Niall FitzGerald: Revive world trade talks for the sake of the poor

From a speech by the chairman of Unilever at the London Business School

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What role can multinationals play in helping to spread the benefits of globalisation? Maintaining the status quo is not an option. It is simply unacceptable that 16 per cent of the world enjoys 80 per cent of its wealth while a fifth of humanity survives on less than one dollar a day.

The best way companies can help to raise the quality of life in the poorest parts of the world is by doing business in these countries in a responsible and sustainable way. When companies invest for the long term in the productive capacity of an economy, they fuel a virtuous circle of economic activity. Foreign investment not only creates jobs, it also creates a ripple effect of employment, skills and knowledge transfer, education and training.

While companies can and do bring social benefits through the very business of doing business, they are essentially economic organisations, and there is a limit to what they can achieve. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of governments to ensure that the benefits of global economic activity are spread as widely as possible. The failure of governments to reach substantive agreement on market liberalisation or reduction in subsidies at Cancun's WTO meeting is a bitter disappointment.

The challenge is now for the WTO to set out a new framework and for governments to re-commit to the successful completion of the Doha round. We cannot allow the failure at Cancun to derail the best opportunity we have had in years to boost growth in the developing world and lift an estimated 140 million people out of poverty by 2015. Failure to keep the promises made in Doha would be an act of extreme cynicism.

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