September 15, 2003 -- CropChoice news -- Reuters:
Disappointment, elation and glimmers of dogged hope emerged
Monday from Asia's mix of rich, poor and mainly agricultural
nations after world trade talks in Mexico hit the rocks
over farm reform and rules to slash red tape.
Several of Asia's poorer nations welcomed the display
of developing world power that wrecked the talks.
Others mourned the breakdown that they saw delaying
for far too long any progress in discussion of agricultural
subsidies and thus dooming their farmers to compete
with the richest.
``It's a shame that nothing came out of the meeting.
But we will not step back and will keep asking for fair
treatment. Hopefully, we will win in the end,'' said
a Thailand Sugarcane Planters Federation official.
``It's like heavyweight and lightweight boxers fighting.
Who do you think will get hurt? This is not fair.''
Rival blocs clashed over agriculture for five days
at the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun and
talks finally died when poor countries refused to discuss
new rules aimed at cutting the bureaucracy and backhanders
that hurt trade.
Poor nations boasted they had scored a political victory
in proving they would no longer be bullied into a bad
deal by the dominant trading powers, the United States
``(We are) elated that our voice has now been heard,''
Philippine Trade Secretary Manuel Roxas said.
Manuel Lamata, president of the United Federation of
Sugar Producers in the Philippines, said it was impossible
for the Third World to compete against subsidised developed
``It is about time the first world countries realize
they cannot just step on the poor countries,'' he said.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra voiced indifference,
saying country-to-country agreements were his focus.
``Thailand will not wait for results of WTO talks because
our people will have to continue producing goods for
sale,'' he said. ``The government under my leadership
only resorts to results of bilateral talks to boost
Disappointment on all sides
Other farming nations were less jubilant.
``It is a big disappointment,'' said Mian Anjum Saleem,
chairman of the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association,
adding that farmers in Pakistan would be the worst sufferers
as long as the United States continued to subsidize
its cotton growers.
``The Pakistani cotton grower is now directly competing
with the U.S. government. Obviously they cannot compete
with the U.S.''
His was not the only muted developing world response.
``It's very sad to see this collapse, but I think we
developing countries need to work harder to gain more
power for future negotiations,'' said Vichai Sriprasert,
president of the Rice Exporters Association of Thailand.
``We can only hope that they will listen to us.''
Indonesia, a big rice importer, saw liberalization
hurting developing nations unless they gain special
treatment, said Siswono Yudhohusodo, chairman of the
Indonesian Farmers Association.
The proposed new rules, pushed by Japan and the European
Union, would impinge on economic freedoms, developing
countries said. But those very developing countries
would also be the main beneficiaries of farm trade reform.
``It's disappointing, disappointing....(But) the round
is not over,'' a spokesman for Australian Trade Minister
Mark Vaile said from the Mexican resort.
Australia and the United States agreed that completion
of the current so-called Doha round of trade reform
talks would be difficult by the end of 2004 deadline.
``It's possible. With a fair bit of divine intervention,''
the Vaile spokesman said.
China, which joined the WTO at the end of 2001, would
not be greatly affected because it was still engaged
in the progressive opening of sectors, said Zhao Xijun,
vice head of the Finance and Securities Institute at
the People's University in Beijing.
But a Hong Kong government spokesman blamed rigid positions
for the lack of consensus in Cancun.
The world's largest dairy exporter, New Zealand's Fonterra
Co-operative, said it was disappointed by the collapse,
but still expected a delayed completion of the Doha
WTO officials in Geneva will work on a special conference
for December despite dampened expectations as the United
States prepares for a 2004 presidential vote and the
European Union prepares to expand to include new eastern
Europe member nations.
Aspiring member Vietnam, which hopes to join by 2005,
offered mixed feelings.
``On one side we need to be a member,'' said Nguyen
Nuu Dung, general secretary of the trade group Vietnam
Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers.
``But we also need to be aware that the WTO is not
an Eden that solves all disputes.''