Statement of ASEAN-CCI on the Doha Ministerial Conference

From 9-13 November 2001, Ministers from 142 member-nations - 130 or 91.5% coming from developing and least-developed countries, and 12 (8.5%) from developed countries -- will meet in Doha, Qatar for the Fourth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization. 

The overriding question facing the Ministers will be

Whether or not to launch a new Round.

The Director-General, Mr. Michael Moore, and the leadership of the world's developed countries, have pushed the need for a new Round of negotiations to advance the cause of trade and development worldwide.  

On the other hand, developing and least-developed countries have expressed either their strong reservations or outright opposition to a new Round.  The majority agree that there is a need to proceed to an evaluation of the results of the existing agreements, as a pre-condition to any negotiations on new issues. 

The preamble to the Marrakech Agreement establishing the WTO recognizes the objective of sustainable development, and also the need for positive efforts to ensure that developing countries secure a share in international trade growth commensurate with the needs of their economic development.  

In the Ministerial Meeting in Singapore from 9 to 13 December 1996, the Ministers agreed further to strengthen the WTO as a forum for negotiation, to enhance the rule-based system as well as the multilateral review and assessment of trade policies, and in particular, to assess the implementation of their commitments under the WTO Agreements and decisions.

The WTO and its precursor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), were created with the objective of achieving a balance of world trade among the developed and developing countries.  We have seen that after 50 years under GATT, 70% of world trade was still controlled by developed countries, despite the Special and Differential Treatment provisions in the various GATT articles. 

In the Ministerial Meeting in Geneva on 18 and 20 May 1998, the Ministers stated (par. 1): "We agree, however, that more remains to be done to enable all the world's peoples to share fully and equitably in these achievements."  Furthermore (par. 6): "We remain deeply concerned over the marginalization of least-developed countries and certain small economies, and recognize the urgent need to address this issue which has been compounded by the chronic foreign debt problem facing many of them."

In the last Ministerial Meeting in Seattle in December 1999, the discussions were interrupted by a clamor from NGOs that the WTO must be concerned about the quality of life for all peoples of the world.   These NGOs were one with the cause of least-developed and developing countries that the WTO agenda must give priority to their needs and issues.  It is significant to consider that, if after the Singapore and Geneva Meetings the needs of the least-developed and developing countries were truly addressed, the unfortunate events in Seattle could have been avoided.

Today, however, the differences remain. WTO General Council Chairman Stuart Harbinson has sent a letter to world capitals stating that "it is not simply the extent of outstanding differences that is worrying, but the apparently entrenched nature of those differences." 

Rather than looking at this difference as a divide - we in the ASEAN Chambers of Commerce and Industry believe that it is an opportunity to come together, to instill in WTO a new spirit of unity and solidarity that will lay the foundations for a better, more humane, more peaceful, and happier world community. The growth of world trade is an objective we in ASEAN-CCI do not dispute, but that growth should have a human face, with definite steps towards eradicating poverty.  We believe that development issues should take precedence over other issues in WTO. 

Consider the following facts:

* Half the world - nearly three billion people - lives on less than two dollars a day.

* The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world's countries) is less than the wealth of the world's three richest people combined.

* Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.

* Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons could have put every child into school by the year 2000 - and yet it didn't happen.

* 20% of the population in the developed nations consume 86% of the world's goods.

* More than 800 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, almost two-thirds of whom reside in Asia and the Pacific.

* Seven million children die each year as a result of the debt crisis.  More than 8.5 million have already died since 2000 up to March of this year.

We in the ASEAN-CCI Council join in solidarity with developing and least-developed nations.  We would like to reiterate our decisions in our Council meetings in Singapore in 1996 and Kuala Lumpur in 1997, where we resolutely objected to a New Round of Negotiations that will open discussion on other subjects that are not related to trade.

The world faces the challenge of forging a just and lasting peace, and we believe that the solution will never come until the root cause - the divide between the haves and the have-nots - has been bridged.  We stand at the dawn of a new era that the recent events that have transpired in the world have opened.  Now there is an awareness and concern among leaders and people of the world.  Kofi Annan, the U.N. Secretary-General, has said: "Worldwide, there is a rare sense of unity, human solidarity and purpose, that can serve as a lasting foundation for the fight against global terrorism."

We believe this new sense of unity, human solidarity and purpose, can serve as well as a lasting foundation for the greater fight against global poverty.  

Where before we thought of ourselves as members of our respective communities or nations, we now begin to look at the humanity of the community of nations. More than ever, we feel the need to care for and share with each other.

We appeal to all leaders of the 142 member-nations of the World Trade Organization to make this historic decision of launching a DEVELOPMENTAL AGENDA, as proposed by the Tanzania Trade Minister on behalf of the least-developed countries, and by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.  This developmental agenda must address the issues raised by the developing world in the Ministerial Meetings in Singapore, Geneva, and Seattle.

It is very basic and fundamental that, before a new round takes up matters outside the ambit of trade, we should review and make an assessment, among others, of the following: 

* The effect of the WTO on least-developed and developing countries

* The state of compliance of the contracting parties.

Only after concrete programs to address all these developmental issues have been formulated and launched should new or non-trade issues be considered.  This must be the framework so that appropriate interventions can be taken to achieve WTO's objective of raising standards of living worldwide.

A just and lasting solution will only emerge when there is a more equitable distribution of benefits of the world trading system among the economies of the world.  As advocated by the UN, world peace can only be achieved when there is development for all peoples of the world.  His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, echoed it more specifically: "If we want peace, we must work for justice."

The Doha Ministerial Conference is a momentous occasion in history to capture this new beginning, this new consciousness of peoples and countries all over this planet, to set aside our differences and consider truly what we can do for each other. The Doha Ministerial Document can be a rallying point for all international and regional institutions everywhere, to incorporate in their mission this new spirit of oneness, this new sense of unity, human solidarity and purpose -- that will finally lead to the triumph over poverty of humankind.




October 20, 2001