North to try to bury DDA, push e-commerce and MSME talks at MC11
Moves are reportedly afoot in the WTO to kill off the Doha Round of negotiations and its agenda of outstanding issues in favour of talks on new topics aligned with developed-country interests.
by D. Ravi Kanth
GENEVA: Major developed countries and their “allies” in the developing world have intensified efforts to quietly bury the Doha Development Agenda negotiations while launching negotiations on electronic commerce and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) at the WTO’s eleventh Ministerial Conference (MCII) in Buenos Aires in December, several ministers and trade envoys told the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS).
Encouraged by the positions adopted by the US at an informal ministerial meeting of select countries in Paris in the week of 5 June, the developed countries – the European Union, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland – along with Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia, Singapore and Hong Kong-China are preparing the ground for launching negotiations on e-commerce and MSMEs in Buenos Aires under the banner of “development-oriented” priorities, said trade envoys familiar with the development.
Following the deliberations in Paris, the proponents of e-commerce and MSMEs are assuming that the US will not walk away from the WTO despite the adverse pronouncements made by the Trump administration.
Trade ministers and envoys who took part in the Paris meeting maintain that Washington will announce its bilateral and multilateral trade priorities, including its review of the work at the WTO, in October, as per the 180-day review announced by the Trump administration.
The US will then make its positions clear on the outcomes it will either support or remain silent on at the Buenos Aires meeting, said a source from a major developed country who asked not to be quoted.
Probably, the US will make it explicitly clear in the 180-day policy review that the Doha Round is dead and that it will not accept its continuation in any form.
The US has already said that it will not negotiate minimal improvements, such as transparency and due process in the anti-dumping provisions, at the Doha rules negotiating body meeting in the WTO. Effectively, the US will allow fisheries subsidies negotiations in the Doha rules dossier but not improvements in anti-dumping provisions. In short, WTO members must make commitments in fisheries subsidies without securing commensurate outcomes in other areas of the rules negotiations.
Until now, the proponents of MSMEs and electronic commerce were unable to muster the courage to openly declare that the Doha Round is dead and that they will not participate in negotiations on the outstanding issues as per the Doha Work Programme, the source said.
But, after the US makes its position clear on the termination of the Doha Round, the decks will be cleared for a formal burial in Buenos Aires by the silent supporters of the US position on the Doha issues.
Consequently, the remaining WTO members – which strongly support the Doha Work Programme – in Africa, Asia and South America will not be able to resist the so-called new “development-oriented” issues of MSMEs and electronic commerce, these sources believe.
Promotion of new issues
For the last many months, particularly since the Nairobi Ministerial Conference, the supporters of the new issues have not mentioned the Doha Work Programme even remotely in their proposals either on domestic support or on fisheries subsidies. However, they have now added the tag of “development-oriented” to their proposals on MSMEs, e-commerce and other issues which are not part of the Doha Work Programme.
The proponents will also make a concerted effort to sound their new proposals in Washington so as to get a tacit approval from the US administration, the source said.
Further, the proponents of the new issues will seemingly engage on mandated issues such as the permanent solution for public stockholding program-mes for food security and the special safeguard mechanism. However, they will seek to ensure either that there is no outcome on the public stockholding programmes or that any outcome is twisted and burdened with conditionalities that will make the solution infructuous, the source suggested.
An early test for the proposals on the new issues will come in the two meetings of capital-based senior officials from select countries which will be organized by Argentina in Geneva in July. Those two meetings will finalize the likely agenda for the Buenos Aires conference before the WTO breaks for summer recess in August.
Subsequently, for almost two months – September and the first half of October – efforts will be further mounted to finalize the elements of the proposed issues for discussion by a select group of ministers scheduled to meet in Marrakesh in October ahead of the Buenos Aires conference, the source maintained.
As part of the so-called “development-oriented” priorities for the Buenos Aires meeting, Argentina along with Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay have submitted a proposal on MSMEs.
In their four-page proposal, the four countries said “MSMEs should become an important component of a development-oriented agenda at the WTO.”
“By undertaking to consider the issue of MSMEs as part of future discussions within the framework of the WTO, Members have the opportunity to take a decisive step to accomplish the WTO’s mission of contributing to economic development and raising standards of living,” the four countries argued.
Under the banner of “friends of development”, the four countries maintained that “while some challenges are shared by MSMEs from both developed and developing countries, particular attention and specific positive efforts should be aimed at levelling the playing field in favour of MSMEs from developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs), which face additional obstacles and gaps in productivity.”
As part of the “international trade issues related to MSMEs”, the four countries want members to discuss issues such as “information and transparency”, “trade facilitation”, “e-commerce”, “MSMEs and trade financing”, and other issues such as “concrete actions to help reduce trade costs of non-tariff barriers (NTBs), which place a disproportionate burden on MSMEs, and technical assistance and capacity building initiatives focused on trade needs of MSMEs.”
Further, the four South American countries urged “all Members to present their proposals and suggestions on the topics they suggested.”
“We call the membership to participate in the open-ended, informal dialogue on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (‘Friends of MSMEs’) to explore concrete measures that Members could take to enable their participation in world trade,” they stated in their proposal.
The four countries said members must work together “in order to adopt, at the Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, a Ministerial Decision creating a Work Programme [launching negotiations] that addresses the specific needs of MSMEs.”
In short, the stage is set for the burial of the Doha Development Agenda negotiations while launching negotiations on new issues under the false banner of “development-oriented” priorities.
It remains to be seen whether the other developing countries which have worked hard on the developmental issues in the Doha agenda for the past 16 years will let their core issues be buried without any resolution once and for all in Buenos Aires, or whether they would jointly resist such an outcome, if necessary by ensuring the failure of MC11 as at MC5 in Cancun in 2003, sources said. (SUNS8481)
Third World Economics, Issue No. 641, 16-31 May 2017, pp4-6