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January 1999

Developing countries draw lessons from the crisis

Iftekhar Chowdhury in his office at the Mission of Bangladesh in Geneva

"To free everything is not necessarily an advantage. To believe that if you just simply liberalize and globalise, the trading system will benefit, this philosophical position has been somewhat called into question. There are no doctrinaire solutions to problems." This is the lesson Ihftekhar Chowdhury, the outgoing Chairman of the Committee on Trade and Development of the WTO, draws from the crisis which has engulfed Asia for over a year now and whose ripples have been felt elsewhere.

From his office at the Mission of Bangladesh in Geneva, he is delving on what would seem paradoxical at first: the least developed countries (LDCs), like his own, have been - for the time being - not much hurt by the last few months' international financial turbulence and its side-effects. Despite this, and of the progress LDCs have made in terms of economic growth, their share in world trade remains very low.

"The least-developed countries have particular problems, structural, systemic problems" explains Ambassador Chowdhury, mentioning among other things, the burden that international debt represents for several LDCs and African countries and their difficulties in integrating to the world trade and financial systems. "It is an encouraging sign that the WTO has recognised this " in particular, in a special WTO Ministerial Meeting in October 1997 (the High-Level Meeting on Integrated Initiatives for Least-Developed Countries). "But the decisions that were taken on this occasion - increased market access and enhanced technical assistance - must be implemented. And implementation is being too slow."

As a matter of fact, the very participation of these countries in WTO activities can be problematic. An unquestionable difficulty is underscored by the representative of Bangladesh: "Resource constraints, also in terms of personal. In Geneva there are at least a dozen major international agencies and, it is reckoned, over 7,000 meetings a year. We tend to cover as many as we can with the staff available". Hence, it is not difficult to understand why the least-developed countries' are apprehensive of being overburdened by their obligations in the WTO. Accordingly, the conclusion reached by Iftekhar Chowdhury: "We should focus on implementation of what we have agreed upon, before we enter into negotiations on new areas, new topics".



Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury


-Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN in Geneva

-Chairman in 1998 of the Committee on Trade and Development of the WTO


MA and PhD in International Relations from the Australian National University Canberra.

Career path:

-Joined the Civil Service of Pakistan in 1969

-After independence, served in the Planning Commission of Bangladesh

-Became Director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka

-Director General of Economic Affairs at the Foreign Ministry

-Diplomatic assignments in Bonn and at the UN in New York. He was Ambassador to Qatar, and at present, concurrently with his present post, he is accredited to the Holy See

Equals through technology?

To represent one of the least developed countries of the planet does not mean to be outside the technological trend. "We are all hooked-up, linked, there is instant exchange of information, masses of information which are also made available to us" explains Iftekhar Chowdhury, "Technology, the things like the Internet, is helping us to do some leap-frogging, into becoming a greater participant in the system ". But enters here another difficulty: " In Geneva we may become technologically equal to many other participants. But we are backstopped by the domestic system. If we are too much ahead of the home system that itself can create another problem."


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