October 05, 2005, NEW AGE Business

Former commerce minister Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury on Tuesday said the global oil price surge has become a hindrance to the growth prospects of the least developed countries.

‘Bangladesh, an LDC itself, has to pay an additional $500 million in import bill for oil, creating tremendous pressure on the balance of payments,’ he said speaking at a plenary session of the civil society forum at the Sheraton hotel in Dhaka.

The Centre for Policy Dialogue is organising the three-day International Civil Society Forum, inaugurated Monday, for advancing the LDCs interests in the Hong Kong ministerial in December.

On Tuesday representatives of local and international civil society organisations, development activists and non-governmental organisations deliberated on the Doha Development Round and working sessions on agriculture, intellectual property rights, special and differential treatment, implementation issues, and WTO rules.

‘Oil price surge has become a big shock for the LDCs in the recent times and the World Trade Organisation should address the issues for LDC interests,’ said Khosru.

He also blasted the International Financial Institutions for imposing contradictory policy prescriptions against the WTO principles in poor countries.

‘When in WTO negotiation, LDCs are exempted from the any tariff reduction commitments, the World Bank asks [Bangladesh] to cut down import tariffs and tags it with aid disbursement,’ he added.

‘Again the International Monetary Fund frequently recommends changes of interest rates that hinder entrepreneurs from making long-term investment plans,’ said Khosru.

In the session, Zambian ambassador to the WTO, Love Metsa said trade-off is possible only between countries with the same level of economic strength, ‘Else it is unfair.’

He also said the LDCs are determined to make the ministerial conference at Hong Kong a success. ‘We do not want another Cancun because it is not in our interest to have it fail.’

He, however, cautioned if countries like the United States, European Union and Japan did not move substantially towards addressing issues of LDC concern as well as developing countries, another Cancun might be witnessed in Hong Kong.

The Cancun ministerial conference held in September 2003 collapsed amid deadlocked negotiations in agriculture and four issues known as the Singapore issues.

Mesta also said capacity building and technical assistance is very important for the poor countries.

Taking part in the discussion, Pradeep Mehta of India-based Consumer Unity Trust Society said Cancun was not a failure, rather a deferred success.

‘But Hong Kong is less ambitious as nobody will give up their rights and peoples’ opinion in the respective countries are stronger,’ he added.

Mehta termed the anti-dumping mechanism as a ‘political instrument’ used against poor countries.

In another working session on WTO rules, Prabhash Ranjan of Centad, an Oxfam initiative, said anti-dumping is an economic instrument and temporary trade remedial measure, but the way it is used by developed and developing countries, anti-dumping has turned into a more political weapon.

‘India, one of the largest anti-dumping initiator, employs it for the country’s benefit. But it also abuses the instrument,’ he said.

He also said anti-dumping is biased against consumers and it is to uphold the interest of the industries anti-dumping duties are imposed against imported products.

Former commerce minister Tofail Ahmed, Bangladesh permanent representative in WTO Toufiq Ali, Debapriya Bhattacharya and Mustafizur Rahman of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, were among others who spoke at the plenary sessions earlier in the day.

The speakers of different working sessions include, FBCCI president Mir Nasir Hossain, former commerce secretary Sayed Alamgir Farrouk Chowdhury, Mouhamet Lamine Nadiaye of Senegal, Buba Khan of Gambia and Chandrakant Patel of SEATINI.

The forum will conclude on Wednesday adopting the Dhaka Declaration.