Is China key to restarting global agriculture talks?

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: World trade organization

China could play a vital role in the resumption of the Doha Round
of trade talks, according to the World Economic Forum's China
Business Summit 2006.

Senior government ministers from Egypt, India and Japan argued at the meeting that China's growing influence in the global economy could play a key role in pushing the round to a successful conclusion.

They said that the collapse of the WTO (world trade organisation) trade talks this summer represented a major blow to developing economies. but they are determined that the opportunity to establish fairer global trading practices will not be missed.

"Developing countries will be left out of a lot of opportunities without a multilateral umbrella,"​ said Rachid M. Rachid, minister of trade and industry of Egypt.

Raschid reminded delegates that the Doha round was supposed to be "a development round"​ with developing economies the main beneficiaries.

"We need to see that development is the outcome of this round."

Rachid noted China's growing trade and investment with Egypt and the Middle East. "This diversification is bringing China and Asia into our market for the long term,"​ he said. "We are entering a new phase in our relationship."

Kapil Sibal, India's minister of science and technology, said that China is playing a constructive role in promoting Asian regional integration. Like India, he said, "China is engaged and building partnerships to send a message to the world that it will play by the rules of the game. Let the rules of the game be fair."

Similarly Naokazu Takemoto, senior vice-minister of finance of Japan, said that the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum could be a catalyst for reviving the round. Takemoto stressed that strong relations between Japan and China are vital for sustainable growth in Asia and the world.

But there remains a great deal of pessimism over whether the Doha round could be concluded anytime soon. For example, Jean-Pierre Lehmann, professor of international political economy at the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland, blamed the US, Europe and Japan for the collapse of the talks.

"We are standing at the proverbial crossroads,"​ he said. "China is the huge new kid on the block but the block is in the process of disintegration."

He called for the abolition of all discriminatory trade practices and conditions placed on developing economies.

Wu Jianmin, president of China Foreign Affairs University, concluded that the Doha round is unlikely to be concluded by 2008. Warning of rising protectionism, the former Chinese ambassador to France said that the Doha Round's collapse was the result of the disconnect between reform-reluctant developed countries and reform-eager developing economies.

"When you mention reform to the average Chinese, they welcome it. But in Europe, reform is a dirty word. The deeper reason for the Doha round collapse lies there."

In response, Asia must move to strengthen regional cooperation, Wu argued. He also said that China's spectacular growth should not be seen as a singular phenomenon but as part of a wave of growth spreading across emerging economies.

"We are sharing our growth with the rest of the world,"​ said Wu. "Our policy of reform to the outside world is a long-term policy. Opening up means that we embrace globalisation; we change ourselves to adapt to globalisation."

The Doha Development Agenda, launched in November 2001, in the Qatari capital, Doha, aimed to free global trade by cutting industrial and agricultural tariffs and by reducing farm subsidies, with a special focus on achieving concrete benefits for developing countries.

But talks were suspended this summer after certain WTO members refused to budge on issues such as lowering tariffs.

The World Economic Forum is an independent international organisation committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

Related topics: Policy, East Asia, Supply chain, China

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