Knight Expresses Optimism about Regional Trade Prospects


K.D Knight, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, has expressed optimism about CARICOM’s ability to benefit from current global trade negotiations despite the recent breakdown of talks in Cancun, Mexico.
Minister Knight’s statements came during a recent appearance on the public affairs programme CaribNation, which airs on WHUR-TV, an affiliate of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
The Minister said that despite the failure of Cancun to reach a consensus on key issues emanating from the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Doha round of negotiations, he was hopeful that next month’s meeting of the hemisphere’s trade ministers in Miami to discuss the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), would provide an opportunity for CARICOM nations to make progress in key areas, such as the special and differential treatment of smaller economies in the negotiating process and the eventual implementation of a free trade agreement.
“We are going to the Ministerial with an expectation that we can make progress on these issues and are focusing on achieving results. We are looking forward,” he stated.
Calling the Cancun meeting a “wake up call” for the international trading system, Minister Knight argued that, “the impasse provides the WTO with a new opportunity to candidly and meaningfully address some of the fundamental concerns of the developing world and fashion a WTO that is transparent, fair and inclusive.”
He further contended that “trade liberalization, in and of itself, is not a panacea,” and cautioned that developing countries would remain skeptical participants unless many of the issues, which were initially mandated by the Doha round for settlement, were in fact resolved. “To the extent that the WTO is viewed as transparent and fair,” he submitted, “this view will go a long way in building the kind of confidence that is critical to the eventual success of the negotiations,” the Minister stated.
He attributed the failure of Cancun to the non-settlement of several outstanding issues that many countries in the developing world had expected to see real progress in, since the Doha round was initiated.
“Instead of focusing on the (unresolved) issues relating to agriculture, the attention instead was on matters like the so-called Singapore issues involving issues such as government procurement, competition policy and investment,” he said. “As a result, Cancun then became of little economic value to developing countries and to CARICOM, as key areas, such as the reduction of (agricultural) subsidies, which are critical to the CARICOM agenda, did not receive the attention that was required.”
In a frank assessment of the impact of subsidies, Mr. Knight warned that this practice had, and would continue to decimate the region’s agricultural sector. “When the United States gives subsidies to its farmers, how can our agricultural sector compete,” he queried, noting that the practice had hampered the stability of the sector and fostered unemployment.
The Trade Minister also urged the WTO to take into account the perspectives of CARICOM and other developing states in arriving at a global consensus and formula on tariff reductions. He noted that the depletion of critical revenue sources provided a real challenge for small states undertaking these reforms and he also appealed for a greater understanding of the importance of custom duties to many of the small island states of the region.
Estimates are that some CARICOM countries, particularly those in the Eastern Caribbean, rely on customs duties for up to 90 per cent of current revenues and a future FTAA would have significantly affect earnings on these economies. A key thrust of the current FTAA negotiations is to realize the eventual elimination of customs duties.

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