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Government pledges support for poor countries at WTO

Pascal Couchepin will lead the Swiss delegation in Doha Keystone Archive

The Swiss government has promised to help the poorest countries taking part in a meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Qatar next week.

This content was published on October 31, 2001 - 19:29

An official statement released on Wednesday said the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, would ask other industrialised countries to support an international organisation aimed at strengthening the position of the poorest nations within the WTO.

Couchepin is leading the Swiss delegation participating in the four-day meeting of the WTO in the Gulf state of Qatar due to begin on November 9.

Couchepin said Switzerland supported the idea of opening up a new round of trade negotiations, following the failure of a previous attempt in Seattle two years ago over agriculture.

Switzerland is also in favour of continuing talks on liberalising services, Couchepin told a news conference in Bern. His ministry dismissed concerns by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that international regulations would infringe on national legislation.

Re-balance commitments

Luzius Wasescha of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs said Switzerland wanted to help facilitate the integration of developing countries or countries in transition into the system.

However, he said the government rejected a demand by NGOs for unilateral concessions towards all developing countries.

"Switzerland is in favour of a re-balancing of commitments for the poorest countries and addressing specific needs but not creating an overall waiver for all developing countries", Wasescha told swissinfo.

Agriculture

As part its mandate for the talks, the Swiss delegation intends to support proposals to boost non-commercial aspects of agriculture. In line with other European countries, Switzerland is in favour of a system of direct payments to farmers and for environmentally friendly agricultural policies.

However, the main countries exporting agricultural products have criticised the system of government subsidies.

Other controversial issues on the agenda are better access for developing countries to vital medicines to combat the spread of Aids and other diseases. Switzerland has come out in favour of granting these countries the right to produce non-brand name drugs in emergency cases.

Doha agenda

The organisers of the Doha conference said the aim was to approve a broad outline to push ahead with multilateral trade system.

They also hope to reach agreement on improving access to the global market, taking into account environmental concerns and specific needs of developing countries, including access to vital medical drugs.

NGOs want fair deal

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Switzerland on Monday demanded that the government take up the cudgels for poorer countries.

They said the failure of the last WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999 demonstrated that "development round of talks was needed to address the negative effects that past WTO agreements had had on poor countries.

The groups also accused industrialised countries of using the WTO to force poorer nations to pursue economic reforms, which had a destabilising effect.

swissinfo with agencies

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