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(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) The Sixth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) got underway on Tuesday, 13 December in Hong Kong, with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Trade and Foreign Ministers calling attention to the negative effects likely to befall unsupported small and vulnerable economies in light of the erosion of preferences.

Delivering remarks at the Conference, Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation and CARICOM Ministerial Spokesperson on WTO issues, Hon. Clement Rohee, said that the negotiations needed to address the erosion of preferences through “concrete and meaningful measures to mitigate the impact of reform on the preference receiving countries.” Minister Rohee pointed out that “trade-based solutions” were essential to addressing the concerns of small vulnerable economies, in addition to “a fairer multilateral trading system” in light of the existing economic gap between developed countries and LDCs.

In her address to the Conference, Senior Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados and CARICOM Ministerial Spokesperson on, Africa Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) trade issues, Hon. Billie Miller affirmed that development concerns should lead discussions. She said that these concerns were important to securing improved standard of living for all citizens, which would achieved through meaningful trade, investment, aid, access to financial resources, appropriate technology and capacity building.

The Barbados Foreign Affairs Minister stated that these issues were not given adequate attention in previous negotiating Rounds, and she outlined some of the outcomes anticipated by developing countries.

“We want special and differential treatment, including longer time periods for implementing Agreements and commitments; measures to increase trading opportunities for our countries; provisions requiring WTO members to safeguard the trade interests of developing countries; and support to help developing countries build the infrastructure to implement trade rules, and to manage trade disputes,” she said.

She also added that the Region needed greater financial and technical assistance to build its capacity to participate effectively in international trade.

Meanwhile, Minister of Trade and Industry and Minister within the Ministry of Finance of Trinidad and Tobago, Hon. Kenneth Valley expressed his country’s ongoing commitment to the multilateral negotiating process. However, he bemoaned the rate of progress that had been achieved in addressing the vulnerability of developing countries, following the Doha round of WTO negotiations four years ago.

Minister Valley noted that the provision of Special and Differential Treatment for LDCs was a “useful” concept to developing countries, and added that the Ministerial Meeting must consider the need for a “built-in” schedule to address the requirements of other small, vulnerable countries. “A genuine commitment to the primacy of development will contribute to levelling the playing field, as it were, while redressing imbalances in the multilateral trading system, thereby allowing small vulnerable economies the opportunity to share in the benefits of trade liberalisation,” Minister Valley said.

The WTO Ministerial Meeting is taking place amidst mounting concerns among ACP States following the recent European Union decision to break the long-standing “indefinite” preferential agreement on sugar prices. The Meeting ends on Sunday 18 December.

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