More members speak up, but to what avail?

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 23 Oct 2001 - - The Chairman of the General Council, Mr. Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong China, at a Heads of Delegation consultation Monday on the draft ministerial declaration for Doha, would again appear to have repeated his position that the revised draft he would produce and circulate to members on 26 Oct would avoid ‘compilations’ or ‘compendiums’ on the work programme and mandates for a new round of negotiations.

According to several delegations, the consultations covering issues and subjects not discussed earlier in fact showed many developing countries, which on the first discussion (on 2 October) had taken a conciliatory view, even when opposing the formulations and subjects, took a harder position, particularly on the Singapore and other new issues, on non-agricultural market access negotiations.

Despite the complaints of many delegations, Monday’s consultations, as others in the previous week, were held in the Conference Room D of the WTO headquarters, a relatively smaller conference room, where there is not even physically room for a representative and deputy to sit, follow and participate - forcing many delegations to stand behind, and follow the proceedings without the benefits of interpretations.

So much for the WTO and its internal transparency and participatory decision-making process.

Neither Harbinson nor the WTO Director-General Mike Moore was reported by delegations as having responded, though perhaps the fault lies as much with delegates who do not take the measures and steps they do have through various processes to put an end to such treatment.

The physical and other conditions under which the delegations had to function were apparently such that it led to the Nigerian representative prefacing his remarks with a sarcastic reference that the Nigerian delegation was aware of the chairman’s “romantic” attachment and love for the Room D.

The WTO media office, which normally provides some kind of briefings for the meetings, did not provide any for the HOD meeting on Monday.

With his new draft due to be discussed on 31 October at the General Council, it is clear that the Chairman, and the WTO secretariat, are determined to push through to Doha a draft formulated in a manner that will represent mainly the agendas of the US and EU, and could place others at a disadvantage, and force it through.

And another proposal floated, in consultations at technical levels, is to make the declaration one under Article IV.2 of the Marrakesh Agreement, and for setting the course of the WTO until the 5th Session of the Ministerial Conference and beyond. This will probably have even more far-reaching implications.

At Monday’s meeting, Tanzania on behalf of the least developed countries, made a detailed presentation, in effect repudiating the attempt, by characterizing the new negotiations as a ‘development compact’, to mislead the world into thinking that the concerns of these countries were being addressed and given priority.

At the Singapore meeting (13-14 October), the Singapore trade minister attempted to do this, after hearing the views of the Tanzanian trade minister, by presenting the US-EC agendas for the new round and attempting to present them as the ‘development compact’.

Tanzanian ambassador, Mr. Ali Mchumo, told the HOD that when at the informal Ministerial Meeting in Singapore the proposal was made that the future multilateral trade negotiations be called a ‘Development Agenda’, it was generally accepted. However “it was not a mere name that matters, it is substance and content that matters and worth the name of a Development Agenda.”

Mchumo spelt out once again the clear positions set out by LDC ministers at Zanzibar, and said that the LDCs have clearly identified the issues of priority - capacity building to address supply side constraints, market access and the implementation issues.

They had also identified issues that were not a priority and for which they were not ready to negotiate and “the Singapore issues” were clearly identified in this category.

“This sum total of what we want and regard as our priorities, and what we do not want and .. may even be unnecessarily burdensome and of negative value, is what our Ministers called the Development Agenda.”

It was not a name just picked for political rhetoric, but a package that could contribute significantly to LDCs development. International trade was not important for its own sake but as a means to achieve development and growth. It was thus relevant for the 4th ministerial in particular and the WTO in general to take the Development Agenda on board.

Though this had received wide support even among developed countries, and while everyone seemed to agree that development ought to take a higher profile in multilateral negotiations, “we perceive the lack of strong political will on the part of major trading partners to attach the necessary priority to issues at the core of the preoccupations of the LDCs and other developing countries,” Tanzania said.

The Development Agenda should not be an isolated item for the LDCs alone, and the WTO Ministerial Conference must law a work programme centred on the Development Agenda in order to make the MTS more balanced and able to offer benefits not only to LDCs but all developing countries.

