WTO DG MOORE seeks package for poorest states
The elimination of all barriers to imports from the least-developed countries (LDCs) is among the top priorities outlined for the Seattle Ministerial Conference by World Trade Organization Director-General Mike Moore.
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Since his first day in office, 1 September 1999, Mr Moore has called on WTO member governments to do away with tariffs and quotas on products from the LDCs.
Taken together, least-developed countries constitute only half of one percent of world trade. Removing barriers to trade from these countries poses no serious threat to anyone, but it does provide some of the poorest people on earth with the gift of opportunity that is vital to their future growth and development, Mr Moore said.
Mr Moore would like to see Ministers agree to eliminate barriers to LDC products as an opening move of importance at the Conference, which may launch a new round of trade negotiations which are expected to last several years.
The notion of removing barriers to imports from LDCs was previously introduced by former WTO Director-General Renato Ruggiero in July 1996 at the Group of Eight Summit in Lyon, France. In December of that year Ministers from Member Governments agreed at the first WTO Ministerial Conference in Singapore to adopt a Comprehensive and Integrated Plan of Action for LDCs.
One result of that initiative was a high-level meeting for LDCs in Geneva in October 1997. At that meeting, Canada, Egypt, the European Union, Mauritius, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States provided formal notification of their intention to improve access to their markets for the LDC imports. The meeting also led to the creation of the Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance for the LDCs.
For the first time, the Secretariats of the WTO, UNCTAD, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations Development Programme and the International Trade Centre, combined forces to begin efforts aimed at bringing the LDCs in from the sidelines of the multilateral trading system. The idea of the Integrated Framework is to provide a needs-driven, coordinated response to the problems that LDCs have faced in taking full advantage of the global trading system.
To date, more than 40 LDC countries have submitted needs assessments and the six agencies have responded with co-ordinated responses for action. These needs range from addressing insufficient capacity for producing competitive products, to improvements in transportation and telecommunications infrastructure, to assistance in establishing the legal and institutional framework to better comply with WTO rules and obligations and maximize benefits that arise from participating in the global trading system.
While the Integrated Framework has brought the issue of LDC marginalization from the trading system to the attention of all WTO member governments, many such governments believe that the process requires a fresh political commitment if it is adequately to address the LDC concerns.
In December 1998, Amb. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury of Bangladesh, speaking on behalf of the 29 LDC governments which are members of the WTO, proposed a Comprehensive New Plan of Action as a means of injecting momentum into efforts to assist the LDCs. In this proposal, Amb. Chowdhury called for the improvement of certain WTO agreements including the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and for easier LDC access to the Dispute Settlement System.
He also called on Ministers in Seattle to:
- follow through on commitments made at the second WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva in 1998 to "continue to improve market-access conditions for products exported by the Least Developed Countries on as broad and liberal a basis as possible";
- accelerate accession procedures for LDC candidates for WTO membership;
- push for reductions in the LDC debt burden;
- work with other organizations to improve supply-side capacity in LDCs.
Several WTO member governments have proposed improving market access for LDCs as part of their list of proposals for the Seattle Ministerial Conference, including the European Union. Other member governments, including the United States, have taken steps to unilaterally reduce barriers to imports from these countries.
Mr Moore has welcomed these efforts and called on Ministers to agree in Seattle to expand upon these and other programmes of support for the poorest countries. The Director-General is also seeking to have the WTOs core budget for technical assistance expanded from SF 716,000 to SF 10 million over the next three years so that developing countries, and particularly the LDCs, can more effectively participate in the new negotiations. Currently, about 90% of WTO technical assistance activity is paid for through trust funds donated by member governments.
While acknowledging that trade and the WTO alone cannot provide all the answers to the deep economic difficulties of least developed countries, Mr. Moore said through closer coherence with other international organizations, including the five partner organizations of the Integrated Framework, the international community can and must make an important contribution to raising living standards of families in the worlds poorest countries.