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Tuesday, Nov 12, 2002

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`Mini Ministerial on WTO will be a move forward'

Ashok Dasgupta

Having taken the lead in inviting the elected representatives of 25 developing and developed countries as well as the Director-General of World Trade Organisation, Dr Supachai, Mr Vaile is confident that the informal dialogue with the Ministers will be a constructive move forward.


THE Australian Minister for Trade, Mr Mark Vaile, who is hosting the Mini Ministerial on WTO at Homebush (Sydney) on November 15, is optimistic, but with a tinge of caution.

Having taken the lead in inviting the elected representatives of 25 developing and developed countries as well as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, Dr Supachai, for the one-day event, Mr Vaile is confident that the informal dialogue with the Ministers will be a constructive move forward after the disaster at Seattle.

Briefing a small group of visiting presspersons at his office here, Mr Mark disclosed that he had had a few feelers from the developed blocks such as the US and the European Union. He is confident that once the 25 countries are able to work out an agenda for proceeding towards the Cancum Summit in September next year, it will make it far easier for the bureaucrats in Geneva in their preparations for the Mexico meet.

At the same time, he also knows what is to be done if it does not work out that way. Asked if the Mini Ministerial turns out to be merely a reiteration of the known stands of the various blocs, Mr Vaile notes that such a situation "will lead to another such round, may be some time in January until we come to some sort of an understanding."

Treading the entangled path very cautiously, Mr Vaile has organised a pre-dinner meeting with the various NGO interest groups along with the Ministers that arrive in Sydney by then.

Having known their views on agriculture, TRIPs and pharmaceuticals, the dinner is to be utilised to set the tone for the informal meeting of Ministers on Friday.

"That will give us an indication of where to start," Mr Vaile said.

The first item, and probably the most crucial issue on the agenda, he says will be TRIPs and public health.

Access to medicines for developing countries, particularly for diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV-AIDS, he says, is a crucial issue for the developing world.

The intellectual property for a lot of these drugs is obviously held and controlled in the developed and rich economies. And, therefore, some compromises will have to be reached so as to accommodate reasonable access to those drugs for the developing countries without compromising on their IP rights.

The next major item on the agenda of the meeting, which has been called the Doha development round, is on market access, particularly in the field of agriculture.

Australia, as is India, are the key proponents of change in agriculture trade rules across the world — obviously to "improve the circumstances and opportunities" for our farmers. The current rules are grossly unfair to the developing world, unrealistic and unsustainable, Mr Vaile says.

In this aspect, he says, Australia and India, the only country invited from South Asia, are together, except for a marginal difference in perception on the aspect of food security.

However, he is sure that the developing world will stand together in this as otherwise there will not be any headway.

This is for the simple reason that under WTO, "it is one country, one vote. It may be the US, it may be Lesotho, but the vote is single," quips Mr Vaile.

Representing India, in the absence of the Commerce Minister, Mr Murasoli Maran, who is indisposed, would be the Minister for Disinvestment, Mr Arun Shourie.

The other participant countries, part from the developed world, are seven from Africa and most of the countries in South-East Asia.

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