- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2006

After more than four years of negotiations with no breakthrough on the toughest issues, and a failed ministerial meeting in Cancun, expectations for Hong Kong were low. The December meeting of the World Trade Organization in Hong Kong kept the Doha Development Agenda trade talks alive.

Progress was made as more than 150 nations gathered to give developing countries a further stake in the global trading system and move forward in efforts to break down barriers to the free flow of agricultural and manufactured goods and services.

We were able to set a date of 2013 for the end of agricultural export subsidies and agree to a number of development initiatives. Perhaps most important, there was a recognition among trade ministers that we cannot afford to miss this once-in-a-generation opportunity to energize the global trading system, create economic growth and lift millions of people out of poverty. The consensus that more open trade is an important development tool is stronger as a result of our commitments in Hong Kong.

At the same time, we have a lot of hard work ahead to ensure a successful outcome for the Doha Round by the end of next year. The United States will continue to play a leadership role.

In a United Nations speech this fall, President Bush laid out a bold vision for open trade to bring renewed economic growth, hope and prosperity to the developing world. We believe that expanded market access, particularly in agriculture, is the key to a final agreement. I feel even more strongly about that after consulting with trading partners in Hong Kong, particularly those from Africa, Asia and Latin America. As World Bank studies make clear, the biggest gains for developing countries will come from opening markets to their agricultural output. What is more, an agreement to make deep cuts in tariffs and open up quotas on agriculture goods will pave the way for success in the Doha Round’s other goals for reducing trade-distorting agriculture subsidies, cutting tariffs on industrial goods and obtaining meaningful new openings for services. We need to redouble efforts across the board, but agriculture is the linchpin for the success of the Round.

One reason the United States is more optimistic after Hong Kong is the meeting helped give the developing countries, most particularly the least-developed countries, a bigger stake in the global trading system. This came through a series of trade measures to support development.

We formalized a landmark breakthrough in the rules governing intellectual property rights that balances the needs of protecting patent rights with delivering life-saving medicines to areas hardest hit by disease. This will be of great importance to countries struggling to cope with HIV/AIDS, malaria and other health crises.

In addition, nations reinforced their commitment to development with significant new pledges of so-called aid for trade. This will help create the legal, administrative and physical infrastructures needed to help developing countries participate fully in the market openings we hope to achieve in the Doha Round. The United States is proud to lead the world in providing such assistance, and as part of the Doha Round, we announced a doubling of our contributions over the next five years from the current level of roughly $1.3 billion a year to $2.7 billion annually.

Also, we committed to duty-free/quota-free treatment for goods from the world’s poorest countries. The United States is already the most open market in the world to these products. In Hong Kong, all developed countries agreed to provide even more trade opportunities for the least-developed.

What is more, we set the stage for cutting costly and confusing customs procedures. This will help facilitate and reduce the costs of trading between developing nations and also help them attract foreign investment. Two years ago at the WTO talks in Cancun, this issue of trade facilitation was a major stumbling block. But in Hong Kong, thanks to the work of a diverse group of countries, we were able to record real progress.

In Hong Kong, I was struck by the cooperation among countries at different levels of development and from all parts of the world. The long-held notion of a world divided by rich countries and poor countries, or North and South, is beginning to be replaced by a system in which countries of diverse makeups work together in pursuit of common objectives.

For example, in Hong Kong the United States worked in common purpose with countries from Zambia to Japan on development initiatives. We worked closely with the Group of 20 developing countries from Latin America, Asia and Africa on agricultural market access and setting a date for ending agricultural export subsidies. We were in common purpose with India and Chile on services and we worked closely with our trading partners in Europe and Korea on reducing industrial tariffs.

Coming out of Hong Kong, the importance of the rules-based multilateral trading system and the peaceful pursuit of expanded commerce were reaffirmed. But now the 150 members of the WTO must join together to make real progress in bridging the fundamental divisions in the Doha negotiations. It will take contributions from all members. Unless this can happen early in this new year, we risk missing a unique opportunity to enhance global economic growth and alleviate poverty.

Rob Portman is the United States Trade Representative.

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