18 August 04, DAWN

ISLAMABAD, Aug 17: Speakers at a seminar here on Tuesday said WTO agreements needed to be negotiated in the interest of South Asian people and that developing countries should have their own agenda for the negotiations.

Speaking at the inaugural session, Minister for Privatization Dr Hafeez Shaikh said the people of South Asia needed to develop better linkages through more permanent set of relations to share better understanding to benefit from WTO and trade liberalization for the progress and prosperity of the region.

“No country has progressed without being part of global stream and globalization is unstoppable as the basic desire of people is to prosper through trade,” he remarked.

South Asia has lost much time; therefore, “we need to do a lot of catching to match the level of economic development of other regions,” he said. The South Asian Civil Society Network on International Trade Issues annual conference titled WTO Post-Cancun Developments: Options for South Asia, was organized jointly by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), India, Oxfam GB Pakistan Programme and South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment.

There is a need to improve our industry to enhance efficiency and quality for meeting the challenges of globalization, the minister said. Indian High Commissioner Shiv Shankar Menon underlined the importance of regional cooperation and said efforts towards regional cooperation were now getting necessary government support.

CUTS-International secretary-general Pradeep S. Mehta highlighted the objectives of the conference. Speaking at the technical session on multilateral trading system, Rashid Kaukab of South Centre, Geneva, identified the main features and trends related to the WTO.

Mr Kaukab said the July agreement was vague in many ways: there was no clear move on non-agriculture market access, no deadline for services sector, special and differential treatment for developing countries.

He said it was safe to predict that WTO would continue to remain an important and relevant but not the only form to conduct trade relations among countries. “However, our goal should remain the progress of developing countries which could be achieved by strengthening south-south relationship and shaping, mobilizing and channelizing public opinion,” he added.

Economic adviser to the Indian ministry of commerce H.A.C. Parasad analysed the July declaration of WTO. These negotiations were a step forward after Cancun conference. He said developing countries should find ways for better utilization of their alliance of G-20.

While negotiating in future, South Asian countries must come up with the same agenda items as last minute tactics. He said non-tariff barriers should be addressed at the earliest which he said created problems in the smooth flow of trade.

Poshraj Pandey from Nepal was of the view that if developing countries acted jointly, the outcome could be in their interest as practical outcome of the Cancun round. The chances of better negotiations will only be possible if developing countries continued to be part of larger negotiations, he added.

Nagesh Kumar, director-general Research and Information System for on-aligned and other developing countries, India, said 1990 was a decade of regionalism instead of a trend of globalization. As a result of formation of regional trading arrangements (RTAs), 60 per cent of the world trade is done on preferential basis.

Keeping this in view “if a country is not part of any RTA, its exports are prone to be threatened. Now there is a movement in developed world to stop the developing countries from forming blocs.”