GENEVA — World Trade Organization director general Supachai Panitchpakdi on Friday urged a group of more than 60 poor nations to show flexibility in the global talks on issues including industrial tariffs and trade facilitation rules.
This story first appeared in the July 12, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Senior WTO officials said he spoke privately to negotiators for the G-90 group, which includes countries from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, in advance of their planned summit meeting in Mauritius, which is set to start today.
The key aim of negotiators heading to the Mauritius meeting is to reach a common stance on agriculture. Trade sources also indicated that a government official from a sub-Saharan African country is expected to step forward at the meeting to request that Panitchpakdi call an emergency WTO session to discuss the negative effect of the Jan. 1 elimination of textile and apparel quotas, as reported Friday.
While many industrial associations have signed the so-called “Istanbul Declaration,” which calls on the WTO to reconsider the quota phaseout, no government has joined the movement so far. The inclusion of a country would be a critical step in getting the idea raised on the WTO floor. Many poor nations — from those of sub-Saharan African to Sri Lanka — have said they are at risk of losing much of their apparel business to larger competitors such as China and India.
WTO officials are concerned that the developing nations’ insistence that the group agree on how to lower barriers to the trade in farm products could derail efforts to reach a framework on lowering or eliminating tariffs on industrial goods. After the quotas on textiles and apparel are lifted, tariffs will be the key tool available to governments looking to manage their imports in those categories.
“We do not want the industrial talks to be held hostage to agriculture,” said a WTO ambassador from a large Asian nonagricultural exporting country, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The warnings came as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and his counterparts from the European Union, India, Brazil and Australia were set to meet in Paris to try to narrow differences on farm trade. The agricultural talks — and the so-called Doha round at large — have been stalled since a group of poor nations walked out of the last major ministerial in Cancún, Mexico, in September.
Since he took office in September 2002 the WTO chief has travelled six times to Africa and four times to the Caribbean and Latin America for high level talks on the Doha round.
Recently, the chairman of the nonagricultural market access talks, Ambassador Stefan Johannesson of Iceland, kicked up a fresh controversy when he put forward a disputed text from that meeting as a starting point for future negotiations. That document, known as the “Derbez text,” includes elements that would lead to the phaseout of tariffs on industrial goods. Poor nations objected to it, contending they want to see progress made on opening the trade in agricultural goods first.