TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb17/11)
13 February 2017
Third World Network

Azevedo pushing differentiation, negotiating North's agenda for MC11
Published in SUNS #8398 dated 9 February 2017

Geneva, 8 Feb (D. Ravi Kanth) -- The World Trade Organization director-general Roberto Azevedo has told several trade envoys that differentiation among developing countries would happen in the development dossier of the unfinished Doha negotiations, trade envoys told SUNS.

During a meeting with the proponents seeking changes in the special and differential treatment flexibilities in the Doha Development Agenda negotiations on 3 February (Friday), the DG is reported to have said that two things are going to happen in the run-up to the WTO's eleventh ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires later this year.

First, differentiation among developing countries for availing special and differential treatment (S&DT) flexibilities would happen as demanded by major developed countries such as the United States, the European Union, Japan, Canada, and Australia among others, Azevedo suggested, according to a trade envoy from a least-developed country, who asked not to be quoted.

Second, the improvements in special and differential treatment or broad exemptions covered in the S&DT flexibilities will only be available for limited periods of time and not permanently, Azevedo maintained, the envoy said.

Fiji, on behalf of the small and vulnerable economies (SVEs), demanded outcomes for improving 25 issues that fall under the monitoring mechanism.

The SVEs drew attention to the Bali ministerial decision under which members had agreed to ensure that the monitoring mechanism acts as a focal point within the WTO to analyse and review the implementation of S&DT provisions.

The developing countries sought improvements in S&DT provisions aimed at increasing their trade opportunities, provisions under which WTO members should safeguard the interests of developing countries, flexibility of commitments, action, and use of policy instruments, and transition time periods.

Over the last decade, and more, the developed countries have strongly opposed clarifying and improving the special and differential treatment provisions in various WTO agreements, according to several developing country trade envoys.

In the lead up to MC10 in Nairobi, those same developed countries disengaged on the G90 proposals, citing their "ideological concerns" about developing and least developed countries industrializing their economies and protecting their infant industries.

By bringing "differentiation" into this negotiation, developing countries will be further divided, said a developing country trade envoy, after the DG's meeting.

"It is shocking that the DG is negotiating on behalf of the major developed countries even before commencing the negotiating work for the Buenos Aires meeting," the envoy said.

Meanwhile, the DG also held a meeting with the proponents of e-commerce on Monday (6 February) to discuss how they can move the issue forward during the next six months, said a trade envoy from a proponent-country, who asked not to be quoted.

During the closed-door meeting, the proponents such as the United States, the European Union, China, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Hong Kong, Israel, Korea, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Qatar, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Brazil, Argentina, El Salvador, and Nigeria among others pressed for two major deliverables at the Buenos Aires meeting.

The proponents called for an outcome at the Buenos Aires meeting on two issues. They include a permanent moratorium for not levying customs duties on electronically traded products and services and a clear and well- defined future work plan.

The proponents said the Buenos Aires meeting must provide a clearly defined and coherent work program on e-commerce. It must be "a concrete step forward" in proceeding on the e-commerce agenda, the envoy said.

Several participants maintained that there are many issues that need to be sorted out in the e-commerce work program which could prove unwieldy to manage in the next six months.

Therefore, the participants said efforts should be focussed on transparency, trade facilitation in e-commerce, and consumer protection.

The South American proponents - Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay - called for addressing the issue in trade facilitation of e-commerce such as electronic signatures (e-signature), electronic payment, electronic document, and provision of certification of services, liability, and protection of personal data.

But many proponents acknowledged that it would be difficult to make progress in e-commerce because of continued opposition from many developing and least-developed countries.

The 1998 WTO Work Programme on Electronic Commerce is comprehensive insofar as the examination of "all trade-related issues relating to global electronic commerce" is concerned.

It is unclear how proponents intend to deal with their demands when several developing countries, including India, Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, the African, ACP and LDC Groups expressed their concerns with the strong push to negotiate rules on e-commerce in the absence of a negotiating mandate in the WTO.

The African Group, in particular South Africa, Rwanda, Egypt, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe, who have been championing the development issues that still need to be addressed, have sensitised Members to the alarming digital divide that has plagued the African continent and placed their consumers and producers alike at a competitive disadvantage when industrialised countries have had decades to develop their e-commerce competencies.

"WTO rules in this area will lock in the existing imbalances we see in e-commerce", said an African trade envoy, who asked not to be quoted.

Nigeria, on the other hand, has eagerly joined the e-commerce bandwagon, and is now calling for deliverables at the Buenos Aires meeting.

"It is hard to reconcile how Nigeria is e-commerce ready when the biggest economy in Africa is constantly faced with electricity shortages and blackouts and is currently experiencing an economic recession".

The WTO and other international organisations have rolled out a coordinated plan to negotiate new issues like e-commerce in the WTO to the exclusion of all the other priority negotiating issues emanating from the Doha Development Round, according to several trade envoys.

Azevedo is going to make a strong pitch for e-commerce negotiations today in New Delhi knowing full well that India is experiencing an existential crisis in regard to its IT exports to the US and other countries.

The US Congress and President Donald Trump did not mince words in curbing the H1B program by imposing the most stringent conditions for H1B visas for skilled workers.

The legislation which is being considered by the US Congress would force Indian companies to pay H1B immigrants at least $130,000 which is almost twice their current salary.

President Trump is expected to issue an executive order on H1B visas akin to a ban on travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries, according to the Financial Times.

Against this backdrop, the director-general, in his eagerness to secure a second term, has not only remained silent on the US actions but is actively navigating the negotiations for the eleventh ministerial meeting to please the US and its new administration, several trade envoys maintained. +