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The Kuwaiti-based Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah Foundation organised a seminar on the topic " Economic Liberalisation and the Developing World " in Paris on September 5 as a prelude to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Cancun on September 11.

Basically managed as a Charitable Trust, the Foundation believes that International trade can play a major role in the promotion of economic development and the alleviation of poverty and recognizes the vulnerability of least-developed countries.

Foundation operates from Kuwait and was launched in 1992 on the will of the late Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah. Born in 1914, Sheikh Abdullah was the son of Mubarak 1, known as Mubarak the Great and Founder and First Emir of the modern state of Kuwait. Sheikh Abdullah had a remarkable career in his own right and saw through the early development of Kuwait, retiring in 1961 when it achieved independence. A year after his death in 1991, his widow Dr Souad M.Al-Sabah established the Foundation as a living testimony to her husband's work and commitment to humanity, with her two sons Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Abdullah as her deputies and active trustees.

Education lies at the heart of many of the Foundations Programmes and in addition to scholarships the Foundation has funded University fellowships, professional chairs and research programmes. The Foundation also supports medical programmes, ranging from medical centres in central Africa to social centres in Asia as well as Middle East projects.

In keeping with its aims of promoting dialogue and exchange of views on contemporary issues and events, the Foundation has in the past organised and sponsored a number of forums, bringing people of all cultures together to hear leaders in their fields give their analyses of current developments in a constructive and intellectual environment.

The Paris seminar was therefore meant to enhance the debate on global trading prior to the Cancun Conference, to see where the world trading community is in its task to complete a further round of trade negotiations that will benefit all countries in the world, but especially undeveloped countries so that the peoples in those countries can raise their own living standards and, in so many cases, ease their way out of poverty.

Speaking at a press conference at the Centre for the Foreign Press in Paris (CAPE) a day before the seminar, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah, the late Sheikh Abdullah's son and name sake, and Vice President of the Foundation said, " the foundation operates in several developing countries around the world based on no discrimination on race, creed, faith or religion; the Foundation knows no black or white. It has undertaken many comprehensive programmes in the areas of education, health and forums in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the United states ".

Sheikh Abdullah noted that in sponsoring the Paris seminar, " the Foundation wishes to build on extended experience in the above mentioned areas and wants to take this strategic decision to a macro endeavour by promoting such a conference on such an important topic as trade ".

Reacting to a question on how relevant is trade to the aims and objectives of the Foundation, Sheikh Abdullah had this to say : " The Foundation is mainly concerned with backing social endeavours related to education and health in the developing world. But of course one cannot detach the issue of trade from that in the macro endeavour because trade impinges on the life of every individual in the developing world. Trade and the framework of trade will ultimately determine the quality of life of these people and assist in the alleviation of poverty ".

On the question of the media-hyped accusation of the WTO as a Club effectively run by rich nations bent on increasing their wealth and making the poor countries poorer, Sheikh Abdullah admitted that Agriculture, where farmers in Europe and other developed countries enjoy the advantage of subsidies against those in the development world, is at the centre of this widening development gap, but warned there is still need for a multinational framework to provide a forum for negotiations to ensure a fair and equal agreement between the different parties involved.

He referred to Kuwait which he admitted needs to diversify its economy beyond that of oil, a feat which, he said, has been proving difficult to achieve for most oil producing countries in the Gulf region. " For Kuwait to prepare itself on the international oil scene, what is needed involves a two-way agreement with importers of oil in the western hemisphere, to liberalise their quotas and in return Kuwait and other oil producing countries can all open up their markets to investment, trade and industry. And in this way Kuwait can have a lead in comparative advantage. "

Apart from this comparative advantage, Sheikh Abdullah added, what Kuwait needs amongst other oil economies is to establish joint ventures in the area of education and make the country more competitive in international trade. He observed that Kuwait should move away from its paradoxical state of being rich in one area and poor in the others.

Fielding a question on why Paris, and not London, was chosen for the venue of the conference, British Labour MP Stuart Bell who chaired the press conference said this was partly because one of the key note speakers, British Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt had expressed wish to return to Paris, and move over because they always believe that the French are more involved in agriculture.

“By bringing together a French minister and his British counterpart on the same platform, we want to show that the difference between the two countries over Iraq does not in any way affect the very good traditional relationship existing between them, " said Bell.