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|December 1, 1999||
Annan warns WTO negotiators against ignoring developing nations
UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has warned of a backlash from developing countries against free trade if the current round of world trade talks did not give them a better deal, according to a prepared speech he was not able to deliver.
Annan, along with many other delegates to the opening ceremony of a World Trade Organisation conference, remained in his hotel room yesterday because of protests against the meeting. The conference is to set an agenda for a new round of global trade talks.
Annan, in his prepared text, rejected some of the aims of the protestors, saying the Seattle forum was not the place to negotiate labour, environmental and other social issues. Instead, he said UN bodies dealing with these matters must be strengthened to avoid giving industrial nations a pretext for more protectionism.
The WTO, he said, ''must not be distracted from its vital task -- which is to make sure that this time a new round of trade negotiations really does extend the benefits of free trade to the developing world.''
''Unless we convince developing countries that globalisation really does benefit them, the backlash against it will become irresistible. That would be a tragedy for the developing world, and indeed for the world as a whole,'' Annan said.
He said protestors were right to be concerned about jobs, human rights, child labour, the environment and the commercialisation of scientific and medical research. But he said: ''It seldom makes sense to use trade restrictions to tackle problems whose origins lie not in trade but in other areas of national and international policy.''
Annan admonished industrial nations for high tariffs and large government subsidies, stressing that the current round of negotiations must be much fairer to poor nations. ''Tariffs and other restrictions on developing countries' exports must be substantially reduced. For those of the least developed countries, I suggest duties and quotas should be scrapped altogether,'' Annan said.
He cited recent studies, presumably with the European Union in mind, showing some industrialised countries spent between 6 per cent and 7 per cent of their gross domestic product on various trade protection measures.
While poor countries have reduced tariffs in recent years they still pay four times higher duties to export to rich countries than wealthy countries charge each other, he said. ''Not surprisingly, many of them feel like they were taken for a ride,'' Annan said.
The tariffs hurt poor countries in the few export markets where they remain competitive, including textiles, shoes and farm products, he said. Even when they do manage to find ways to price their goods to sell in rich countries, developing nations are accused of ''dumping,'' or using government subsidies to sell below cost in overseas markets, he said.
''In reality it is the industrialised countries who are dumping their surplus food on world markets -- a surplus generated by subsidies worth 250 billion dollars every year -- and thereby threatening the livelihood of millions of poor farmers in the developing world, who cannot compete with subsidised imports,'' Annan said.
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