The World Bank added its voice to the indignation expressed by the least developed countries over their treatment at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong, saying there has been much talk about development but too little action.
Danny Leipziger, vice-president of the World Bank, said in a statement: “The major trading economies of the developed world are keeping the big issues off the table, and as long as that happens, the poor will suffer.”
South Korean anti-globalisation protesters, who clashed with police during the first two days of the conference, were expected to try again on Thursday to reach the venue of the convention centre on the waterfront of Hong Kong’s harbour.
A group of about 200 fishermen from Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia marched from a local park aiming to hand in a petition letter to the WTO urging it to suspend talks on fishing issues, but they were halted by police.
Riot police have used pepper spray and batons to beat Korean protesters back but they expect more intense confrontations before the meeting closes on Sunday.
So far there has been no repeat of the violence that marred a 2003 WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico, where talks on a deal to reform world trade and lift millions out of poverty almost collapsed.
The Hong Kong meeting was initially intended to approve a draft trade treaty freeing up business in farm and industrial goods and services, known in the jargon as the Doha round.
US wants greater market access
That plan was abandoned because of differences between rich and poor nations – particularly the European Union’s refusal to make further cuts in import tariffs for farm goods without offers of greater export access for its goods and services – though the 149 WTO nations still hope to reach a deal by the end of 2006.
Saddled with that impasse, the WTO had hoped to come away from Hong Kong with at least a duty-free and quota-free deal for the world’s 49 poorest nations and their 700 million people.
But the US has baulked at allowing poor exporters free access to sensitive areas such as textiles, sugar and cotton, and Japan does not want to open up its rice market.
They also want to be able to revoke preferential access for least developed countries’ imports that exceed a certain share in their markets, and Washington wants to delay implementation of the deal until the overall Doha round package comes into effect.
Altaf Chowdhury, the Bangladeshi commerce minister, told the meeting: “It is now time to put … promises into action. We expect the developed countries that have not already done so to announce in Hong Kong a timetable for the introduction of such market access.”
Dipak Patel, the Zambian trade minister who is also co-ordinator of the WTO’s poorest member states, condemned the US and Japan for seeking exemptions to protect their own industries.
“Developing countries, forced to liberalise by developed countries, have always been told that liberalisation will deliver gains … It is not too late for developed countries to swallow their own medicine,” he said in a statement.
Big protests are expected before
Another source of friction in Hong Kong was the EU’s refusal to endorse 2010 as a date to end agricultural export subsidies.
The 25-nation EU says Washington must first indicate how it plans to reform its food aid, which – because it is in kind rather than cash – the bloc says amounts to as great a subsidy for US farmers as European export subsidies.
Rob Portman, the US trade representative, said on Thursday that America is prepared to allow West African nations duty-free access to its cotton market.
“The United States is willing under the duty-free, quota-free commitments we will make to provide duty-free access to cotton for West African countries,” he told journalists.