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Differences mount in Hong Kong

A disappointed Michel Egger talks of Switzerland 'haggling'

Michel Egger of the Swiss Alliance of Development Organisations tells swissinfo why he is disappointed by the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks.

Egger says non-governmental organisations (NGOs) consider the development package being discussed at the WTO’s sixth ministerial conference a “smokescreen”.

Slight progress has been made on points which are often considered secondary as a result of a draft agreement put forward by the WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy.

But on Saturday Swiss Economics Minister Joseph Deiss said it was “impossible to predict” the chances of reaching an agreement in Hong Kong.

Deiss reaffirmed Switzerland’s support for the development package and noted that “if Hong Kong wants to be remembered as a success, we must be in a position to tie up this package for those who need it the most”.

This is by no means guaranteed, considering recent reservations voiced by developing countries.

swissinfo: What is your assessment of the negotiations so far?

Michel Egger: Things have basically come to a standstill. No one’s getting anywhere. In some respects I’m not really surprised. Developing countries have very strong expectations of those who should be a development cycle.

A smokescreen is being created with a sort of development package reserved solely for the least advanced countries – and not for developing countries as a whole.

swissinfo: What exactly is this development package and what are your problems with it?

M.E.: The first fundamental element consists of offering preferential market access for products of the least advanced countries. They will be able to export without customs legislation or quotas.

In itself this is very positive for these countries, but the negotiators are trying to introduce a whole series of exceptions, for example the possibility to reduce the number of products involved.

Developing countries want this measure to apply to 100 per cent of products. Others would like three, four or five per cent of products to be left out of the package.

This would let the United States, say, exclude Bangladeshi or Cambodian textiles from the opening up of the markets. The Japanese could also guard against certain rice imports.

Ultimately, this measure runs the risk of becoming useless as every country would be able to continue to protect its market from those products on which countries from the south would have comparative advantages.

The second element is “Aid for Trade” – a whole raft of technical and financial aid programmes enabling those countries to integrate better into the market.

There, too, many figures and promises are being bandied around, but the actual means of financing everything remains unclear. Additional funds? Money taken from elsewhere?

swissinfo: You and other NGOs are sending an appeal to the Swiss government. What is it?

M.E.: We want to get the message across that the idea of a development package is interesting, but a true development cycle has been left out of the big development documents – those concerning agriculture, goods and services.

Regarding agriculture, we would like a date to be quickly agreed for scrapping export subsidies. Alongside the European Union, Switzerland is the only country to refuse to fix a date. Symbolically that could be very important.

swissinfo: What do you make of the way Switzerland is negotiating?

M.E.: It is definitely negotiating like many other countries, namely putting its own interests first in an extremely restrictive manner.

We’re in haggling mode. It’s to be expected – no one wants to give up anything without being sure that they’ll get something in return. It’s disappointing.

swissinfo-interview: Pierre-François Besson in Hong Kong

The sixth ministerial conference of the WTO takes place from December 13 to 18 in Hong Kong.
The meeting of the organisation’s highest decision-making body should lead to the conclusion of the so-called Doha round of trade talks, launched in 2001.
Representatives of 149 countries are taking part in this meeting.
Economics Minister Joseph Deiss will lead the Swiss delegation.

The Swiss Alliance of Development Organisations comprises Swissaid, the Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund, Bread for All, Helvetas, Caritas and Eper.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR