Capital-level officials repeat same positions

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 25 June 2001 - - There was much talk of ‘flexibility’ and attempts to present a show of unity among the majors, particularly, at the informal General Council meeting on preparations for Doha, but several ambassadors of developing countries said there seemed to be considerable gaps still to be bridged, as between the majors, and also other key trading partners.

Notwithstanding some of the recent joint statements, including of the EU and the US, about launching a new round at Doha, with ambitious goals, it seemed that in fact the differences all around were still large.

Mr. Peter Carl of the EC, at a press briefing along with the US, said the EC wanted that Doha should launch new round of negotiations, with the language of the declaration allowing for a negotiating mandate that would be “permissive and sufficiently open-ended and not restrictive.” Investment and Competition were a must for the EU

On his part, the US Deputy Trade Representative, Peter Allgeier told the briefing, wanted a declaration and mandate in general terms, like that at Punta del Este.

Among the developing countries, India made clear that it was opposed to putting investment negotiations on the agenda, and was also against competition policy, since developing countries were still to get experience of this. As for ‘trade facilitation’, he said, the WTO would lack credibility when it could not even implement the agreement on Rules of Origin (for harmonization of MFN rules by 1998)

Allgeier said he was not aware of the state of play on Rules of Origin and could not comment.

And Mr. Carl was pretty upset and annoyed over the Indian speech that developing countries had not gained much benefits from the Uruguay Round, and pointed to the increased exports from developing countries and the loss of jobs in the EC textile industry - though studies by the International Textiles and Clothing Bureau show that most of the losses are due to technology, and in terms of market access, there has been no economically significant removal of quotas and restrictions.

The meeting, with participation of officials from capitals, had been convened by the General Council Chairman Stuart Harbinson and the WTO Director-General Mike Moore. Most of the industrialized countries had senior officials from capitals and a number of Latin Americans had vice-ministers. A few developing countries of Asia had some senior officials, but most of Africa and the least developed countries were represented at the level of ambassadors and accredited trade diplomats.

Several of them deplored the WTO mind-set, which seemed to believe that the ambassadors accredited to the institution did not represent the country views, and that the leadership could get its way with capital officials, who would yield on their country’s interests in the pursuit of an ideology.

The initial remarks of Harbinson, and some of the reactions, suggested that the whole exercise may prove to be no more than a charade to get around the fact that the self-imposed deadline of July, to have a ‘reality check’ on an agenda for Doha that could command consensus, would go by without any consensus.

Some of the statements of the majors, including by the EC, suggested that July need not be the deadline.

One trade diplomat with long experience of the old GATT and the new WTO said that it seemed that those who were speaking could not go beyond generalities, and repeating their positions so far without any change.

Getting capital officials to come to Geneva, as if accredited ambassadors and negotiators did not count, only to have the same generalities repeated and positions reaffirmed, only helped to solidify the positions more, and there was every danger of a repetition of the Seattle experience, if things were allowed to continue this way, and there is an attempt at brinkmanship to get the issues of interest to the majors on the agenda.

To some trade diplomats and observers, the entire exercise seemed to have become a charade of sorts aimed at enabling the WTO leadership to continue the work of trying to persuade countries to agree to the new agendas (sought by the EC and Japan) by keeping up the pressure and engaging in some brinkmanship.

In the discussions, a number of developing countries made clear that their priority was on the negotiations on agriculture and on implementation, as well as the mandated reviews, and the TRIPS and Public Health issues.

The US and the EC were due Monday afternoon to hold a joint briefing, when perhaps there will be more efforts to continue to present themselves as united, to launch a new round with ambitious goals.

The US, in addition, suggested today its preference for a Punta del Este-type declaration, mentioning just some subjects (and presumably), as happened then for the subjects to be expanded or redefined as the negotiations went on, or with new ones brought in.

In the meeting itself, the US stressed the issues of agriculture and services, and spoke about implementation in terms of some decisions before and at Doha and others later. The EC laid stress on the Singapore items.

Both in effect sought to get the July deadline for agreeing on an agenda extended.

On the other side of the argument, India reiterated the view, first mooted by the WTO Director-General Mike Moore, early this year, that by July there should be a ‘reality check’ and a clear idea of the subjects on which there would be consensus and those where there was none.

In opening the meeting Monday, Harbinson had asked delegates to state their views about the ‘reality check’.

India told the meeting that a reality check would be one only if it checked whether a consensus was there, and there is a finality set in respect of the Doha agenda by end of July, and the time from September onwards was utilized for drafting the declaration. On specifics, India made clear its opposition to the Singapore issues of investment, competition policy, government procurement and trade facilitation, as also on environment. As for labour standards, India said it would not talk about the issue at all in the WTO.

India also voiced its objection to trade negotiations in Geneva using the term ‘round’ to mean a comprehensive or a broad-based round, and said public opinion in many countries including India was getting restless in the absence of meaningful benefits accruing to them from the WTO. Any open-ended fresh round of negotiations would only further compound the problems of developing countries and India hoped that no one would make the launching of a new round at Doha a precondition for participating in the mandated negotiations seriously and in good faith.

Uruguay and Brazil underscored the importance of agriculture negotiations, and made clear that for a new round to be launched at Doha, the agricultural talks should have an ambitious mandate. They also stressed the implementation issues, with Uruguay demanding serious negotiations on the implementation package over the next six weeks. Uruguay, a leading member of the Cairns Group, also made it clear that there could be no new round without an ambitious agenda in agriculture. – SUNS4922

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

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