By Alan Clendenning
The Associated Press
SAO PAULO, Brazil - Amid a clamor by poor countries for international agricultural trade reform, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Brazil's president said Monday that free trade must be used to raise global living standards.
"Let us help developing countries take full advantage of trading opportunities," Annan said at the opening of the 180-nation United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. "And let us find our way to a development-led approach to trade and other policies that will enrich and empower all the world's peoples."
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who became a strong voice on free trade issues after taking office last year as Brazil's first elected leftist leader, said the developing world should learn how to use globalization instead of denouncing it.
While activists denounce globalization as unfettered free trade that benefits only multinational corporations, Silva said it can be harnessed - to help poor countries gain greater market access, eliminate misery and get more funding to improve infrastructure and technology.
"Globalization is not synonymous with development, it is not a substitute for development; but it can be used as an instrument for development," Silva said.
The forum is bringing together ministers of the world's richest and poorest countries.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said poor countries must drop their own barriers to mutual trade instead of waiting for international agreements that could give them better access to the markets of their richer counterparts.
"But while that best hope remains elusive, my suggestion is that we try to reduce our overwhelming dependence on developed-country markets," Thaksin said. "Given the increasingly zero-sum attitude of the north toward trade, we should diversify our risk by exploring more opportunities in the south."
Silva, echoing the views of many delegates at the conference, said poor countries will grab a larger share of world trade if they can find ways to reduce barriers among themselves.
He said 44 developing countries that signed the Global System of Trade Preferences will hold new talks on reducing tariffs. Silva also said he hopes to enlist 40 new member countries from the developing world.
Many ministers of poor countries say they could raise living standards if agricultural trade inequities were eliminated.
Their most bitter complaint: generous subsidies in the United States and the European Union that give farmers a huge competitive advantage over producers in poor countries who are struggling to feed their families.
"Less developed countries, like mine, are in big financial trouble because we can't sell our cotton for a fair price," said Tankpadja Lalle, Togo's minister of commerce, industry and transportation. Several hundred anti-globalization protesters marched Monday to a police barricade.
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