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HK WTO meeting takes step forward

HK WTO meeting takes step forward

The patchy results from the Hong Kong World Trade Organisation meeting still leave room for optimism that a good agreement can be reached next year, Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton said today.

The WTO General Council ratified a ministerial declaration from Hong Kong late this evening.

Mr Sutton, who was in the “Green Room” of negotiators, said the efforts to reach agreement had gone down to the wire.

The inal negotiating session went all night, and was at times it was a fairly brutal process.

Mr Sutton said agriculture talks finally came up with a date of the end of 2013 for the elimination of export subsidies after the European Union refused to accept the proposed date of 2010, saying it did not have a mandate from member states for that.

“But at last we have a date – an achievement that has eluded us for nearly 60 years.”

He said that non-agricultural market access negotiations – those for industrial and manufactured products, including fish and forestry - have effectively stood still.

“It is clear that agriculture and non-agricultural market access are now hostage to each other – there will not be progress in one without progress in the other. Developing nations will not let developed nations make gains in their manufactured goods without similar or better gains in agricultural goods trade as well.”

Mr Sutton said that while as a result there was not much in the Hong Kong meeting’s results for New Zealand farmers just yet, he was optimistic that there would be when the full negotiations were completed, hopefully within the next year, and implemented thereafter.

“The potential gains, not just for farmers but for the whole New Zealand economy out of the Doha Round, are huge.”

Mr Sutton said the Hong Kong meeting had delivered for the development strand of negotiations.

The “duty free, quota free” deal meant that 97 per cent of all products from the 50 least developed nations would be allowed freely into developed country markets from 2008. New Zealand has already been providing free access to LDC imports for almost five years.

In addition, developed nations would end their export subsidies for cotton from next year. New Zealand does not produce cotton.

“This round of WTO negotiations is known as the Doha Development Agenda, so it is good that we have been able to come up with something for the poorer nations who are WTO members.”

He said there was a lot more work yet to be done before the Doha Round would be complete, but the Hong Kong meeting had achieved a measure of success and restored some momentum towards a final result.

“After the experiences of Seattle and Cancun, we know we need to keep working hard and keep achieving gains, even if they are relatively small ones. Nonetheless, I am confident that a good result can be achieved next year.”

Mr Sutton paid tribute to the New Zealand delegation of professional negotiators, industry, and civil society representatives, his successor Phil Goff, and Parliamentary representative Tim Groser MP.

“New Zealanders can be proud of our team, and the way it works together. They are pound for pound the best in the world.”

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