|WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo speaks during a press conference in Seoul on Friday. (Energy Ministry)|
South Korea has been making a great contribution to the world’s economy, and yet Asia’s fourth-largest economy could play a bigger role in improving global trade negotiations by bridging developed and developing nations in creating a multilateral trade system, according to the World Trade Organization’s top official.
Roberto Azevedo, the WTO’s director-general, said Friday that the country played a “critical role” in producing the organization’s recent trade package deal in Bali last year.
But the WTO chief added he expects a bigger role for Korea, in particular, in negotiating multilateral trade packages, especially on issues that have deeply divided advanced and emerging economies.
“Korea will have a very critical role to play,” he said during a meeting with Korean business leaders and government officials in Seoul.
The 159 members of the WTO managed to adopt the “Bali package” aimed at lowering global trade barriers after last December’s meeting in the Indonesian city. It was the first agreement approved by all members since the WTO was founded in 1995.
Disagreements, however, remained and spanned between advanced and emerging economies over several issues, including food security and agricultural subsidies.
“Korea’s support is vital to bridge developed and developing countries,” Azevedo said. He noted that the country’s experience in rapid economic growth, in particular, provided a great motivation for many developing economies.
The former Brazilian diplomat recently made his first trip to Seoul since becoming WTO chief last September. During his two-day visit, he met with the country’s trade and agriculture ministers.
His visit drew special attention as it came at a crucial time for the government, which will soon decide whether to open its rice market to foreign suppliers.
The WTO chief said the sensitivity of Korea’s rice production is well-known to all WTO members. But he avoided directly commenting on the issue, only saying, “It is very difficult to (find) any WTO member who doesn’t have problems in terms of market opening and liberalization.”
The WTO’s agreement on current import quotas is scheduled to end this year and the government has to specify to the WTO whether it will open the rice market to foreign rice by September.
The country could request a waiver from the WTO to allow Seoul to keep its restrictions on rice imports, but it requires approval from the members of trade organization.
The WTO rejected last month the Philippines’ request to waive its mandatory rice market liberalization.
“It’s up to Korea to have conversations with other members to explain its situation and try to find solutions,” he said.
By Oh Kyu-wook (email@example.com)