São Paulo 14 June 2004

“Developing countries may decide to focus on trade among themselves rather than with their richer counterparts, if developed countries don’t break down trade barriers,” said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand while speaking at the inaugural session of the 11th Session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XI). The Conference, held every four years, is intended to reorient the debate on linkages between trade and development and reposition UNCTAD in the present context.

While inaugurating the Conference, the President of Brazil, Luiz Inàcio Lula da Silva, said that developing countries must also eliminate trade barriers among themselves to increase their share of world trade. He said that 44 developing countries, the signatories of the Global System of Trade Preferences (GSTP) would hold a new round of talks on reducing tariffs. He hoped that the meeting would enlist 40 new member countries from the developing world to the GSTP scheme.

During his speech, President Lula highlighted the “IBSA Facility for Hunger and Poverty Alleviation”. India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) created this initiative in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It is devised as a means of replicating successful social projects in the areas of health, education, sanitation, and food security, among others.

So far developing countries have been successful in putting farm trade barriers right at the top of the Conference agenda. A day before the formal opening of the Conference, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick provided indication of moving forward on agriculture but the EU’s Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy insisted on parallelism, asking developing countries to open their markets further. It appears that the two may be in a hurry as Lamy’s tenure is ending in September and Zoellick’s continuation as the USTR will be decided after the US presidential election. Since the Cancún debacle, there have been many instances of using forums like this to break the logjam on farm trade agenda. Next month in Geneva, trade negotiators will sit together to push the Doha Development Agenda forward and UNCTAD XI is perhaps the last big forum of trade ministers before the crucial July negotiations.

The Indian Commerce Minister, Kamal Nath, also hold bilateral meetings with Robert Zoellick and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and underlined India’s sensitivities on agriculture, particularly the protection of small and marginal farmers.