6 November 2009Exports from the world’s poorest countries should be granted duty- and quota-free access to markets, according to government officials, economists and academics attending a regional United Nations trade meeting as they warned against a turn towards protectionist policies. More than 100 participants at the first session of the Committee on Trade and Investment of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), which wrapped up today in Bangkok, said protectionism could undermine the multilateral trading system and delay recovery from the global economic crisis. They called for the poorest States, classified as least developed countries (LDCs), to be granted better export rights, even without waiting for the completion of the so-called Doha round of negotiations on reducing international trade barriers. ESCAP Executive Secretary Noeleen Heyzer told the gathering that they were enormous opportunities for growth in South-South trade and investment, but high tariffs and procedural obstacles were the biggest stumbling blocks to that goal. Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said the Asia-Pacific region must not let the recovery from the current economic crisis be a jobless one. “This financial crisis has turned into a social crisis for some countries in the Asia-Pacific region, with job losses and deterioration in social well-being,” he said.