to in the
Hong Kong ministerial -- after all this is supposed to be the
four modalities meeting, kind of the final framework -- but
we also know that we need to use our time here very productively,"
Rob Portman, U.S. trade representative, told reporters in Hong
Negotiations in the so-called Doha round have stalled over the
politically strained issue of agriculture subsidies due to the
European Union's reticence to make any further changes to its
farm proposal. But while talks are at standstill, ministers
are expected to make the needs of the least-developed countries
the highest priority during talks this week.
Portman, who has publicly said no major breakthroughs will happen
at the World Trade Organization ministerial this week in Hong
Kong, said the United States would seek to improve market access
for least developed counties by supporting a duty-free quota-free
system for poor nations.
"We support the objective of duty-free quota-free for least
developed countries and we look forward to working with our
trading partners this week to implement that," said Portman.
The top U.S. trade envoy told reporters before leaving for Hong
Kong on Saturday that trade partners must "give the least
developed countries more assurance as to what they will get
from the round," primarily through trade capacity building.
While the United States purports to have one of the leading
trade-for-aid programs supplying $1.3 billion to least developed
countries, it has also signaled its intent to expand current
preference programs like AGOA, which help aid sub-Saharan countries,
and Sanitary and Phyto-santiary regulations, which aid least-developed
countries. But while Portman said it would pursue measures in
Congress to expand preference programs to help developing nations
integrate into the global economy, he stressed on Monday that
a development package would not be the only ingredient to having
a successful round.
"I'm pleased with the prospect that we can do more here
in Hong Kong with regard to a development package for least
developed countries, but we have to remember that progress on
the development package is no substitute for progress on the
market access openings that are part of the overall success
of this round," said Portman.
"I would even go so far to say, progress on the development
package is not adequate in and of itself because it is tied
to success in the overall round."
Already, several major developed and developing nations including
India, Brazil and Japan have put forth proposals to help aid
the 49 least-developed nations of the world. Last week, following
the Group of 7 summit, both Brazil and India, who lead the Group
of 20 developing nations, agreed to open up their markets to
services and industrial goods, if developed nations would agree
to match similar offers.
While India said it would lower its tariff barriers by more
than 50 percent, if developed economies could match or exceed
their proposal, Brazil pledged to concede some ground on industrial
tariffs, if the United States and EU agreed to do the same on
On Friday, Japan pledged to provide $10 billion in trade-related
assistance to least-developed countries for a three-year period.
The Japanese government also said it would provide duty-free
quota free access for "essential products" originating
from least-developed countries.
Portman applauded Japan's proposal saying it would help bring
"more momentum here in Hong Kong on the aid for trade package."
However, despite efforts by developing countries to break an
impasse in global trade talks, the European Union has refused
to acknowledge India and Brazil's offer and has remained obstinate
in refusing to make further changes in its farm proposal.
"We and the United States are the only ones who have made
any proper offers," Peter Mandelson, EU Trade Commissioner,
told reporters via video-conference from Brussels on Friday.
"We've done so in agriculture... Now, what we haven't seen
are proper offers on the negotiations on services or on non-agricultural
market access from Brazil or India."
The United States, which has repeatedly called on the EU to
make further reductions to its agriculture subsidies and tariffs,
called on the EU to make further concessions in order to advance
"A forward leaning response from the EU is something that
will allow us to bring this together," a senior U.S. trade
official told United Press International. "The EU proposal
is less ambitious than the G20 developing countries' proposal.
What's recognized is to get a development package, which is
what we all want, we've got to see progress from the EU and
we're hoping that will be forthcoming."