The LDCs recognized the need for a work programme for negotiations to change the status quo, since the status quo was not good enough for the majority of members. However such a work programme must be manageable taking into account the limited capacity for LDCs to negotiate on a broad agenda with new issues and implement new commitments.

The paras 36-42 of the chairman’s draft for a broad-based programme of negotiations and with new issues created major difficulties for the LDCs. Hence there should be a Development Agenda including as its elements:

·        effective capacity building to address supply side constraints of LDCs and other developing countries,

·        satisfactorily addressing the wide range of implementation issues,

·        operationalising the S&D treatment provisions and making them binding,

·        secure and predictable preferential market access for LDCs and other developing countries,

·        taking into accounts interests of LDCs and other developing countries in the built-in agenda and mandated reviews,

·        streamlines and fast-track procedures and conditions for LDCs and other developing countries seeking accession, and

·        ensuring an inclusive and transparent negotiating process.

In the interests of a balanced work programme, the Development Agenda might also include subjects of major concern to the developed countries - “after sufficient time is given to understand the full implications of such issues and provided the sequencing of the items of the work programme puts priority on the issues of concern to LDCs and other developing countries.

This would imply that until the 5th ministerial conference, the issues of major concern to the developing countries be fully addressed together with issues under mandated negotiations and reviews, and thereafter issues of greater concern to the major trading partners could be addressed in a time frame taking into account appropriate sequencing of priorities.

“Since the entire international trading community accepts the centrality of development in the multilateral trading system... it is timely for the Ministers in Doha to agree on a Development Agenda, not as an instrument to justify incorporating more iniquities, but as a fundamentally new Work Programme engendering a more equitable and development-oriented multilateral trading system that will bring benefits to all WTO members.”

Zimbabwe for the African group of countries, in a strong statement reflecting in detail the views of the African ministers at their recent Abuja meeting, said the Africans wanted a study process on non-agricultural market access that would fully study the implications and impact, including of the past process under structural adjustment and negative effects on industrialization.

On the Singapore issues, there was no consensus among WTO members and the current study process should continue. As for the formulation on environment, Zimbabwe insisted that the mandate of the Committee on Trade and Environment was balanced and no change was called for.

A number of developing countries called for the deletion of the paragraph in the draft declaration making a reference to the International Labour Organization.  However, the EC wanted it to be strengthened, with a call for inter-governmental policy dialogue among stake-holders and for an WTO participation in this.

On non-agricultural product market access, Pakistan wanted a specific reference to Special and Differential treatment and non-reciprocity. A number of others, including Japan, said the meaning of the term used about ‘less than full reciprocity’ was not clear.

Kenya, supported later by Egypt and Brazil and several others, called for a study before taking up market access negotiations.

The United States on the other hand wanted changes in the formulation, calling for negotiations focussing on ‘high tariffs’, rather than tariff-peaks and tariff-escalation.

The European Community wanted changes in the mandate for negotiations on ‘trade facilitation’ which currently calls for issues relating to ‘compliance’ to be addressed in the negotiations, to be changed into issues relating to ‘implementation’.

The implication appeared to be that any trade facilitation agreement would involve the WTO dispute settlement process. The EC would appear to have been directly asked about this, but did not reply.

Several developing countries spoke up against the proposed formulations on the organization and management of the work programme.

India noted that though the term ‘round’ had not been used, the formulation in para 36 of the draft about ‘management of the work programme’, reinforced Indian concerns. India was opposed to the setting up of a Trade Negotiations Committee to manage the work programme, and said on a rough assessment, there would be a need for 16 separate negotiating groups and developing countries could not service such a process of negotiations. India also opposed the use of ‘single undertaking’ for the work programme, and pointed out that the use of such a term was relevant only in terms of the new issues sought to be brought on the agenda.

Turkey noted that there was no consensus on any of the Singapore issues.

Indonesia said that it was not in a position to agree to negotiate on any of the Singapore issues. Malaysia which dealt with government procurement and trade facilitation (on investment and competition policy, Malaysia had made known at the 2 October consultations its opposition to negotiations on these). Malaysia said it was not in a position to agree to negotiations on transparency in government procurement, and the educational process should continue. As for trade facilitation it could not go beyond non-binding guidelines. – SUNS4994

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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