[OUTLOOK]Fate depends on utilizing openingThe sixth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization is underway in Hong Kong, for six days ending Sunday. Trade-related officials from 149 member countries of the WTO are gathered at the Hong Kong convention center for this ministerial conference, to review the progress made since the 2003 WTO conference in Cancun, Mexico, to assess the current situation and to negotiate over major issues.
The attention in South Korea seems to be focused on the South Korean farmers currently in Hong Kong. About 1,200 South Korean farmers have already arrived in Hong Kong and watchers believe it is possible that number may swell to 1,500. The acute tension that characterizes such protests in South Korea now hovers over Hong Kong.
What we must bear in mind, at this time, is that the WTO Doha Development Agenda negotiations also deal with market access for non-agricultural products, services and regulations, which are crucial to our economy.
The original goal of the Hong Kong ministerial conference was to reach agreement on “full modality.” However, with member countries sorely divided over such important issues as market access of agricultural and non-agricultural products, services and regulations, the prospect of reaching that goal is nil.
Consequently, Pascal Lamy, the secretary-general of the WTO, on Nov. 10 proposed that members readjust the goals of the Hong Kong ministerial conference. He proposed that the conference become a mid-point process to achieving “full modality,” and that another ministerial conference be held in the first half of next year to hammer out full modality.
Even under that game plan, member countries must narrow their differences significantly in Hong Kong if they want to achieve full modality by the first half of next year. The member countries seem aware of that and there is a palpable sense of tension at the convention center. If we look at the ongoing negotiations, plans entailing specific figures are being discussed for agreeing on modalities by areas.
Once there is an agreement on those, negotiations can proceed more swiftly. For example, in the case of agriculture, a basic framework for modality that call for reductions in agricultural tariffs and domestic subsidies was agreed upon last July. There is also a general consensus on how to reduce agricultural tariffs and domestic subsidies. Members are, however, still divided over how much of a reduction they can agree to. As importers and exporters of agricultural produce, European countries and the United States have already put forth specific figures, leaving the remaining task for member countries to agree to a certain level of cuts.
There are some that predict that because the Uruguay Round negotiations took eight years, negotiations regarding the Doha Development Agenda will take just as long or longer. But the WTO and its members learned how to advance multilateral trade negotiations through the Uruguay Round. If they can draw from the Uruguay experience, the DDA negotiations may not take that long.
We could foresee an agreement on the entire DDA negotiations around late 2006 or in the first half of 2007. Following implementation reviews by individual member countries, as well as domestic ratification processes, the DDA agreement could go into effect about 2008.
If we can maintain developing country status in the DDA negotiations, we can earn some time to restructure the sectors that are most expected to suffer when DDA goes into effect. We have to move quickly to form a growth strategy for the agricultural sector, drawing from lessons learned in the lost decade since the Uruguay Rounds.
We have to pool our wisdom to restructure and promote competitiveness in the fisheries industry and several service industries that will also be affected by the opening of the markets. There is no turning back the tide of market opening. Rather, we should use the DDA negotiations as a platform to grow into an advanced industrialized nation by focusing on our growth sectors. South Korea’s fate depends on how we are able to make use of this opening.
* The writer is head of WTO Research Team at the Korea Institute of International Economic Policy. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kang Moon-sung