United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today made an impassioned plea to the world's richest countries to allow the world's poorest to benefit from globalization instead of being its victims, granting them access to cheap generic drugs, ending subsidies undermining their agriculture and opening up markets to their textiles.
"You, the world's trade ministers, must show those people that you have heard their cries for fairness," Mr. Annan said in an opening message to the ministerial meeting of the 146-nation World Trade Organization (WTO) in Cancún, Mexico. The message was delivered on his behalf by Rubens Ricupero, the Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
"You must give them confidence that, from now on, your negotiations and decisions will really meet their needs and reflect their aspirations. You have an awesome responsibility, and a great opportunity. Your decisions can make the difference between poverty and prosperity, and even between life and death, for millions upon millions of people.
"Here in Cancún, I implore you to say: 'No!' to trade policies that aggravate poverty and 'no!' to trade practices that undermine aid. And I urge you so say 'yes' to bold but sensible steps that will revive the global economy and set a new course for development," he added.
Noting that the reality of the international trading system did not match the rhetoric, Mr. Annan declared: "Instead of open markets, there are too many barriers that stunt, stifle and starve. Instead of fair competition, there are subsidies by rich countries that tilt the playing field against the poor."
It was a "moral imperative" to follow through on a preliminary agreement at a meeting in Geneva making it easier for poorer countries to import cheaper generics made if they are unable to manufacture them themselves to fight diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
On agriculture, Mr. Annan said: "We must eliminate the subsidies that push prices down and make it impossible for poor farmers in developing countries to compete…These barriers and subsidies in developed countries must be phased out as fast as possible."
Opportunities must also be opened for developing countries through effective liberalization of trade in textiles, by specific agreements allowing them to participate actively in the growing trade in service and by faster transfer of technology, he added.
"The answer is not to turn our backs on the potential of open markets. That would be disastrous," he declared, noting that too many countries had been left on the margins.
"The answer is to unleash their potential. Just as we need to improve the multilateral security framework, so we must rebuild faith in the multilateral trade framework. Without progress now, today's bitterness may well become tomorrow's backlash."