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'Poorer nations should not lose out on global free trade'

Asian leaders called for shaping of a fair global trading system, throwing down a challenge to WTO a week before its latest round of negotiations.

business Updated: Sep 06, 2003 14:10 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press

Southeast Asian leaders called on Wednesday for the shaping of a fair global trading system, throwing down a challenge to the World Trade Organization a week before its latest round of negotiations on international commerce.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said that while there is strong support among developing countries for the Geneva-based WTO, any international trade agreement must benefit both rich and poor nations.

Arroyo was a keynote speaker at the close of a three-day meeting of the 22-member Pacific Economic Cooperation Council, which promotes trade and business links.

Despite efforts toward a world trade agreement at the WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico next week, Arroyo said smaller, regional agreements and blocs would help create economic exchanges that would ultimately be fairer to developing countries.

The Pacific Economic Cooperation Council "ought to exert its weight to ensure that globalization does not mean only opening the market of the poor for the products of the rich," Arroyo said.

"For us, and I'm sure for other developing countries, a major test of the success of the WTO negotiation is how they will fulfill the promise to open global markets for the products in which the developing countries have an advantage," Arroyo said.

Malaysia's deputy prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, took up the theme in a separate keynote speech, saying that regional and bilateral agreements were stepping stones to global free trade that would help "counterweight the monopoly of power of larger trading blocs."

Abdullah is scheduled to succeed one of the most prominent critics of the world financial system, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, later this year.

Almost 150 member countries of the WTO are due to meet in Mexico September 10-14 for the latest round of negotiations on a global trade treaty.

Many poorer countries and their supporters complain that the United States and Europe force developing nations in Africa and Asia to reduce trade protection measures by tying aid to compliance, but often flout liberalization agreements when it comes to opening their own economies.

Arroyo said a test for the globalization of trade would be the dissolution of barriers like quotas, health and sanitary regulations and other "clever tricks" benefiting rich nations, including massive subsidies given to their own farmers.

The Pacific Economic Cooperation Council was established in 1980 and is an official observer to APEC. The group aims to promote trade, joint ventures and other links among its 22 members.

The group comprises Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States, Vietnam and island nations in the Pacific Rim.

First Published: Sep 06, 2003 14:10 IST