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Australia's trade agenda balances the developed and developing worlds

By Mark Vaile - posted Friday, 15 November 2002

This time last year WTO trade ministers gathered in Doha, in Qatar, to consider a mandate for a new round of negotiations.

I came away from that meeting with the firm conviction that existing notions of trade policy and approaches to trade negotiations – still promoted by some in Australia – were no longer sufficient nor effective.

Just as we needed to broaden our approach by allowing for the negotiation of Free Trade Agreements, we also needed to adopt new and creative approaches to the multilateral system.


I believe the meeting in Doha confirmed a new strategic environment for the multilateral trading system.

A new strategic environment

The global trade agenda is now much more complex, sophisticated and multi-layered.

Three facts are clear.

  • To be successful, and to protect and advance our interests, we are going to have to seek and maintain alliances across the whole range of issues, and across the entire membership of the WTO.
  • Rich countries cannot make demands of developing country members without taking into account their concerns – and their bargaining power.
  • And one clear message from my experience at Seattle was the need for ministers to be engaged personally, through new informal ways to move the negotiations forward – such as the meeting of trade ministers I will host in Sydney.

At the beginning of the 1994 Uruguay Round there were 86 members of the GATT, the predecessor to the WTO.

Today, there are 145 members of the WTO, with the vast majority being developing economies, including China, which gained entry to the WTO at Doha.


Developing countries have found themselves a new voice, and a new influence, within the organisation, and therefore in the negotiations.

This was demonstrated in Doha – where the mandate for a new round of negotiations considered by WTO trade ministers reflected developing country priorities, such as:

  • Capacity-building, so that developing countries can participate fully in the multilateral trading system;
  • Special and differential treatment, through measures such as tariff preferences, and extra time to meet agreed commitments, that acknowledges the status and needs of developing countries;
  • Implementing WTO commitments, especially the obligations of developed countries to open their markets to products from developing countries, such as textiles and footwear;
  • Confirming provisions for access to pharmaceuticals to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and;
  • Reforming market access and trade-distorting measures, such as export subsidies, in developed countries, especially in agriculture.
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This is an edited version of a Telstra Address given to the National Press Club, Canberra, on Canberra, 13 November 2002.

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About the Author

The Hon Mark Vaile MP is the federal Minister for Trade, Deputy Leader of the National Party, and Member for Lyne (NSW).

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