Asia greets WTO failure with hope, fear

SYDNEY, Australia, 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 and Europe.

``(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 countries.

``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 trade.''

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 round.

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.''


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