• Kyodo

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Trade minister Takeo Hiranuma and his U.S. counterpart Robert Zoellick agreed Thursday that the two countries will hold working-level discussions in Tokyo as early as next week to finalize the planned creation of a new vice-ministerial trade panel, a Japanese official said.

Hiranuma, the economy, trade and industry minister, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick met on the sidelines of a two-day meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Shanghai.

The high-level panel, tentatively referred to as the Trade Commission, is expected to be launched when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi holds his first summit with President George W. Bush in Camp David on June 30.

The commission will hold periodic bilateral discussions on key trade issues related to automobiles, agricultural products and other major trade items.

Hiranuma voiced regret, however, over the decision of U.S. President George W. Bush to order an investigation into whether current levels of steel imports are harming U.S. producers, Japanese officials said.

On Tuesday, Bush ordered the U.S. International Trade Commission to conduct an investigation into whether the U.S. steel industry is being hurt by imports.

The investigation, which will be carried out under section 201 of the 1974 U.S. trade law, could lead to punitive U.S. tariffs on steel imports.

Globalization tirade

Visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad voiced concerns Thursday that globalization is not benefiting poor countries and that a new round of World Trade Organization talks would further marginalize the poor.

In a speech at the U.N. University in Tokyo, Mahathir, a strong advocate of the rights of developing countries, said poor countries are “unwilling to hold the next round of WTO talks” because rich countries are trying to impose “free and unregulated” markets that would hurt uncompetitive economies.

“The WTO is not about fair trade,” Mahathir said. “It is about forcing down the throats of the unwilling the ideas of the rich to help enrich themselves further.”

The international community is trying to launch the new round of trade talks in Qatar in November.

But member countries have yet to agree on the agenda. While Japan and the European Union want to discuss a wide range of items in a package, including antidumping rules, investment and competition policy, the United States favors a sector-by-sector approach.

Some developing countries, including Malaysia, are against holding the new round itself, claiming the world trade body does not represent the interests of the poor.

“We cannot go to the meeting not knowing what is going to be offered. The first thing we need to do is to determine the agenda and give poor countries time to study the agenda,” Mahathir said.

“We need to be able to talk to each other and then come to the WTO meeting with a common sense.”

At the moment, it’s not fair at all because the agenda is (going to be ) written by the rich countries.”

He argued that governments, especially in developing countries, should have the right to regulate markets so their economies are not destroyed by manipulative currency trading and giant international corporations.

Citing Malaysia’s recovery from the 1997 Asian currency crisis by fixing exchange rates and regulating capital flows, Mahathir said governments need to be able to take selective approaches to trade liberalization and not leave everything to free trade.

“Globalization at this moment is not a win-win game. It is about the winners continuing to win and the losers continuing to lose,” he said.

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