For global progress, focus on fair trade

In Latin America, we are going through an important cycle of presidential elections at a time when there is a big debate over how best to achieve growth and social cohesion for our peoples. Although the main responsibility for achieving a better future lies with us, the context of global relationships is also very important.

The great challenge for developed and developing countries is to transform the world into a global community that provides fair and equal opportunities to all human beings. Equitable world trade is one of the best means to achieve this end.

As a Chilean presidential candidate, I support globalization as long as it is fair and ethical, with clear and equitable rules. I do not support global trade where half the workers of the world - 1.4 billion people - are trapped in poverty and unable to earn more than two dollars a day per family unit.

In Hong Kong last month, the ministers of the 149 members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed on a blueprint that aims to bring this round of talks to a conclusion at the next meeting of the Doha round. Although the progress achieved was modest, Hong Kong was much more than an empty exercise of negotiations.

Specifically, the elimination of agricultural export subsidies by 2013 and a package of measures in favor of the least developed countries, including tariff-free and quota-free access to markets of developed countries, are outcomes of the Hong Kong talks. In addition, access to imported generic medicines for developing countries during a national emergency has been ensured. Nevertheless, much remains to be done and now is the time to put a human face on globalization by putting people ahead of markets.

In order to have a WTO round that makes a difference to the livelihood of millions of people in the developing world, it is essential that developed countries improve their offers to reduce agricultural tariffs and subsidies. Agriculture is the key to unlocking progress in all other areas of the negotiation, such as services, textiles, intellectual property, government procurement, and electronic commerce, to name a few. Of course, developed countries have their own political realities and constraints, and what seems to be fair and reasonable is not always politically feasible. But developing countries face even more severe constraints, which can result in even stronger migratory pressures from the developing South to the developed North.

Developing countries, with their growing populations and economies, are fast becoming key players in the global trading system. Chile's progress in bilateral trade after the Free Trade Agreement shows that trade that is free and conducted under equitable conditions brings growth. Yet more needs to be done to achieve sustainable development, improve living conditions for the poor, and bring about greater social justice.

This can be done through improvements in market access for goods and services, both in developed and developing countries, as well as the reduction of the distortions that affect agricultural trade.

In the case of Chile, a relatively small economy and one highly dependent on trade, we need not only market access, but clear rules - and enforcement of those rules - for our exporters. That is most likely to happen when member states have the same rights across the board, as is the case under the WTO's dispute settlement mechanism. In this regard, it is worth recalling recent victories by developing countries over both the US and the EU concerning cotton and sugar. In the case of cotton, rich countries have agreed to phase out export subsidies by the end of 2006, although there is not yet an agreement on a date for reducing domestic subsidies for US farmers.

This is why Chile has participated very actively in this round. We are very interested in improving market access opportunities for our exports of both goods and services. We also want to be able to take full advantage of our potential in agriculture. There are also other improvements to the multilateral trading system that should be achieved, such as amendments to current antidumping rules that lend themselves to protectionist abuse.

In order to avoid a failure of the Doha round, when entering this final and most difficult part of the negotiations, all WTO members will have to look beyond their short-term economic interests. They will also have to look at the broader picture of what is at stake. Equitable world trade will bring billions of people into the international economy, diminish migration pressures, give greater resources for halting the spread of contagious diseases in developing countries, and weaken conditions that foster desperate acts of terror.

If in the coming months we all show flexibility and commitment to a greater common good, we will be able to take advantage of the momentum created in Hong Kong.

Michelle Bachelet is running for president of Chile.

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