Rich-poor tensions over subsidies affect region's farmers

Asian countries reacted with disappointment to the collapse of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks aimed at reached a new trade agreement, RFA reports.

The Asia Pacific region is home to the most vocal proponents of developing countries in the WTO talks, which failed over a strong divide between rich and poor countries over the high levels of agricultural subsidies in developed economies, which nonetheless press for greater market access with their poorer trading partners.

"It's a shame that nothing came out of the meeting. But we will not step back and will keep asking for fair treatment. Hopefully, we will win in the end," said a Thailand Sugarcane Planters Federation official. "It's like heavyweight and lightweight boxers fighting. Who do you think will get hurt? This is not fair."

South Korea, one of the developing countries that took a hard line at the talks, on Monday declined to comment. However, the 120,000-member Korean Advanced Farmers' Federation (KAFF) issued a statement in support of their former leader, who committed suicide at Cancun, Mexico.

"The WTO ministerial talks' failure resulted from the struggle by anti-globalization activists sparked by Lee Kyang Hae's holy sacrifice," KAFF said in a statement. Former KAFF chief Lee Kyang-Hae, 55, stabbed himself to death Wednesday in an anti-WTO protest at the effects of the global trading body on South Korean farmers' livelihoods.

Rival groups of countries clashed over agriculture for five days before the talks collapsed. But poor countries refused to discuss new rules aimed at cutting the bureaucracy and backhanders that hurt trade.

Some farmers from developing nations in Asia felt they had scored a political victory in proving they would no longer be bullied into a bad deal by the dominant trading powers, the United States and Europe. "[We are] elated that our voice has now been heard," Philippine Trade Secretary Manuel Roxas said.

Manuel Lamata, president of the United Federation of Sugar Producers in the Philippines, said it was impossible for the Third World to compete against subsidized developed countries. "It is about time the first world countries realize they cannot just step on the poor countries," he said.

China, an emerging export heavyweight that joined the WTO after making sweeping concessions in spite of its developing nation status, played a quiet leadership role among the Asian developing economies at the talks.

Part of the Group of 22 developing countries, Beijing pushed aggressively for major cuts in farm subsidies and import tariffs in the United States and Europe, while resisting a push for deep tariff reduction in poorer countries.

Japan voiced regret over the collapse of the negotiations on Sunday but said it would not compromise its position on pushing for freer trade.

"It is regrettable... WTO talks are indeed difficult as we continue to seek an agreement [on trade] without compromising Japan's position," Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said. "Divisions are seen between developed and developing nations. There are divisions even among developed nations."


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