Further negotiations at Brussels on LDC Plan of Action

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 10 Apr 2001 - - The preparatory committee for the Third UN Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) has concluded in New York last week, forwarding a text, with square brackets in key areas, on a Plan of Action for the decade 2001-2010.

The document goes before the UN Conference, which meets in Brussels (14-20 May), where intergovernmental negotiations will be held to clear the document of the square bracketed texts.

Mr. John Cuddy, the Executive Secretary of the Conference, said of the outcome of the preparatory meeting at New York that there had been “extremely good progress”, that the preparatory committee had “almost entirely” cleared commitments on building human and institutional capacities and reducing vulnerability.

The square-bracketed text that has come out of the New York preparatory committee meeting, and which was made available at the executive session of the UNCTAD Trade and Development Board, shows that the square brackets, around textual language where there is disagreement, relate to some of the key issues and areas that have been contentious since the start of the preparatory work.

These square bracketed texts are found throughout the document - from the ‘introduction’, elements of a stock-taking exercise of where the LDCs are, after two decades and two UN plans of actions, through various objectives and the framework for partnership, the commitments and the institutional arrangements for implementation.

Among the square-bracketed texts involving serious differences between the developing countries and the developed ones are firstly, the definition of ‘development partners’ of the least developed countries. This ‘definitional’ issue has considerable bearing on the kind of commitments to be undertaken and provided to the least developed countries for their development.

At issue is whether the ‘obligation’ in this matter is of the developed countries (and their bilateral aid agencies), the multilateral institutions and organizations or whether it should be expanded to make it also an obligation of other non-LDC developing countries.

The latter have taken the view that while they would provide help and assistance within their capacities, it would only be within the context of South-South cooperation, and not an international commitment.

The issue runs beyond the traditional questions about aid - but relate to several other areas where the developed countries are trying to shift the burden on to others too.

There are also considerable square bracketed texts around what is now de rigeur in international documents - the references to governance, accountability and other terms, which at one level, are unexceptionable and worthy, but at another, have become ideologically-loaded baggage of words and phrases.

These include as ‘objectives’: good governance, respect for human rights, peace, social stability, institution building, gender equality, environmental protection, and sustainable development.

The issues and their phrasing are really some shadow-boxing - with the EU, US and other industrial countries trying to introduce phrases and concepts in the Plan of Action that can provide a spring-board elsewhere - whether in the UN context, the WTO and other fora.

Not surprisingly thus, the exhortations sought by the US or EC on good governance, transparency and accountability are mentioned at the domestic and national level, and are not welcome when addressed to international institutions and frameworks - more so in relation to the IMF, World Bank or the WTO.

There are passages relating to enterprise development, capacity building, development of energy resources, agriculture and agro-industries, manufacturing and mining.

On technology transfer, there are several places where there are references to intellectual property and the TRIPs agreement.

But there are square brackets around references and calls adverting to the commitments of developed countries vis-a-vis the least developed, perhaps the only clear commitment in TRIPs for technology transfer, under Art. 66.2 of the TRIPs agreement.

This says in unambiguous language: “Developed-country members shall provide incentives to enterprises and institutions in their territories for the purpose of promoting and encouraging technology transfer for least developed country Members in order to enable them to create a sound and viable technological base.”

Six years after the WTO came into being, and despite repeated efforts at the TRIPs Council where this issue has been raised, the industrialized countries have not so far provided any details of how they have carried out this commitment, and any details of incentives they have given to their enterprises and institutions to promote technology transfer for creating a viable technological base.

In the area of trade, under market access, in respect of the call for removing trade barriers in the markets of developed trade partners, there are square brackets around the references to elimination of ‘tariff peaks and tariff escalation’, as also to the call for a target date of ‘no later than year 2000’.  There are also square brackets around the call for the duty-free, quota-free access to be ‘bound’, and whether for ‘all’ products or only ‘essentially all’ originating from LDCs.

There are some square bracketed parts even in relation to the part in the text about facilitating accession of LDCs to the WTO, for WTO members “to exercise restraint” in seeking concessions in negotiations on market access for goods and services, and that LDCs should be exempt from assuming obligations and commitments that go beyond what is applicable to LDCs who are now WTO members.

On mobilising resources for development, and actions by development partners,  there is nothing more than a renewed call for meeting aid targets set ten years ago in Paris, at the 1991 Second UN LDC conference. The ‘cafeteria’ approach set there are for: those who have provided 0.2 % of GNP as ODA to LDCs to continue to do, those who met the 0.15%, to reach 0.2% as expeditiously as possible, those who have committed themselves to the 0.15%, to reaffirm the commitment and reach the target as soon as possible. – SUNS4874

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

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