GENEVA – World Trade Organization chief Pascal Lamy is counting on Japan to be more active in securing a successful conclusion to the Doha Round of global trade talks, as concerns mount over protectionism amid the economic crisis.
Japan should compromise on the issue of market access for farm products, as the country has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the open multilateral trading system, the WTO Director General suggested Wednesday
“If you look at the package that is on the table, it is a very good package for Japan,” Lamy said at the WTO headquarters in Geneva. “Industrial tariffs will be reduced by 60 percent in developed countries and 50 percent in emerging countries . . . there is a price to pay in agriculture.”
Under the latest WTO proposals, developed countries are allowed to designate up to 4 percent of products as “sensitive” to protect them from steep tariff cuts.
Japan, however, wants at least 8 percent of all farm products to be treated as such.
Lamy said he realizes agriculture is “a very sensitive topic for Japan,” but what is on the table now has “many sensitivities” for all players, both developed and developing.
But he indicated there may still be room for Japan to negotiate on how to treat politically sensitive farm products if it is prepared to concede in other areas.
“We know that Japan is asking for more,” said Lamy, who will make a three-day visit to the country from next Tuesday. “The question is what is the price that Japan is ready to pay to have more than the normal.
“If you want more there, you cannot ask for more everywhere,” he said. “You have to make a choice at the end of the day between the various clusters of the negotiations,” which have repeatedly stalled since their inception in Qatar’s capital in 2001.
In the most recent failure, the WTO had to cancel a ministerial meeting in December, even though many world leaders had tried to make another attempt to hammer out an outline deal by the end of 2008 as a way to restore confidence in the battered world economy.
The cancellation was due mainly to disagreements between the United States and emerging heavyweights, including as China and India, over how to lower trade barriers in farm and manufactured goods.
In reference to the deepening economic crisis, Lamy urged that Japan play a bigger role in fighting emerging protectionist threats.
“It seems obvious that the interest of Japan is to help us all fighting protectionist (pressures),” which would hit the country’s economy the most, given its heavy reliance on exports, he said.
“Japan has a specific stake in making sure that trade remains open during the crisis,” Lamy said.
“Antiprotectionism is not a question of religious faith, it is not a question of ideology, it is not a question of philosophy,” he said. “It is a simple question that (protectionism) does not work.
“If you protect your imports, somebody will hit your exports. It is as simple as that,” he said. “This notion that imports are the problem and exports are the solution does not make any sense.”
Lamy warned that there will be a vicious circle of worsening economic conditions if global trade is obstructed.
“We saw that in the 1930s,” he said.
On the likelihood of convening a ministerial meeting in the near future, Lamy said, “It would be premature to take any stance on this,” as WTO members have recently been dealing with a range of issues at a technical level and the new U.S. administration needs more time to review its options on global trade policies.
During his visit to Japan next week, the WTO chief is scheduled to hold talks with Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshihiro Nikai and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Shigeru Ishiba.
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