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LDC commerce ministers start trade talks in Siem Reap

Forty-nine ministers from the world’s poorest countries to discuss commerce, aid and the effects of the global economic meltdown

Siem Reap
COMMERCE Ministers from 49 of the world's least developed countries (LDCs) converged on Siem Reap Tuesday to kick off a two-day summit on trade liberalisation and aid.

"We are looking for participants to draft a declaration on the issues raised in this conference, but with the global economic situation, we expect to have a very interesting debate," said a spokesman at the conference.

The talks are sponsored by the World Trade Organisation and the UN Industrial Development Organisation (Unido) and will be attended by donor agencies and NGOs.

Mao Thora, a secretary of state at Cambodia's Ministry of Commerce, said that developing countries will continue to liberalise trade, even with the difficult economic times.

"By joining the international community, we can increase production, lower rates of tariffs and continue to open our markets.... Progress will need to happen through local efforts, but we will need guidance from international agencies," he said at the conference.

Focus on int'l markets

A spokesman for the conference said that the talks will focus on improving developing countries' ability to compete on the international market.

"[The conference] will help enhance capacity for the supply-side.... There is a global move to open up trade, but LDCs face special challenges."

The meeting will allow developing countries to discuss the outcomes of the recent G20 meeting in Brazil, as well as the WTO's Doha round of talks on trade liberalisation.

you might be open to trade, but it doesn't mean that anyone is going to buy what you're selling.

The Doha round produced  an agreement to remove trade barriers by rich countries on at least 97 percent of exports from the poorest countries. Western subsidies on agricultural goods, which are a key LDC export, would also come down under the Doha agreements.

Adrie De Groot, a director of Unido, said that he is optimistic that the talks will help developing countries to adapt to the international economic crisis.

"Although there is a shortage of credit, the impacts [of the crisis] aren't felt much in developing countries because investor money will flow into growing economies. There may be a positive impact on developing countries, although trade ... may be less."

Free trade policies moot?

Least developed countries have come under pressure by the global economic crisis as commodity prices plummet and foreign direct investment dries up.

One London-based analyst wondered whether slower demand might make free trade policies for developing countries moot.

"You might be open to trade, but it doesn't mean that anyone is going to buy.... Trade liberalisation doesn't make up for falling trade and economic growth," said Vanessa Rossi, a senior research fellow with the  International Economics Program at Chatham House.

She added that the Aid for Trade programs spearheaded by international institutions would have difficulty succeeding in a global recession.

"Aid will not drop ... but the problem with the Aid for Trade initiative is that LDCs are seeing a headwind of falling trade.

"[LDCs] have to look at how they are going to survive a very rough ride," she said.

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