Rafidah more confident of progress in WTO talks

  • Business
  • Tuesday, 08 Jun 2004

PUCON, (Chile): International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz says she is now more optimistic that there will be some progress at the global trade talks next month now that some major economies had backed down from their one-time hardline stance. 

The General Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will be meeting in Geneva to find approaches towards moving forward the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), also known as the Doha Round of the global trade negotiations. 

Rafidah said she was once pessimistic when some WTO members held on to their hardline positions and threw a spanner in the works at the WTO trade talks in Cancun, Mexico, last year but was now heartened that some major economies had become more pragmatic and were ready to move forward. 

Speaking at a press conference at the end of two days of talks among Apec trade ministers, Rafidah said Malaysia held on to the belief that some of the more positive developments after Cancun would result in consensus on a number of issues following the “tide of flexibility” adopted by some major economies. 

This can be seen from the insistence of some WTO members in negotiating all four of the so-called new issues on trade facilitation, trade and investment, trade and competition policy, transparency in government procurement having given way now to just one – the less contentious issue of trade facilitation. 

Such pragmatic shifts, she said, may even lead to consensus on other areas like agriculture, non-agricultural market access and other attendant issues. 

In an interview with Bernama later, Rafidah said the change in the stance was perhaps the realisation by some that there were now more countries which were willing to speak up if they were unhappy about some issues and that some countries had also realised that one “simply cannot push the issues on the table and expect everybody to follow them.” 

She said the hardliners had perhaps done some rethinking and were now listening to the concerns of developing countries. “That's the way it should be.”  

Sharing her thoughts on how Apec could help jumpstart the stalled WTO talks, Rafidah said she had proposed that an Apec text be presented to non-Apec WTO members. 

This document, she said, could serve as a basis for discussions among WTO members as it could accommodate or enumerate the various positions within Apec itself given that some Apec members may not be in agreement on a particular issue; but what was important was for the text or document to be disseminated so that others could comment on it. 

In this connection, she said the Apec WTO Caucus in Geneva had been directed to crystallise the various positions of Apec member economies and present them for comment because “in some causes we are of one mind, and in other causes we are at different levels of acceptance.” 

Referring to the just concluded meeting here, Rafidah said she was pleased with the outcome as Apec was now on the right track, focusing on its core business of economic cooperation, which would then translate into programmes that would benefit the private sector. 

Many of the Apec programmes that Malaysia had participated in had a direct relevance to the business community as such endeavours had shown results in facilitating trade like Customs harmonisation, standards, mutual recognition arrangements, standards of conformance. 

Such technicalities could either hinder or smoothen trade, but once properly addressed, would really make for growth of trade in the region, Rafidah said. 

“Malaysia is very particular about participating in all these, and making sure that all the changes are subscribed to by everyone to facilitate intra-Apec trade,” she said. – Bernama  

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