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Thursday, 17 February, 2000, 18:24 GMT
West blocks Unctad deal

Violent demonstrations have increasingly accompanied trade talks Violent demonstrations have increasingly accompanied trade talks

The industrialised countries have refused to negotiate any specific trade issues at a major conference on development in Bangkok.

They have made it clear that any draft declaration - which will officially be published on Saturday - cannot contain any concrete commitments to open markets to poor countries.

The UN conference on trade and development (Unctad) meeting was billed as a meeting that would repair the bridges between developing countries and the big industrial countries on world trade issues.

That mistrust led to the breakdown of trade talks in Seattle in December that were meant to lead to a new round of trade negotiations.

The head of Unctad, Rubens Rucupero, had been pressing for concessions to help the world's 48 poorest countries, whose average incomes and exports have been declining in real terms over the past decade.

Sweden blames EU

Sweden has criticised its fellow EU members for refusing to throw open trade barriers to poor countries unconditionally.

Sweden "strongly advocates the right of the least developed countries to export everything they can produce to the developed countries," said Swedish trade minister Leif Pagrotksy.

At present "nobody can be sure that their export products will be included or excluded. This uncertainty diminishes the power of the proposal."

Mr Pagrotsky urged the West to make a more comprehensive offer as "a very good investment in credibility and investment for the future of trade negotiations."

Delegates target subsidies

The draft declaration is likely to contain a strong criticism of the continuing high level of agricultural subsidies by rich countries, especially the European Union, which make it more difficult for poor countries to sell their agricultural products in the West.

But they were facing opposition from industrialised countries.

"Nations which attach the highest importance to the issue of agricultural subsidies will not like to have a language that could be misconstrued once they start negotiations within the WTO," Unctad spokesman Habib Ouane said.

And there is likely to be clarification of the social element of trade - a key sticking point at Seattle, where it was the industrialised countries who were pressing for concessions from the developing world.

The United States has already made it clear that it does not believe that Unctad is the appropriate place to negotiate trade deals.

It prefers the World Trade Organisation, which has a disputes procedure and a set of legal precedents that is heavily used by the most well-resourced countries.

Going backwards

Unctad has pointed out that the number of the world's least developed countries, who have completely lost out in the rush to global markets, have increased in number in the last decade from 24 to 48.

The UN conference on trade and development, established in l964, in one of the main UN bodies charged with planning the strategy for the economic development of the world's poorest countries. It has focused on commodity prices, the transfer of technology, and the role of multinational companies.

Other agencies, notably the World Bank, are among the main lenders to the Third World.
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See also:
11 Feb 00 |  Business
World trade focus shifts to UN
13 Feb 00 |  Business
US rejects trade reform plans
15 Feb 00 |  Business
Warning over 'casino economy'
08 Feb 00 |  Business
WTO: Trade talks to resume

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