Montana State University

MSU professor helps Pakistan prepare for controversial trade talks

January 18, 2006 -- by Carol Schmidt, MSU News


MSU's Linda Young helped prepare Pakistani agricultural officials for recent World Trade Organization meetings. MSU photo by Jay Thane.   High-Res Available

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As politicians and scholars across the world debate the results of a controversial World Trade Organization's meeting held in Hong Kong last month, a Montana State University political science professor with a tie to the meeting says that slow progress in the complicated issues of global economics can be a good thing.

"Progress (at WTO talks) is slow, but that is because there are legitimate conflicting interests in the meeting," said Linda Young, a specialist in global agricultural economics. Young spent a week in Islamabad in November with the Pakistani Secretary of Agriculture and his staff prior to the World Trade Organization's December meeting.

Young will speak about her experiences, as well as challenges to Pakistan's development of agricultural trade, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, at the Bozeman Public Library. Her lecture is sponsored by the Montana Center for International Visitors and the Friends of the Bozeman Public Library and is free and open to the public.

Young had never worked with Pakistan when she was invited to assist its government in preparation for the Hong Kong Ministerial. Young speculated that the Pakistanis learned of her a year ago when she was one of 12 experts invited to a meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations held in Rome.

Young didn't know what to expect when she landed in Pakistan, which a month earlier had been ravaged by a disastrous earthquake that killed 80,000 people and rendered more than 3.5 million homeless. Ramifications of the earthquake were apparent immediately from pallets of relief goods stacked on the airport's tarmac.

Young, and a Canadian expert also invited to the sessions, twice met with Muhammad Ismail Qureshi, Pakistan's Secretary of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, who she was surprised to learn is an advocate for free trade. She said many developing countries want to be able to protect their agricultural sectors. Young said the members of the Pakistani Ministry of Agriculture favor the further liberalization of agricultural trade and the development of their agricultural sector.

She said Pakistan's location and political and geographic isolation affect its trade plans. The country is bordered by India, with its booming economy and protective trade policy, and to the northwest by war-torn Afghanistan. China and Iran are also neighbors. Also factoring into the discussion is Pakistan's membership in the G-20, a group of developing nations that have banded together to speak with a common voice in the trade negotiations, even though they have diverse stances on agricultural trade policy.

During much of the week, Young and her fellow adviser helped the Pakistanis consider potential trade negotiating positions. They did so with a long-range view toward developing exports and protecting the interests of their consumers, many of whom spend a large portion of their income on food.

"Like many countries, they would like to develop exports of higher-value products, including fruits, such as mangos, and also fresh fish," Young said. "To do that, they have to implement the very high health and safety regulations enforced by developed country importers."

Young accurately predicted that the Hong Kong meetings would be protested. Protestors from across the globe opposed the lowering of national trade barriers and subsidies to agricultural producers. Some protestors believe that lowering trade barriers, while promoting free trade, will increase the disparity between rich and poor countries.

Following a year of disappointing results, little progress on further liberalization of agricultural trade was made in Hong Kong, she said. She is not alone in worrying that there is not enough political will in the United States and the European Union to make the compromises needed to secure another agreement to liberalize agricultural trade, she added.

Young enjoyed the experience and would welcome the opportunity to return to Pakistan to work in the country. In the meantime, her experiences are enriching her classes at MSU.

"I'm definitely using the lessons I learned there in my classes," Young said. "Anything that we can do to bring real world experience back to our students is good. And this was definitely real- world experience."

Linda Young (406) 994-5604