Christopher Roberts: 'Developing countries can look for greater opportunities for exports'

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The Independent Online

When the gavel finally came down on the WTO trade deal, the negotiators must have experienced a great sense of relief. They must also have felt considerable satisfaction. No single Government or interest group got all it wanted but the deal offers the prospect of real gains.

Let me be more precise. The import duties which British exporters of goods face should be reduced or disappear. There should be fewer barriers to our exports of services, which account for over 70 per cent of jobs in this country. Cheaper imports keep prices and inflation down, while the consumer and taxpayer gain from lower agricultural subsidies.

Developing countries can look for greater openings for their agricultural and other exports while richer developing countries will be expected to lower trade barriers, not least to other developing countries. Of course this agreement is not perfect. Many of us would like to see a greater and swifter reduction in agricultural subsidies, not least on cotton. There is a real economic price for the protection retained. After their elections the US will have to give priority to creating a fairer market for cotton.

Last week's interventions by President Chirac and others showed that the agricultural protectionists could not be pushed further for the present. The developing countries, and the rest of us, were surely right to accept the deal offered. A second failure, following Cancun, would have done nothing for job creation and poverty reduction.

Christopher Roberts was director of trade at the Department of Trade Industry 1987-97 and is now senior trade adviser at legal firm Covington and Burling, London