The Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference concluded in Cancun, Mexico, on Sept. 14. Participants from 146 member states were unable to reach any agreement on agricultural issues and the "Singapore issues."
The conduct of the meeting was different from that of the previous ones. In past meetings, all related decision-making was under the control of the US, the EU and other rich industrial nations, which did not care about the views of other countries at all. They also tried to continue with the same decision-making model at this meeting, but suffered a major setback and failed to reach an agreement. This was because of the unprecedented unity of poor, developing countries. Especially worth noting was the 21-nation group formed under the leadership of Brazil, China and India.
It was the first time a Taiwan-ese delegation attended a WTO ministerial meeting since the country's accession. The ministerial meeting failed, but how did Taiwan fare in its strategic maneu-vers in the global trade body?
The first important strategy of our delegation was to stress that Taiwan is providing financial assistance to developing nations. Minister of Economic Affairs Lin Yi-fu (林義夫) seized the occasion of a ministerial statement to announce that Taiwan would donate US$250,000 to the Global Trust Fund this year, following a US$300,000 donation last year in response to calls from ministers in Doha. Lin also said Taiwan would soon provide preferential treatment to underdeveloped coun-tries and that more than 98 percent of imports from those countries will be exempted from tariffs at that time.
Even more noteworthy was that agricultural ministers from nine countries -- Taiwan, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, Norway, Iceland, Israel, Bulgaria and Lichstenstien -- formed a "G9" group and presented a joint proposal. The G9 position on agricultural negotiations primarily advocates gradual liberalization, opposition to the cancelation of export and domestic subsidies, and opposition to restrictions on over-quota tariff levels and the expansion of tariff quotas. Agricultural issues took center stage at this ministerial meeting.
Even though agricultural production does not account for a large proportion of Taiwan's GNP, the past contribution of farmers to the country's economic development cannot be ignored. Farmers need to be taken care of. More-over, greater value should be attached to the preservation of the traditional paddy farming culture.
Taiwan is strongly opposing the expansion of tariff quotas and the restrictions on over-quota tariffs. It also hopes that the agricultural negotiations should consider the multiple functions of agriculture and adopt gradual liberalization. The fact that Taiwan was able to cooperate with other countries and set up a group at the WTO to protect national interests deserves special kudos.
On the other hand, Taiwan joined the WTO as a "developed" country. Therefore, our position at the meeting should be compatible with this status. It should also take care of Taiwan's political and economic relations with Western industrial nations. At the Cancun talks, Taiwan was of the opinion that the new round of talks should include investment, competitive policies, transparency in government procurements, and trade facilitation -- these four issues are collectively called the "Singapore issues" -- and that these should be negotiated simultaneously, not separately. Because these four issues are related to the improvement of the nation's trade environment, Taiwan gave all-out support to their inclusion in the new round of talks. The EU and Japan also supported the inclusion.