WTO must do more to help developing island nations: New Zealand Trade Minister

The World Trade Organization (WTO) must do more to help Caribbean nations seek access to international markets, New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser said Tuesday during a tour of Caribbean countries to support his bid to become the next WTO head.

Groser, who was in Kingston, Jamaica, said in a statement from his office that he knew first-hand from New Zealand's immediate neighbors in the Pacific, the unique needs of small sea-locked economies and the frustrations they faced accessing the distant and protected developed world markets for their critical export industries.

"Developing countries have varied needs and interests. The Pacific Island countries, in New Zealand's neighborhood, like the Caribbean Islands, face particular challenges. They have specific needs within the WTO system," said Groser.

Groser pledged that, if appointed the next WTO director general, he would look at concrete and practical ways that the WTO mechanisms could be better oriented to support the specific needs of these countries.

"Among other things, I want to look carefully at how the organization can work more closely with other international institutions to find practical ways to provide technical assistance and to build capacity for countries which are finding it difficult to implement their commitments or to engage with the organization in Geneva," he said.

Groser said the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations trade pact, currently under negotiation between New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific island nations (PACER), was based on the fundamental concept that New Zealand's smaller neighbors needed improved access to its bigger market to develop.

"But they also need help to secure the benefits provided by that improved access. I want to see that kind of thinking translated into the multilateral system," Groser said.

In February, Groser visited five Pacific island nations to garner support for his WTO bid. He is one of nine candidates seeking to succeed WTO director- general Pascal Lamy, whose term expires on Aug. 31.