Regional conference highlights human development as key objective of trade policies

12 Feb 2004

Ha Noi - Human development should be a chief objective of trade for countries in Asia, stressed participants at today’s UNDP Asia Trade Initiative Regional Consultation on Trade and Human Development held in Hanoi. The meeting gathered trade policy-makers and UNDP country office representatives from throughout Asia to discuss ways for the region to respond to recent setbacks and developments in world trade negotiations.

Ms. Kanni Wignaraja, UNDP Viet Nam Deputy Resident Representative, called for redoubled efforts to support developing countries negotiate a multilateral trade regime that benefits their human development interests.  She observed that “well-analyzed new perspectives are needed in the current debate on trade, particularly given that many developing countries are increasingly exploring bilateral and regional trading arrangements at the same time.  The UNDP seeks to engage in supporting their efforts more intensively in the Asia-Pacific region, in order to advocate trade arrangements that benefit the poor.”

In recent years, the global trade regime has grown in scale and complexity, and decisions made in international bodies and at global levels now have an increasingly direct impact on people’s lives.  UNDP Viet Nam has been working with countries across the region to support them in shaping a new message on trade issues in Asia, one that prioritizes human development considerations in trade strategy and puts development outcomes at the center of the analysis.

Viet Nam’s Vice Minister of Trade Mr. Luong Van Tu spoke at the conference, remarking that “Though globalization has brought about many positive results for developing countries engaged in trade, the reality has been that poorer countries have not yet been able to realize the full benefits from the international trade regime.  The final goal of trade must be to improve living conditions for everyone.  Viet Nam is currently a WTO observer, and is committed to make every effort to join the organization fully at the end of 2005.”

With the participation of 16 countries of the Asia-Pacific, this two-day conference is designed to encourage debate and cross-country sharing of knowledge and experience on ways to utilize international trade to advance job creation, skills development, technology transfer, and environmental safeguarding in Asia, in ways that most benefit the poor. 

The meeting called attention to Millennium Development Goal number 8, which commits nations to strengthening international partnerships for development.  “It is the duty of the international community to maintain a high level of awareness of the links between trade and development, and thus collaborate on promoting informed policy choices and on seeking win-win solutions to advance this agenda,” said Mr. Murray Gibbs, UNDP Senior Regional Advisor on Trade and Development.

According to Dr. S. Narayanan, former Ambassador of India to the WTO, the stalemate at the Cancun conference last year frustrated momentum towards building the above objectives into a global trade strategy that benefits all.   He emphasized the need for collective development of country positions on key issues, stating “both developing and developed countries have a strong interest in strengthening the multilateral system of trade negotiation and conflict resolution.  To advance human development issues in the global trade agenda, it is critical that this common interest is recognized as a basis for tackling some of the tough questions that have surfaced in recent years.”

Thai National Assembly M.P. Khun Kobsak Chutikul also observed the need to be mindful of the two-track system of negotiations underway in many parts of the world.  Mr. Khun expressed the need to fully analyze the impact and human development implications of free trade agreements, particularly in the context of multilateral engagement in this field.

The UNDP Asia Pacific Regional Initiative on Trade, Economic Governance and Human Development (Asia Trade Initiative) was officially established in 2002 to support countries in the Asia-Pacific region to identify and seize emerging opportunities to advance their perspectives and concerns, and influence the shaping of global and regional economic governance regimes, with a focus on human development.

Contact Information

Mr. Pedro Ortega, Programme Officer, UNDP Viet Nam
Telephone: (04) 822 7946/7, Extension 102