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WTO chief urges Arabs to express views on international commerce

By Omar Obeidat - Feb 11,2013 - Last updated at Feb 11,2013

AMMAN –– World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director General Pascal Lamy on Monday urged Arab countries to increase intra-regional trade, which he described as low when compared with other regions worldwide.

Lamy said the share of trade between Arab states is estimated at only 10 per cent of overall Arab commerce, calling on Arabs to achieve larger economic integration.

He made the remarks in Amman during the WTO-Arab Consultation Forum which was attended by official delegations, regional and international experts and representatives of economic and business sectors.

Pointing to the Panel on Defining the Future of Trade that was established in April 2012 to examine and analyse challenges to global trade, Lamy urged Arabs to express their views on international trade as panellists will finalise their report in March of this year.

“I hope you will join me in a reflection on what international trade might look like 10, 20, or even 30 years from now, and how the WTO can best adapt to change and continue to serve your interests,” Lamy told the large audience from Arab countries.

Following the forum, His Majesty King Abdullah met with Lamy and discussed means to develop the country’s cooperation with the WTO.

The King said Jordan’s commitment to the agreements signed with the WTO reflect the country’s commercial policy, in line with the country’s legislation which he said have gone a long way to meet international market requirements, according to the Jordan News Agency, Petra.

The Kingdom is interested in increasing the Arab area’s representation at the WTO, King Abdullah said, urging the organisation to grant preferential treatment for developing countries and those which have small economies to benefit from global trade revenues, in line with the principle of sustainable development, Petra reported.

During the meeting, Lamy commended the development of the country’s legislation, especially those pertaining to trade and investments. He also commended the country’s development of its industrial and service products to become competitive at world levels.

Speaking at the forum which was hosted by Talal Abu Ghazaleh Knowledge Forum, Industry and Trade Minister Hatem Halawani said that by joining the multilateral trading system, Arab states have liberalised their markets and economies to boost commercial relations with WTO members and to attract foreign investments and create jobs. However, Halawani noted that challenges to these countries arose after joining the international organisation by imposing conditions on them that are beyond their development capabilities.

The minister called for concluding the Doha Round by reaching agreements that could help developing countries benefit more from the international trading system.

The Doha Round is the latest trade negotiations round of the WTO which commenced in November 2001. Its objective is to lower trade barriers around the world to facilitate the increase of global trade.

As of 2008, talks have stalled over a divide on major issues, such as agriculture, industrial tariffs and non-tariff barriers, services and trade remedies.

He urged Arab countries to identify their economic priorities and to coordinate stances in the negotiations to include the Arab views in the WTO conventions and regulations.

The minister also called for more Arab efforts to overcome the challenges facing the regional economy as a result for the implementation of the free trade agreements.

Business leader Talal Abu Ghazaleh, who is also a member of the WTO’s Panel of Experts, called for a wide range of reforms to the international trade organisation.

Abu Ghazaleh mentioned necessary reforms at WTO in a report he handed over to Lamy last month.

His proposals include the greater use of voting to address the problems posed by the consensus principle; the creation of a “sustainable plurilateral agreement” approach to complement or replace the single undertaking; harmonising the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the International Trade Centre with WTO operations; expanding the Trade Policy Review; establishing a regular Informal WTO Leaders Retreat; forming an Executive General Council Committee; and negotiating an Internet Economy Agreement.

The report also makes a number of recommendations that would improve the WTO’s collaboration with the private sector, and places greater emphasis on public outreach by the WTO Secretariat, in an attempt to cement a healthier and more open rapport with citizens and NGO’s around the globe.

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