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Asian editorial excerpts - QUIT CAIRNS BUT NOT WTO.

TOKYO, March 19 Kyodo

Selected editorial excerpts from the Asia-Pacific press:

QUIT CAIRNS BUT NOT WTO (The Manila Times, Manila)

Cairns was set up in 1986 by 15 food exporting countries to promote freer trade in agriculture within the framework of the World Trade Organization.

But when the WTO met in Doha, Qatar, last year, Australia -- the current head of Cairns -- ignored the Philippines request for its canned tuna fish to be given the same tariff treatment as the tuna that comes from the former colonies of European countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.

As a result of Australia's indifference, canned Philippines and Thai tuna fish will be levied a 25% tariff as against zero tariff on fish that comes from some African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

Thailand and the Philippines, it is worth keeping in mind, are the world's biggest exporters of canned tuna fish. In 2001, Mindanao sent to Europe 70% of the tuna fish it ate. It was worth $122 million. That market is in danger of being diminished or even lost.

The debacle at Doha -- from the standpoint of the Philippines -- impelled Secretary Manuel Roxas II of Trade and Industry to propose quitting Cairns. He was supported with alacrity by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Secretary Roxas, however, was careful to say that quitting Cairns does not mean that the Philippines is also getting out of the WTO. This was a disappointment to the protectionists and communists who see the WTO as an instrument of American hegemony in the post-Cold War era.

''Our experience with the WTO,'' Secretary Roxas explained, ''is that we have always been heard and, if our case is strong, the organization has ruled in our favor. And we believe that we have a strong case with regard to our tuna exports to Europe.''

The disaster at Doha and our sad experience with the Cairns should not be used as an excuse to opt out of the WTO.

However, it is up to the rich countries to demonstrate that expanding world trade would have immediate benefits for poor nations. The EU and the U.S. should reduce the levels of protection and subsidy in their own economies.

For starters, we await from them actions on tuna fish and textiles that are consistent with the spirit of the WTO.

In this way the opposition to trade liberalization can be blunted.

(March 19)
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Date:Mar 25, 2002
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