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Rich nations told to open up


SEOUL - Thailand's deputy prime minister and commerce minister has suggested a way developed nations can kick-start a new round of global trade liberalisation following the failure of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to launch a new round of trade talks in Seattle late last year.

Developed countries could make a "down payment" on trade liberalisation by unilaterally opening their markets ahead of the schedule set by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) framework, said Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, who will be the WTO's next director general.

"I think it will be a good signal if we can do it," he said.

Apec, which accounts for more than 50 per cent of global output, should liberalise faster to show its commitment to free and open global trade, he said.

Apec's 21 members, who include the US, Japan, China and Thailand, have already set a timetable for liberalising trade that would see developed nations relax barriers by 2010 and developing nations by 2020.

Apec's developed nations should signal their willingness to unilaterally liberalise trade at the Apec leaders summit in Brunei later this year, he said.

However, Supachai did not specify the year by which he would like developed countries to reduce tariffs on imports to 0-5 per cent and did not say whether developing nation's should try to match the move.

But Supachai has been campaigning hard for free and fair trade. He would like to see the next round of WTO global trade liberalisation to be called a "development round" to reflect the need to bridge the gap between rich and poor countries.

At the same time, crisis-hit countries in Asia must continue structural reforms and liberalisation to prevent another crisis, he said.

Painstaking adjustments to improve standards and transparency and to attract foreign investment must continue because backsliding will only prolong the crisis, he said.




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