The Nation



Govt calls for progress on Doha

THE CAIRNS GROUP, a coalition of 19 countries that export agricultural goods, is calling on the World Trade Organisation to show some progress in the Doha Round of trade talks this year to strengthen the world economy and ensure fair competition.

"The Cairns Group insists on a revolution in the agricultural sector, including a more open market for farm goods and reductions in farm subsidies and market distortions to ensure fair competition for every country," Thai Commerce Minister Niwatthumrong Boonsongpaisan said yesterday during the ninth WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali.

The group and Thailand would like to see the WTO impose some measures to liberalise the farm sector to help developing nations.

All 19 member states are hoping for a positive outcome to the marathon talks, as the Doha Round has been dragging on for 12 years. The members would like to see some measures get implemented as they worry that other WTO members could turn their back on the Doha negotiations and focus on bilateral deals instead. That would create unfair competition for many countries, particularly developing nations, which have weaker bargaining power.

To increase confidence in the WTO, the world's largest cooperation group and the principal international institution for the management of international trade, this year's meeting needs to produce some results and ensure fair rules and laws.

The Cairns Group is a unique coalition of 19 agricultural exporting countries with a commitment to reforming agricultural trade. A diverse coalition bringing together developed and developing countries from Latin America, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, the group has been an influential voice in the agricultural-reform debate since its formation in 1986.

It has also continued to play a key role in pressing the WTO membership to meet in full the far-reaching mandate set in Doha.

The Cairns Group countries have also held discussions with members of the Group of 20 developed nations on opening agricultural markets and reducing farm subsidies to ensure fair competition for all.

The G-20 members have declared their support for the growth of the farming sector by reducing subsidisation and managing imports under a quota system.

Thailand has vowed to support the growth of the farming sector and expects the WTO to make some achievements that will increase access for Thai crops in the world market. Thailand has also agreed to support the growth of least developed nations and has provided some privileges. It has waived duties and quotas for 49 countries, of which 34 are in Africa, 14 in Asia and one in Latin America.

Meanwhile, Thailand has called for Italy to help the Kingdom cope with the loss of tariff privileges under the European Union's revised Generalised System of Preferences next year.

After meeting with Italian Deputy Economic Development Minister Carlo Calenda, Niwatthumrong said Italy would hold the EU presidency during the second half of next year. Thailand has called for Italy to help it increase trade opportunities in the bloc after it loses some tariff privileges under GSP cuts scheduled for early 2014.

Thailand has called for the EU to grant some privileges or delay reductions mainly for farm goods and fishery products.

Also, Italy has accepted Thailand's invitation for a mission to Bangkok next year. Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta is to lead 200 businesspeople to strengthen trade and investment cooperation with Thailand in July.

After a meeting with Johann Schneider-Ammann, head of the Swiss Department of Economic Affairs Education and Research, Niwatthumrong said the two sides agreed to speed up negotiations for a free-trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association.

Under the plan, Thailand and the four members of EFTA - Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein - will talk further on an early-harvest scheme soon before wrapping agreeing on a comprehensive FTA.

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