by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 12 Nov 99 -- The proposals from a range of developing countries, under the rubric of "implementation issues" and seeking to redress the imbalances of the Uruguay Round and ensure some benefits to the developing countries appear to have been effectively turned down by the United States and the European Community.

With just 17 days before the WTO delegations assemble at Seattle for the Ministerial meeting, and some prior events like a secretariat-organized NGO symposium, there has been little progress on producing a cleaned-up draft text, with just one or two major issues to be tackled by Ministers.

The WTO and the General Council are already a week behind in their target of 5 November to finalise a text for the consideration of capitals so as to give them time to consider and make up their minds. But as of now there is little time left.

The EC and its "friends" have been meeting to try and prepare a draft which they may spring at the General Council here or even at Seattle, to launch a comprehensive round.

However, the United States as a host country, is anxious to ensure that the the event does not become a failure like the Montreal (1988) and Brussels (1990) ministerial meetings of the Uruguay Round.

On the one hand, the US is trying to lower the ambitions, and reduce the focus of NGO hostility now centred over issues like investment, by calling only for launching the mandated negotiations in agriculture and services (if necessary by some ambiguous language for mandate on further agricultural negotiations), but holding out the prospect that after Seattle, at the next ministerial, it would join the EC in pushing for negotiations on investment etc.

In terms of new issues, therefore, it is only anxious to get an agreement on 'transparency in government procurement', and some decisions to satisfy its domestic labour and environment lobbies.

The EC and its friends, the so-called 'friends of the round' are discussing a possible draft declaration that will focus on a limited agenda of negotiations to be launched at Seattle, but enable an adding on to them in the next ministerial.

In this process, the "implementation" issues of the developing countries seem to be getting nowhere, except that the talks are going round and round, with an attempt to wear out the developing world's negotiators

This has angered some of them so much that in talks on e-commerce on Friday, some of the developing countries who had expressed some reserve on a blanket extension of the moratorium on tariffs on e-commerce transactions, are beginning to say they cannot agree to any extension.

The Geneva ministerial conference of 1998 said that the General Council, along with a work programme, should recommend whether the moratorium on e-commerce tariff should be continued.

In Singapore and earlier, while the then EC Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan spoke about a "millennium round" (with new issues like investment) as in the interests of development of developing countries, there was resistance to it from the developing world who insisted on redressing the imbalances and deficiencies of the Marrakech agreement by focusing on implementation issues.

The British Development Minister, Mrs Claire Short then came to UNCTAD to talk of a "development round" (but also proposing investment rules). The UNCTAD Secretary-General, Rubens Ricupero (a former Brazilian trade negotiator), who had been promoting the idea of developing countries putting forth their own issues, in a "positive agenda", began saying that such a new round with a "positive agenda" focusing on the unfinished business and agenda of the developing countries could be a "development round".

The WTO Director-General Mr. Mike Moore, as also some of his senior officials at some regional meetings, also have been talking of a "development round". But Moore's agenda for a development round, outlined at the Marrakech G-77 meeting, has been for including some of the new issues of the developed world -- agreements or decisions at Seattle on 'trade facilitation' and 'transparency in government procurement' -- as issues that promote development.

A trade diplomat from a developing country said Friday that if a new round is launched at Seattle, developing countries should at least join to reject the name "development round".

With everyone defining 'development' and deciding what would be in the interests of developing countries, and no one paying heed to what developing countries themselves feel or need, the next round will be anything but a "development round", and if developing countries don't watch out and take a stand, the WTO will begin a new millennium by ending all prospects of development.

Several developing countries have been saying that without progress on the implementation questions (both those requiring decisions at Seattle and others to be dealt with and resolved in 2000), they would have difficulties in persuading their capitals to agree to other issues on the Seattle agenda. "Implementation" is as important for us as agriculture or services are to others, several of them said at the informal heads of delegations meetings.

In the 'green room' consultations chaired by the WTO Director-General Mike Moore to consider the paras 18-21 of the Chairman's revised draft of 19 October, the two largest beneficiaries of the WTO and the Marrakech agreements (the US and the EU), while 'stone-walling' various detailed proposals, reportedly said that they had no domestic political support for any actions involving changes in the existing agreements, whether by changing the rules or through agreed interpretations and understandings, and hence they were not acceptable.

Much of the focus in the 'green room' consultations that Moore has been having since the last week of October, have focused mainly on the agriculture issues -- where there has been a deadlock on the specific mandate for further negotiations in agriculture as between the views of the US and the Cairns Group on the one side, and the EC, Japan, Norway, Switzerland and Korea on the other.

Moore's attempts to take up in 'green room' consultations other issues figuring on the agenda for negotiations in the next round -- such as market access on non-agricultural products, the Singapore agenda issues etc -- failed, when some of the Latin American members of the Cairns group have linked any discussions or progress on them to the agriculture part of the text.

Though Moore and the WTO spokesman have been identifying agriculture and implementation questions as two major preoccupations to be resolved for progress on a draft declaration, beyond an initial meeting in the early stage, Moore did not hold any consultations on implementation.

After the members of the like-minded group (LMG) of developing countries had met Moore earlier this week, and conveyed their concerns on implementation questions, Moore held two such meetings.

One participant however said there was no positive response from the United States and the EC.

After a second round of consultations Thursday, the US has apparently made it clear that it could not contemplate or agree to any acceleration of the integration of textiles and clothing trade, even by autonomous actions without changes in the agreement.

And while the EC and US wax eloquent on the need for the WTO and the trade rules to be in line with multilateral environment agreements, or talk rhetorically about the need for "coherence" by collaboration of WTO, with other international organizations, in the consultations they turned down flatly any changes in the TRIPS agreement, or in its interpretation, over patenting of life forms including genes, so as to subserve or be in line with the UN Convention on Bio-Diversity (CBD).

As one developing country diplomat put it, the stand of the industrialized world appeared to be that they could not allow outside agreements to over-ride the trade rules and their rights under TRIPS. In addition, the US also argues reportedly that since it is not a party to the CBD, it could not accept a derogation of TRIPS to the CBD.

Similar was their response to the view that the TRIPS agreement should conform with the WHO call for TRIPS to subserve public health and safeguard access to essential drugs.

At its 52nd session in May, the World Health Assembly, adopted a resolution supplementing its 1986 Revised Drug Strategy, to take account of public health perspectives on trade issues and the WTO's TRIPS. In the resolution adopted unanimously, the Assembly asked member states, among other things,

* "to ensure that public health interests are paramount in pharmaceutical and health policies," and

* explore and review their options under relevant international agreements, including trade agreements, to safeguard access to essential drugs."

And coherence thus appears to mean that the WTO prevail over others.

After the first 'green room' meeting early this week, the secretariat appears to have formulated and produced a text on proposals for 'immediate action' under implementation which appear aimed more at removing any blockages for changes in or continuation of existing provisions that developed countries as a whole, or most of them, want.

But a member of the LMG said the secretariat draft are marginal concessions or cosmetic changes, and not basic to the problem of imbalances and inequities facing developing countries under the WTO agreements.

In the coming days, no doubt, the US will try to apply bilateral pressures to persuade key developing countries to yield, holding out the possibility that if Seattle fails, there will be more protectionism in the United States.

But in the US system, with the US administration unable or unwilling to make concessions on the trade front, citing Congressional opposition, and not in a position to deal and deliver concessions on non-trade fronts, economic and political, it is difficult to see how Washington can hope to strike any deal. (SUNS4551)

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

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