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Business And Government Leaders To Discuss Doha

Asian, Mideast Business, Governments to review WTO Negotiation Strategies at Manila Meeting

With the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round of negotiations for a new global trade pact picking up steam, Asian and Middle Eastern business leaders and governments meet in Manila this month to see how they can work together to ensure the talks produce a boost for their nations.

At the gathering, on 21-22 October, senior-level delegations — representing both public and private sectors in 17 countries from China to Egypt — will review the potential impact on their economies of agreements in all areas of the round, from agriculture and goods tariffs, to services and customs procedures. They will seek to sharpen their national strategies in the WTO talks.

“We see this as an excellent opportunity for business leaders and government officials to follow up on the latest developments at the WTO by determining how they can jointly make the final outcome of the negotiations a success for their countries,” says J. Denis Bélisle, Executive Director of the Geneva-based International Trade Centre (ITC). Sensitive issues on the agenda Among sensitive issues on the agenda will be the proliferation of regional trade agreements outside the global framework of the WTO; the outlook for Asia’s textile and clothing exports when the international quota system of the last four decades disappears at the end of this year; and the new topic on the Doha Round agenda — setting international rules on customs procedures, or trade facilitation.

ITC, a 40-year-old technical cooperation agency of the WTO and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, is organizing the meeting together with the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry as part of its mandate to provide technical support to the business sectors of developing and transition economies.

It is the latest in a series of “Business for Development” conferences launched by ITC, soon after the member countries of the WTO agreed in the capital of Qatar in November 2001 to begin a new round of trade liberalization negotiations, officially titled the “Doha Development Agenda” or DDA.

Attending the discussions at the Philippine Trade Training Centre will be a strong delegation from the host country and three-member teams of government and business officials from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.

A key address will come from WTO Deputy Director-General Rufus Yerxa, who will report on recent advances in the negotiations and focus on the potential of the “July Package” agreed in Geneva to set the DDA back firmly on track.

The aim of the “Business for Development” meetings series is to encourage the private sector in developing countries and transition economies to become more engaged in setting their national priorities for the WTO talks, and to encourage governments to listen more to business concerns. Avoiding mistakes of the past This approach, says Peter Naray, an ITC expert on WTO issues who spearheaded the meetings, should help prevent repetition in the Doha talks of mistakes made in the 1986-93 Uruguay Round when businesses found too late that governments had signed up to some global agreements that were difficult, or impossible, to implement.

“What we want is to facilitate the integration of business concerns into the process of negotiations,” says Mr Bélisle, a former Canadian private company executive and senior government official, who will deliver a keynote address in Manila together with the Philippines’ Undersecretary for Trade and Industry, Thomas G. Aquino.

The problem, says R. Badrinath, who directs ITC’s Division of Trade Support Services, is that while the private sector in developed economies works hard and long to ensure that trade negotiators are fully aware of what it wants and what it will accept in the final outcome of trade talks, in poorer countries this has — until quite recently — rarely been the case.

“Companies and even national business organizations rarely talked to governments or even to trade ministries,” he argues. “They assumed that international trade negotiations were outside their competence. And the governments just assumed that the private sector was not interested and was happy to leave it all to them.”

ITC, which in 1998 started its successful World Tr@de Net to link firms and business groups and get them discussing how to overcome the problem, called the first “Business for Cancún” conference in early 2003. It held seven in all before the WTO’s Ministerial Meeting in Cancún, Mexico, in September that year.

Those meetings contributed to nearly 50 developing country and transition economy delegations to Cancún including business representatives, some for the first time. And many of those spoke out loud when the Meeting itself, supposed to set the DDA on the path to wrap up by the end of this year, broke up without agreement. Business dismayed after Cancún failure While some political leaders in developing countries, and many non-governmental organizations opposing economic globalization, greeted the failure of the talks as a success, private sector representatives from Africa, Asia and Latin America made clear they saw it as a setback that had to be overcome quickly.

“Business wants a predictable international economic climate, with clear rules that apply to everyone,” says Mr Bélisle. “For the private sector in developing countries, a successful DDA with a fair and balanced outcome is vital if they are to make their businesses grow, and their national economies with them.”

There is little doubt that the views of business weighed heavily on governments in the months after Cancún. By the end of July this year, the necessary compromises were reached by negotiators to ensure the round could resume — although with a time frame now stretching later into the decade.

Earlier this year, the “Business for Development” series also resumed, with meetings for eastern and southern Africa in Kenya, for European and Central Asian transition economies in Bulgaria, and for Latin American and Caribbean countries in Brazil. WTO envoys to offer perspectives At the Manila meeting, perspectives on the way ahead will be offered by developing country envoys and negotiators to the WTO in Geneva, including Indonesia’s Ambassador, Gusmardi Bustami, and Malaysia’s Manickam Supperamaniam, as well as senior Chinese tariff negotiator, Chen Zhiyuan, from the Beijing Finance Ministry.

Among business leaders will be Sothy Nang, Director-General of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, Mansur Mustafa, President of the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers, Nilsuwan Leelarasamee, Deputy Secretary-General of the Federation of Thai Industries, and Qang Dao Le, Secretary-General of the Viet Nam Textile Association.

“The countries attending represent a good spread of economic development, and a very lively exchange of views can be expected,” says Mr Badrinath. “We think the meeting will make an important contribution to shaping a climate among Asian business that will help push the DDA in the right direction.”

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