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Tuesday, 6 November, 2001, 18:03 GMT
Trade talks and the poor
by BBC economics correspondent Andrew Walker

The big item on the agenda for Doha is launching a new round of trade negotiations.

For many developing countries the starting point is one of serious scepticism about that fundamental idea.

As a group they are angry about the WTO's record to date. They feel that benefits they were told to expect to from the previous round - the Uruguay Round - have not materialised.

The developing nations have a number of issues grouped together under the heading of 'implementation' - that is, implementation of those Uruguay Round agreements.

Ideally they want these issues resolved before a new round gets under way, and there are draft documents on the table for Doha which would deal with some of these problems.

Cheap medicines

The most controversial is access to patented medicines.

WTO agreements require all countries to have twenty years of patent protection for new inventions, including drugs.

There are provisions for overriding patents so that countries can get the medicines at lower prices during health emergencies.

But developing countries want more clarity and flexibility about the circumstances in which they can do this.

The argument in Doha will be about much more flexibility there should be.

Access for textiles

The other implementation issues are a diverse collection.

Developing countries say that the improved access to the markets of the rich countries for their textiles and clothing has failed to happen as promised.

They also want tighter disciplines imposed on what are called anti-dumping actions - when an importing country imposes tariffs on goods it believes are being sold at unfairly low prices. Developing countries think these procedures are abused by rich countries to keep out their goods.

Many countries have a general grievance that implementing the Uruguay Round agreements is simply too onerous.

New demands

And if there is a new round, what does the developing world want on the agenda? Many, especially in Asia, want the better access for their textiles promised in the Uruguay Round - and more.

Even with full implementation of the earlier agreements - which would eliminate quotas - many say they will still face some very high tariffs.

Historically, textiles have been important in the early stages of industrial development for many countries. Developing nations want those benefits now.


For many, agriculture is a central issue. There is a group of food exporting nations, the Cairns Group, which includes developed and developing nations, who want more than anything to get rid of the European Union's subsidies on food exports.

They also want to compete against the subsidised and protected farmers of Japan and South Korea - rice is the key issue for those markets - Switzerland and Norway.

And although they will join forces in Doha with the United States to press Europe on its export subsidies, they also want to see big cuts in domestic support to American farmers.

But many other developing nations want to be sure that they retain the right to subsidise their own farmers, to ensure they have the capacity to produce their own food.

Development round

If the WTO's members can agree a negotiating agenda that incorporates enough of the developing world's concerns, then they probably will, somewhat reluctantly agree to launch a new round.

But in Seattle two years ago it was divisions between developed and developing countries that prevented the previous attempt at launching a new round.

It could yet happen again in Doha.

Former UK trade policy advisor Christopher Roberts
"There is certainly more we need to do"
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