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NGO Sees No Progress At WTO Talks on Agricultural Subsidies

Many NGOs have sent delegations to Hong Kong to monitor the World Trade Organization ministerial talks. One of them is the Geneva-based South Center, an intergovernmental organization representing nearly 50 developing countries. It’s monitoring the major issue of agricultural subsidies by rich nations.

Rashid Kaukab is head of the South Center’s program on trade and development. From Hong Kong, he gave English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua his views on the status of the WTO talks so far.

“Very honestly, no progress. I have been to all the WTO ministerials since this organization came into being and this ministerial is probably the strangest experience. This is the end of the third day …lots and lots of meetings, all night sessions, but people are just repeating their positions particularly in agriculture. The facilitator reported that he does not see any progress at all. And agriculture is at the center of these negotiations. So, yes, really nothing’s happening so far.,”he says.

US Trade representative Rob Portman is quoted as saying that if the current round of talks fail it will “call into question the purpose of the WTO, adding if there’s progress it will be “good for the US economy and particularly good for our exports.”

Mr. Kaukab says, “A high profile failure for the WTO ministerial conference certainly would not be good for the credibility of the multi-lateral trading system…It is equally important that the success is a good success, a development oriented success, which was the promise and for which the developing countries have been waiting for a long time now.”

Some have called for a follow-up session in three or four months to again take up the issue of agricultural subsidies. But the South Center official says he sees no reason for a change in position in that amount of time if no progress is made in Hong Kong.