18 August 04, The News International
Rasheed Khalid, ISLAMABAD

ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a three – day annual conference of South Asian Civil Society Network on International Trade Issues (SACSNITI) on ‘WTO Post-Cancun Developments: Options for South Asia’ observed that globalisation cannot be halted but the WTO agreements need to be negotiated in interest of South Asian people and developing countries must have their own agenda item for negotiations.

Minister for Privatisation Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh inaugurated the conference organized by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Tuesday. The SACSNITI was launched three years ago as a partnership between research organizations and advocacy groups in South Asia supported by International Development Research Centre, Canada.

In his keynote address, Dr. Shaikh said that no country progressed without being part of global stream and globalisation is unstoppable, as people want to prosper through trade. “The South Asian region has lost much time, therefore we need to do a lot of catching to match with the level of economic development of other regions,” he said.

The minister said that the World Trade Organisation should be better understood as some of the decisions are going to have far-reaching impact on the lives of people of this region.

Nagesh Kumar, director general, Research and Information System for Non-Aligned and Other Developing Countries, India, said that now there is a movement in the developed world to stop developing countries from forming the blocs. He said the developing countries should not be defensive about Regional Trading Arrangements (RATs). He said they are building blocs and helping to get into multilateral system that not only helps in enhancing trade but also has scope of investment exchanges. As a result of formation of RATs, 60 percent of the world trade is done on preferential basis, and if a country is not part of any RTA, its exports might be threatened, he added.

In the technical session on ‘Multilateral Trading System: Cancun Scenario and the Future,’ Rashid Kaukab of South Centre, Geneva, comparing the establishment of WTO with the present scene said that WTO’s legitimacy and credibility is because of three-fourth of its members that are developing countries. He said that WTO would remain important and relevant but not the only forum to conduct trade relations among countries. However, he favoured South-South cooperation and mobilization of public opinion for developing the Third World countries. He said that the civil society and media had an important role to play in this respect.

Poshraj Pandey from Nepal was of the view that if developing countries act jointly, the outcome could be in their favour like practical outcome of the Cancun round. The chances of better negotiations would only be possible if developing countries continue to be part of larger negotiations, he said. Solution, he said, lies in joint efforts on behalf of civil society, advocacy and research to assist governments in preparing negotiating agenda.

HAC Parasad, economic advisor to Ministry of Commerce, India, Said that developing countries must find ways for using their unity in the form of G-2 and in future negotiations South Asian countries should have same agenda items as last minute tactics.

Huma Fakhar said that rest of the world is far ahead from South Asia in terms of building regional blocs. She called for more research to deal with regional trade issues and how to benefit from regional trade.

Ratnakar Adhikari, executive director, South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment, Said that nothing is happening in terms of transfer of technical assistance to the Least Development Countries within Safta to catch up to other countries within Safta to Catch up to other Countries in the region. He said the South Asian countries need to show seriousness towards regional cooperation, particularly in trade.

Earlier, Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Shiv Shankar Menon in his introductory remarks underlined the importance of regional cooperation in South Asia. He observed that efforts towards regional cooperation are now getting requisite governmental support as well.

International Secretary General of CUTS Pradeep S. Mehta highlighted the specific objectives of the conference. Qasim Niaz, joint secretary in Ministry of Commerce, also spoke on the occasion.