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S. Asian trade experts worried over Hong Kong WTO meet

Our Bureau

New forms of barriers to trade such as technical standards need to be dismantled if the meaningful participation of developing countries into mainstream of trade and development is to be ensured.

New Delhi , Oct. 28

TRADE experts from South Asian countries have expressed serious concern that the forthcoming ministerial of the World Trade Organisation in Hong Kong in December might go the Cancun way.

Taking part in the launch of the first South Asian Year Book 2005 of Trade and Development by an independent think tank on international trade and development in South Asia - Centre for Trade and Development (Centad) - on Friday, trade and development experts from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal cautioned that they should not pitch their hopes too high on the forthcoming WTO ministerial.

Inaugurating the two-day seminar on `Mainstreaming development in trade negotiations: Run-up to Hong Kong', the Additional Secretary, Ministry of Commerce, Mr G.K. Pillai, said, "Developing countries have the onus of developing a common agenda and must iron out their inner differences." He said the pressing issue today is to cut rates and open up market access in agriculture. New forms of barriers to trade such as technical standards need to be dismantled if the meaningful participation of developing countries into mainstream of trade and development is to be ensured.

The first monograph of South Asian Trade and Development comprises a series of research papers on trade related topics relevant to South Asian countries. It calls for harmonisation of tariff nomenclatures and customs procedures, reducing or eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers and expansion of intra-regional trade and investment flows, which will not only heighten the perception of a reality of common interest but also enhance the bargaining power of the countries to pursue their common interests at WTO negotiations. Besides, it said, gains from trade negotiations could be best realised by means of enhanced competitiveness and efficiency of regional economies through regional integration.

In his welcome address, the Centad Founding Director, Dr Samar Verma, said the objective of the Centre is to foster a platform for informed debates and advocacy on global trade issues in South Asia.

In his remarks, the Director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies, Mr Bibek Debroy, said the key focus should be on how to mainstream trade negotiations in the development agenda rather than mainstream development in trade negotiations.

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