WTO TRADE TALKS: ‘Global poverty can be reduced’

Hong Kong, November 28:

Although hopes of breaking down barriers to free trade at an upcoming World Trade Oraganisation (WTO) summit have taken a dive, a deal can still be reached to ease world poverty, France’s trade minister said today. Christine Lagarde said she hoped that greater emphasis on development issues would ease ‘misunderstanding’ about France’s opposition to agricultural tariff reductions, which is hampering any chance of a deal at the December meeting. “There will not be consensus and there will not be major progress in Hong Kong,” Legarde was quoted as telling the South China Morning Post daily here, “However, on the development front, I would hope that we can really deliver for the least developed countries.”

The Hong Kong ministerial conference had hoped to bring the so-called Doha round of WTO talks close to a conclusion. The round aims to reduce trade tariffs and use the gains to alleviate poverty.

However, the European Union has balked at large-scale cuts to agricultural import tariffs, vital to a deal. France, the largest agricultural producer in the EU, has borne the brunt of the blame for this. Lagarde said too much had been expected of the EU without any reciprocal concessions offered to allow easier access for its industrial goods and services in developing markets. “There’s been a lot of work put into the agricultural debate but there’s been very, very little in those areas that are of real concern to developed nations,” she said.