Rafidah on lessons of Cancun meeting


  • Business
  • Tuesday, 04 Nov 2003

BY ELAINE ANG

THE World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico, two months ago cannot be viewed as a success or failure but as a meeting where many lessons could be learnt, said International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz. 

“There are many lessons that can be learnt from the meeting in Cancun. Developed countries should listen more to the array of real concerns of the developing countries. Developing countries must also understand their rights and how they should approach every issue. They must also understand and appreciate the success that can be achieved in unity,” she said at a seminar on the Outcome of the 5th WTO Ministerial Conference in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. 

Rafidah said developed countries should not “politicise and bulldoze” the agenda of the meeting but that everyone should have a fair and equitable chance to participate. 

She said negotiations post-Cancun must focus on market access negotiations in agriculture, non-agriculture and services. These are the strengths of the WTO as a multilateral trade organisation. 

“We need to confine it to the core competencies of the WTO if we want the talks to succeed,” she said, adding that the Cancun meeting could not proceed beyond the discussion on the contentious “Singapore issues”, i.e. the relationship between trade and investment, trade and competition policy, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation. 

Developed countries pushing for the four issues want global rules in these areas that most view as encroaching into the sovereign rights of nations.  

Most developing members argued that these issues were complex, with far-reaching implications on their ability to pursue their development goals, and that careful study would be required.  

Rafidah said further negotiations would also concentrate on the fact that the European Union had said it was prepared to “unbundle” the four issues brought up during the meeting to be negotiated one by one. 

“They have even agreed to drop investment and competition policy from the negotiations but this was mentioned only 15 minutes before the Green Room meeting was about to end,” she said. 

On the Asean Free Trade Area (Afta), Rafidah said it had worked for the country.  

“We are the second largest trading country in Asean with 26% of our trade with Asean countries. The spirit of Afta is still there,” she said. 

She said although China had become a de facto leader in the region with its huge economic strength and potential that had not been fully tapped yet, the country viewed it as a competitor and partner but not a threat.  

Earlier related story: Rafidah on how to revive trade talks 


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