Friday, December 02, 2005

The WTO's Sixth Ministerial Conference to be held in Hong Kong in December

On Tuesday, December 13, the World Trade Organization will hold its sixth Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong, to further negotiations of issues left for the Doha Round.

Some hot-button issues that await agreement between member states include the reduction of industrial tariffs, intellectual property patents and agriculture tariffs.

The recurring theme that developed countries should assist the least developed countries through trade is still relevant at the talks. Concessions on one issue can be used as leverage for negotiations in another. For example, EU trade commissioner Mendelson has said that there will be no further EU reduction of farm tariffs, while some developing countries such as Brazil and India would not cut industrial tariffs or open the service industry unless the EU makes further cut on farm tariffs. The developing countries claim that tariffs imposed by the EU has depressed prices for agricultural products worldwide. The current negotiation is often characterized as a deadlock.

More specifically, agreements on agriculture should be made on three pillars, namely domestic support, export subsidies (and other aspects of the export regime) and market access. A preliminary plan envisages five tiers in the tariff reduction formula, fixed percentage reductions for tariffs within each tier with higher cuts in higher tiers, maximum final tariffs (“caps”), flexibility through a limited number of designated “sensitive products”, milder treatment for developing countries. This scheme aims at providing flexibility so to encourage agreements.

On a more optimistic note, the WTO has extended the deadline for the world's poorest countries to comply with intellectual property rules on patents, trademarks and copyrights. However, one crucial issue remained to be discussed is whether the least developed countries can have better access to cheap generic medicine, as part of the development package. The deadline is said to be extended from Janurary of next year to year 2013.

Financial Times, WTO Chief Urges Actions Ahead of Talks
Financial Times, WTO Extends Intellectual Property Exemption Deadline for Poorest Countries
The Taiwan Times, Prospects Cloudy for WTO Meeting in Hong Kong
The World Trade Organization, Farm Talks Chairperson Reports to Trade Negotiations Committee

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