Sat, 21 Feb 2004

RI lacks integrated policy at WTO talks: Economist

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post,Jakarta

The government is being criticized for not having an integrated policy on global trade issues, making the country's negotiation team at World Trade Organization (WTO) talks less effective in promoting domestic interests.

"We could see clearly that the Ministry of Finance is more into (trade) liberalization, while the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Agriculture tends to be more protectionist," University of Indonesia economist M. Chatib Basri said on Thursday at a discussion on WTO issues here.

Bayu Krisnamurthi from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture concurred, saying that the absence of a clear policy on global trade weakens the country's bargaining power at the international trade forum.

He said that being a country with rich natural resources Indonesia should be a leading player in multilateral trade talks particularly where it concerns the agriculture sector.

Bayu criticized the government negotiation team for merely following up demands from developed nations.

The agriculture sector was considered the most sensitive issue at the WTO forum in Mexico in September last year. The trade talks collapsed mainly due to disagreement between developed and developing nations on agricultural issues.

There have been efforts to revive the WTO talks, with possible talks to take place in Hong Kong next year.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Ambassador to the WTO, Gusmardi Bustami said that Indonesia and other developing countries would continue to push developed nations to reduce their agricultural subsidies to help improve the competitiveness of products from developing countries in the international market.

He added that the developed nations should also open their markets to agricultural products from developing countries.

He said that the OECD nations had been providing huge subsidies for their farmers valued at around US$332 billion per year, or equal to around $1 billion per day.

"In contrast, farmers in developing nations live on less than $1 per day," Bustami said.