MEANINGFUL dialogue and discussions would contribute to the progress of humanity and political and economic advancement, HE the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al-Thani said yesterday. Welcoming delegates to the seventh Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade, the prime minister said the agenda of the conference included many issues that were directly linked to reforms.
He said the forum started its activities in 2001. “Regular conferences ensued with expansive and comprehensive discussions on the activation of democracy, free trade, economic rights, human rights, freedom of the press, the role of women, dialogue among religions and civilisations, education, the virtual relation between free trade and development.
“It reflected a host of diverse issues, methods and procedures of discussions”, he told the meeting.
Qatar had hosted the sixth International Conference for the Modern and Restored Democracies last October. It would host another conference on democracy and reform in the Arab world in May, he added.
The high-profile event, being held this year under the slogan of ‘Democracy is Basis of Development,’ has gathered 600 politicians, parliamentarians and academicians from around the globe.
The event has attracted a large participation from the US Congress and the UK House of Commons as well as Arab, Asian and African business leaders.
Organised by the Qatari Foreign Ministry and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the three-day conference will deal with the role of democracy in socio-economic development, the role of education in democratisation, the Greater Middle East Initiative, the social dimension of liberalised trade, and good governance.
It will also discuss the roles of civil society organisations and mass media in democratisation and promotion of human rights in the Arab world.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said the positive relationship between free trade and development was well established. “With the ease of travel, shipping, and communications that our modern world provides, the benefits of trade have become more evident than ever. That is why it is so essential that there be a successful conclusion to the Doha Round of trade talks. The global trading regime needs to create opportunities for the poorest countries instead of leaving them at a disadvantage”.
If the Doha Round failed, there would be serious damage to those who could least afford it, to the multilateral trading system, and to multilateralism itself. “Should this round of trade talks succeed, Doha will become synonymous not only with free trade, but also indelibly linked to development.”
Exchange of goods often became inseparable from exchange of ideas, he said, referring to the link between democracy and free trade.
The UN official quoted Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen as defining development “largely in terms of the amount of freedom it gives individuals”.
Free trade, he said, “can be seen as the freedom to find a market for something that one has created, or to buy something that someone else has created, no matter how far away”.
An essential feature of democracy was a free press able to perform its vital work of informing and educating the voting public without fear, harassment and censorship, he said.
Another was the separation of powers, in which not all power was vested in a single institution or person, Ban Ki-Moon said.
He said democracy was not a guarantee of success either in formulating policies or implementing them. “But it is without doubt our most powerful and just means for giving everyone a chance to be part of the debate, for resolving differences peacefully, and for building well-functioning societies”.
Today, the forum will discuss ‘Freedom of media,’ ‘Clash of civilisations’, ‘The gap between North and South’ and other topics.