Cut duties to help poorest, WTO candidate urges

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 April, 2013, 5:34am

Emerging economies should follow China's example by waiving duties and quota limitations on their exports in order to help the world's least-developed countries, said a candidate for the WTO's top post.

Mari Elka Pangestu, one of nine contestants for the post of director general of the World Trade Organisation, enjoys the backing of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Nigeria for appointment to the position, which falls vacant on August 31.

A commitment from emerging nations to further freeing-up trade flows would be crucial for progress in the WTO's ongoing Doha round of trade talks, which started 11 years ago, said Pangestu, who is Indonesia's minister of tourism.

"Today the situation is different. What we call major trading nations are not just the United States but also emerging economies. So for the negotiations to be completed you need them to complete the talks or have the political will to do so," she said.

"China provided a good example by providing duty-free and quota-free access to the least-developed countries in Asia. Although they should not be asked to give the same as developed countries, emerging economies are now in a position to give more capacity-building and they should give more in the negotiation to make sure there is progress."

One of the most thorny issues which has kept the WTO's 159 countries from reaching a single undertaking is agriculture. Since the food crisis in 2007 that doubled food prices in some developing nations, the world trade body has sought to end subsidies paid to farmers in developed markets like the US, Europe and Japan, which are blamed for artificially suppressing world food prices and production.

But developed nations demanded that emerging economies grant more access to their agriculture products in return for any reductions in their subsidies, and talks have been deadlocked.

Even if a deal can be reached, developing nations would have to fund expanded capacity and infrastructure such as ports and roads to fulfil whatever commitments they make, Pangestu said.

With just eight weeks to go before the WTO's selection panel decides on the appointment, Pangestu and the remaining eight candidates for the post of director general - Tim Groser of New Zealand, Amina Mohamed of Kenya, Ghana's Alan Kyerematen, Costa Rica's Anabel Gonzalez, Mexico's Herminio Blanco, Brazil's Roberto Azevedo, South Korea's Taeho Bark, and Jordan's Ahmad Hindawi - have stepped up their lobbying efforts.

The new WTO chief will host a high-level meeting in Bali, Indonesia, later this year to push forward a so-called "early harvest" deal in which some provisions on agriculture and a number of trade facilitation issues will be set on a pluralistic basis, to determine whether the Doha talks could resume next year.

As to whether the decade-old talks could ever result in an agreement, Pangestu said everyone would have to work hard.

"In the end it is all about creating jobs. Europe's unemployment is high and the US is still struggling to reduce unemployment. If the Doha talks can come to agreement, everyone will have increased market access and updated rules, and trade can flow more freely," she said.