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Aid groups urge fair deal for poor nations at WTO meeting

Peter Niggli, spokesman for several aid agencies, calls for industrialised countries to respect the developing world Keystone

Aid agencies have called on governments to defend the interests of developing countries at next month's World Trade Organisation meeting.

In a high-profile appeal on behalf of poorer countries, the head of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Juan Somavia, said urgent action was needed to stimulate the ailing world economy, and that developing countries must play a part in that process.

“We must act quickly to revive the economy, and measures must not be restricted to industrialised countries. Any action must include developing countries, too.”

Speaking in Geneva, Somavia warned that 24 million jobs were at risk because of the global economic slowdown, and urged governments not to cut social benefits to those affected.

His appeal on behalf of developing countries was echoed by Swiss non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Bern on Monday. They demanded that the Swiss government take up the cudgels for poorer countries, when ministers take part in the WTO meeting on November 9.

Trade unions, farmers’ and environmental associations, and other aid groups came together to make the appeal, saying the government should revise its mandate for the WTO meeting to take account of their concerns.

They said the failure of the last WTO meeting in Seattle two years ago demonstrated that a “development round” of talks was needed to address the negative effects that past WTO agreements had had on poor countries.

Peter Niggli, spokesman for several Swiss aid groups, including Swissaid, Caritas and Helvetas, said industrialised countries should now be ready “to make concessions with conditions” at the talks.

The aid groups accused industrialised countries of using the WTO to force poorer nations to pursue economic reforms which had a destabilising effect. They said despite talk of a global “alliance against terror” in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States, the west had not modified its negotiating strategy with the developing world.

They cited the Trips agreement on intellectual property rights which places the cost of many vital medicines, such as those needed to treat Aids, beyond the reach of poorer countries.

They said Switzerland, home to several pharmaceutical giants, invariably put its own industries without heeding the needs of the developing world.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR