UN meeting closes with call for trade deal to help least developed countries

First Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Week concludes

Senior government officials meeting at the regional arm of the United Nations for Asia and the Pacific today called for exports from the least developed countries to be granted duty- and quota-free access, without waiting for the completion of the Doha round of trade negotiations on reducing trade barriers.

Participants at the first session of the Committee on Trade and Investment of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) also called for a more-proactive role for the region in global decision making bodies in order to prevent future financial crises and their subsequent devastating effects.

Meeting from 4 to 6 November in Bangkok, more than 100 senior officials, academics and private sector representatives from some 25 countries warned against protectionism which could undermine the multilateral trading system and delay recovery from the crisis. While recognizing that South-South, intra-regional trade was the way forward, the governments identified “red tape” in trade among the countries in Asia and the Pacific as a major bottleneck.

“Asia-Pacific is more economically integrated with the rest of the region than with itself,” said Noeleen Heyzer, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary. She noted there were enormous opportunities for growth in South-South trade and investment but that tremendous procedural obstacles and high tariffs were the biggest stumbling blocks to achieving that goal.

In his keynote address, Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), elaborated on the nature of the global crisis. “This financial crisis has turned into a social crisis for some countries in the Asia-Pacific region, with job losses and deterioration in social well-being,” he said, adding that “the region cannot let the recovery be a jobless recovery.”
Countries agreed that while the trade-led-model of development had served the Asia-Pacific region well, the time had come to ensure that trade policies were pro-poor and contributed to an environmentally sustainable path of development. They called for special attention to agro-industry that offers millions of poor a livelihood in formulating trade policies.

The participating governments also recognized that enterprises had a responsibility to give back to society. “World leaders have expressed their belief that responsible business practice will be critical to restoring public trust in the global financial system,” Dr. Heyzer said in reminding participants on corporate social responsibility: “Building healthy and inclusive societies, sustainable markets, safeguarding the environment and combating corruption are just as important for business as it is for the United Nations and its member governments.”

The Committee’s other recommendations included an early conclusion and balanced outcome to the Doha round of trade negotiations, which seek to further liberalize global trade by reducing tariffs and non-tariff barriers; incremental aid for trade to strengthen the supply-side capacity to trade; addressing at-the-border and behind-the-border regulatory and procedural barriers to trade and investment; effective trade finance mechanisms to help small- and medium-enterprises; and greater regional integration through the development of regional value-chains.

The Committee session was held alongside a series of activities at ESCAP’s first Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Week. Other events included the Asia-Pacific Economists’ Conference on “Trade-led Growth in Times of Crisis” to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Asia-Pacific Research and Training Network on Trade (ARTNeT), the OECD/ESCAP Conference on Corporate Responsibility and other workshops.