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SAARC nations take unified stand on WTO

Our Bureau

NEW DELHI, Aug. 23

THE Commerce Ministers of the seven-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) today pledged to work for a consensual outcome at the Doha Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Oranisation (WTO) in November.

At the end of the two-day deliberations of the Commerce Secretaries meeting on Wednesday, followed by Ministerial meeting here on Thursday, a joint statement was issued, reiterating their strong commitment to work for the further strengthening of the mul tilateral trading system under the WTO.

Bangladesh was conspicuous by its absence and Dhaka has already expressed itself in favour of a new round of trade talks, though the ostentatious reason for its absence is cited to be the general election in the country. Bangladesh Commerce Secretary too did not take part in the meeting, as also that of Maldives.

The joint statement emphasised that since implementation issues being a fallout of the Uruguay Round (UR) Agreements, they must be meaningfully resolved upfront without any extraneous linkages.

Noting with concern that the UR agreements have further accentuated the inequalities between the developed and developing countries, SAARC Ministers have urged that ``this growing development deficit should receive primacy in all future work programmes i n WTO since a key to sustained global economic growth lies in unlocking the growth potential of developed countries.''

Towards this end, increased market access opportunities should be provided by the developed countries to facilitate industrialisation in developing countries by eliminating their trade-distorting subsidies, non-tariff barriers and unreasonable protection ist measures.

SAARC Ministers resolved that urgent focus is needed on specific issues of particular interest to them, such as greater market access for exports of developing and least developed countries by addressing issues of tariff peaks, tariff escalation; operati onalisation of special and differential provisions for developing countries; more meaningful integration of the textile and clothing sector; flexibility and clarity in the interpretation of the trade-related intellectual property rights agreement to prev ent piracy of traditional knowledge, higher levels of protection in the form of geographical indication for products of export interest to the SAARC region and addressing public health concerns of the poor countries to ensure affordable access to essenti al drugs.

In agriculture, SAARC Ministers have stressed the need for substantial reductions in tariffs and tariff escalations, substantial cuts in domestic support and elimination of all forms of export subsidies given by developed countries in order to facilitate greater market access for agricultural products of the developing countries.

In services, it has been decided to seek market access from the developed countries especially in terms of movement of natural persons. SAARC Ministers considered that the mandated negotiations, the mandated reviews, the ongoing work programmes in the va rious working groups, the accession of over 30 countries taken together with the work programme for the resolution of the implementation issues themselves provided ``a sufficiently broad agenda for now.''

It was agreed that any move to add further issues runs the risk of overloading the agenda and making it unsustainable and further that the inclusion of any new item for negotiations could be discussed only after there was convergence of views among the W TO membership.

Earlier in the day, while addressing the SAARC Commerce Ministers meeting, hosted by the Government of India to coordinate their national positions in the context of the Fourth Ministerial Conference of WTO in Doha in November, Commerce Minister Murasoli Maran categorically said that ``we cannot afford another Seattle and as such no contentious issues or issues on which there has been no consensus, should be pushed into the WTO agenda as it may risk a failure which may not augur well for the WTO.''

Mr Maran also recounted the various pitfalls in the existing agreements and the need to set right them before agreeing to a new Round.

In his welcome address, Commerce Secretary Prabir Sengupta said the deliberations would help the SAARC countries in forging a common front ahead of the Doha Ministerial. SAARC Secretary General Nihal Rodrigo said the New Delhi meeting has provided the op portunity to review the collective understanding already reached in SAARC on the WTO process, taking into account current global developments, ongoing negotiations in Geneva and our respective domestic contexts.

Among the participants at the meeting were Pakistani Minister for Commerce, Industry and Production, Mr Abdul Razak Dawood, Sri Lankan Minister for Justice, Mr Batty Weerakoon, and Nepali Minister for Agriculture and Cooperation, Mr Mahesh Acharya.

Related links:
`SAARC Govts, pvt cos must coordinate on WTO'

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