G90 setback as North nations refuse any outcome on S&DT

The outlook for a Buenos Aires agreement to provide greater flexibility for developing countries in implementing certain WTO rules dimmed due to persistent opposition from the developed countries.

by D. Ravi Kanth

GENEVA (24 NOV): The large majority of developing and poorest countries – the Group of 90 – suffered a setback on 23 November at the WTO after the United States, the European Union and other major industrialized countries refused to agree to any outcome on their core issues for improving special and differential flexibilities at MC11, trade envoys told the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS).

The G90 countries have demanded specific improvements in 10 WTO covered agreements for strengthening the “development dimension”. The group had substantially lowered the number of issues from more than 40 to 10 in an attempt to secure credible outcomes on the development dimension of the Doha trade negotiations.

But major industrialized countries – the US, the EU, Japan and Canada among others – refused to engage on the 10 issues, saying they needed evidence to demonstrate how the special and differential treatment (S&DT) provisions on the 10 covered agreements did not work, said an African trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

At a meeting of heads of delegation (HoD) which was followed by a meeting of the proponents with the WTO Director-General on 23 November, the coordinators of the ACP Group, the African Group and the least-developed countries were told that there will be no outcomes on their demands at Buenos Aires.

There was also opposition from some of the major industrialized countries to including the unresolved issues of the Doha Work Programme in the post-Buenos Aires work programme, said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

The G90 countries, according to the trade envoy, will now circulate their draft ministerial decision covering all the 10 agreements in which they have sought specific improvements. It will suggest how WTO members must carry out further negotiations on the unresolved proposals after the Buenos Aires meeting next year.

The main issue to be decided at Buenos Aires will be how the special and differential treatment issues will be treated in the post-Buenos Aires work programme and what happens to them next year, the envoy said.

The G90 countries want a clear roadmap for further negotiations on all their unresolved S&DT issues after MC11.

“Double standards”

While the major industrialized countries rejected outcomes on the improvements in special and differential flexibilities in the 10 agreements, which have been consistently raised since the launch of the Doha Development Agenda trade negotiations in 2001, the EU, Japan, Canada and Australia among others want to launch negotiations at Buenos Aires on new issues such as investment facilitation and disciplines for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, the envoy said.

The EU and its allies also want to establish at Buenos Aires a new working party to oversee negotiations to write WTO rules on electronic commerce.

“This is sheer hypocrisy and [practice of] double standards by major developed countries that refuse to engage on issues that have been there for the past 16 years but want us to agree to new issues,” said an LDC trade envoy.

The G90 want modest improvements in the following 10 agreements at Buenos Aires:

i.      changes in the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) that will allow developing countries to deviate temporarily from the provisions of its Article 2;

ii.    changes for deviating from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 (GATT 1994) in Articles XVIII.A and XVIII.C to achieve development objectives;

iii.   changes in Article XVIII of GATT – section B concerning balance-of-payments difficulties, including quantitative restrictions;

iv.   changes in the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary Measures so as to enable a longer time period for notification requirements;

v.     changes in the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, including a longer time period before the adoption of the measures;

vi.   changes in the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures so as to enable the developing and poorest countries to achieve industrialization;

vii.  changes in the Customs Valuation Agreement to enable the LDCs to use minimum or reference values up to 10% of their tariff lines when they are in difficulty;

viii. to ensure that developing-country products of export interest are accorded meaningful market access as per the 1979 Decision on Differential and More Favourable Treatment, Reciprocity and Fuller Participation of Developing Countries (“Enabling Clause”);

ix.   improvements in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for transfer of technology;

x.     improvements in the guidelines for the accession of LDCs to the WTO.

The Buenos Aires meeting is thus shaping up as a battleground to decide whether the large majority of developing and poorest countries will have any significant say on their development issues or if the industrialized countries will forge ahead with their new issues, trade envoys said. (SUNS8583)

Third World Economics, Issue No. 651/652, 16 October – 15 November 2017, p9