Caribbean trade ministers plan for WTO conference

Caribbean Trade Ministers recently met in Barbados to prepare for the Sixth World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference, which will take place in Hong Kong 13-18 December.

At the meeting, which took place 19 November, participants emphasized that unless development issues are given prominence in the negotiating agenda, the conference is unlikely to end in agreement.

The development dimension of the Doha Round is vitally important for the Caribbean, but continues to be neglected in the negotiating agenda, according to a press release from the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery, an organisation created by CARICOM.

Success for the Doha Round must be gauged by how effectively the interests of the most vulnerable WTO members, as measured against poverty and small size, are addressed, according to the press release.

Whether the Caribbean joins in any consensus at Hong Kong will hinge on whether the legitimate interests of these small, vulnerable economies are adequately reflected in the negotiating agenda.

Ministers expressed regret that so close to the Ministerial Conference, the European Union has not been able to adopt a tariff for imports of bananas from Latin American countries, and expressed deep concern with the decision of Honduras to place bananas on the agenda in Hong Kong.

Together, these developments could jeopardize the continued export of Caribbean bananas to the EU market, and prospects for the outcome of the year-end WTO Ministerial, the release said.

Ministers reiterated concerns, shared with other Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Sugar Protocol countries, that the proposals by the European Commission for reform of the Sugar Regime, if adopted in their present form, would have devastating consequences for vulnerable economies and lead to severe social and economic dislocation and an increase in poverty.

Ministers emphasized that they would be paying close attention to the outcome of the deliberations of the EU Agriculture Council, and stressed that any decision on reform of the Sugar Regime that did not adequately take into account the legitimate interests of Caribbean sugar-producing countries could also influence their disposition towards the several issues to be addressed.

While welcoming the Aid for Trade initiative of the US and EU, the Caribbean is of the view that the target beneficiaries should explicitly include small, vulnerable economies, according to the release.

Ministers expressed deep concern that development issues are still not finding expression in WTO talks. The Caribbean has repeatedly affirmed its support for WTO talks, but there are grave misgivings about how they are being conducted, the release said.

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