Poor nations impatient to see benefits from trade talks25/11/2005 - 19:08:26
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other Commonwealth leaders began talks in Malta today aimed at sending a clear message to next month’s world trade talks in Hong Kong that poor countries are impatient to see benefits from global markets.
Worries about human rights problems, including in Commonwealth member country Uganda, were also being aired during three days of closed-door, informal talks at the summit in a swanky retreat in Golden Bay.
Blair and Prime Minister Helen Clark of New Zealand were among Commonwealth leaders raising concerns about fellow summit participant Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, after an Ugandan opposition leader was charged with treason and terrorism shortly after his triumphant return from exile.
The Commonwealth club accounts for 20% of global trade, and any consensus developing in the discussions on this former British colony could influence the climate of the round of World Trade Organisation negotiations set to open in Hong Kong on December 13.
About 1.4 billion of the Commonwealth’s 1.8 billion population live in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, while other developing countries in the club are in Africa and the Caribbean.
“Trading opportunities are at the core” of development, Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon told an opening ceremony on the Mediterranean island which joined the European Union last year.
The Commonwealth contains “the spectrum from the poorest and most vulnerable to the wealthiest and most secure.
"We have a right and a responsibility to show leadership,” McKinnon said in his pep talk to the leaders. “If we can give the WTO the shot in the arm it requires, then our organisation will have shown again its global worth.”
“Developing countries got little from the first so-called Uruguay Round of trade talks, McKinnon said.
“The current Doha Round must therefore not fail in the same way.”
The Doha talks are named after the Qatari capital where a first round of talks began in 2001.
Yesterday, EU negotiators in Brussels, Belgium, hammered out a landmark overhaul of the EU’s sugar subsidy programme, cutting prices by 36%, to likely strengthen the EU’s hand in the WTO talks.
A WTO challenge by Australia, Brazil and Thailand had forced the EU to revise its subsidy system.
But the price cuts angered trade groups and officials from Caribbean sugar producers – many of them Commonwealth countries – which had called for cuts of no more than 19% and wanted generous compensation.
Tariff regimes over other agricultural products, especially bananas, have long divided the EU and the WTO.
Guyana said that Blair earlier this week told Caribbean leaders he would work to find ways to cushion the EU sugar reform.
At a news conference between summit sessions, Museveni slammed subsidies for farmers in the US, Japan and the European Union as “very unfair” and “sinful”.
Museveni struck a defiant note in dismissing concern over treatment of opposition leader Kizza Besigye. “This is a matter for the courts” in Uganda, Museveni said.
Commonwealth leaders heard a foreign ministers’ assessment on Pakistan, which was suspended from the club’s decision-making council in 1999 after General Pervez Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup.
The suspension was lifted in 2004 in recognition of steps Musharraf had made toward democracy.
Musharraf has pledged to step down as army chief in 2007.
The report “certainly acknowledged that Pakistan has come forward in a democratic way,” McKinnon told reporters. But there was “concern (that Musharraf) is still in command” of armed forces, he said.
The 2003 Commonwealth summit, in Nigeria, was overshadowed by Zimbabwe’s defiant withdrawal from the Commonwealth. The club had extended its suspension of the country because of widespread human rights abuses under President Robert Mugabe.
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