AUSTRALIA: Shadow trade minister calls for WTO to take developing world concerns seriously

The EU and the US won't succeed in incorporating environmental standards into international trade agreements until the superpowers allow least developed countries (LDCs) free access to industrialised markets, says the Australian Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

Senator Peter Cook spoke on 28 March about the future of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at a conference in London. Cook argued that the next round of WTO talks will not get off the ground until developing countries are sure that their concerns won’t be endlessly postponed. “Ultimately, we have to deal with their demands and deal with them intelligently,” said Cook.

Cook used the example of the recent failure to set up a working group, let alone an actual trade agreement, to explore how the world’s 34 LDCs could be given free access to the consumer markets of the world’s richest countries for products for which the LDCs possess some market advantage – usually agricultural products or textiles.

“The talks [on market acess for LDCs] collapsed because of the US and Europe. If an agreement on this is not possible, then a new round is not possible either,” said Cook, who wants to see the EU change its negotiating approach with developing countries. “This is an area in which Europe should move, without waiting for the US. This will bring a new [WTO] round closer and it would provide Europe with the opportunity to take the global leadership it seeks.”

Environmental concerns should be taken into consideration when negotiating trade liberalisation, argued Cook, who admitted that Australia’s present Government is “not a ‘demander'” in terms of environmental standards in WTO agreements. Cook’s party, the Labour Party, takes a different view, but even it is concerned that some environmentalists want to destroy the global trade liberalisation movement.

“I’m frustrated by the vagueness of some of the environmental proposals [that were circulating at Seattle],” said Cook, who stated that some of the groups pushing the WTO to address environmental concerns aren’t being honest about their fundamental dislike of global trade liberalisation. “I don’t think I can negotiate with those people. Their goals are the antithesis of what I believe in [and] we should disbar from the vessel those who want to sink it.”

Cook is a former Chair of the Cairns Group of Agricultural Free Trading Nations. He was speaking at Sustainability, Trade & Investment: Which way now for the WTO?, organised by the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

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