Informal talks on implementation, Singapore issues

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 17 May 2001 - - The major industrialized nations appear to be attempting, in the preparatory consultation processes for the 4th Ministerial meeting at Doha, to project an image of engagement and positive response to the implementation concerns and issues raised by the developing world, but in terms of a process, rather than substantive decisions, before, at and after Doha.

This picture emerged this week at the informal General Council consultations on preparations for the Doha Ministerial meeting, led by the Chairman, Mr. Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong China.

The discussions and views at the General Council informal session on Thursday showed that the concerns on implementation issues, and the development dimension of the trading system, is now very widely shared across the developing world.

As Norway put it at the informal consultations, where the discussions were on the general issues, and not individual items or proposals, “the discontent among developing countries is the core issue.”

Added Norway, “if it is not dealt with in a way seen to be reasonable, it could spell trouble for Doha, and set back progress for the next few years.”

Norway itself did not have many problems with the majority of the implementation issues and proposals. In the Norwegian assessment, delegations had more room for manoeuvre than made out, but the proposals needed to be looked at in some detail to assess whether any one had very strong views.

The European Community spoke in terms of ‘deliverables’ (a term that seems to have been borrowed from the talks and processes of the 3rd UN LDC Conference) and thought the discussions had been useful to bring all the elements together, and favoured a decision on the process to be completed before the Doha ministerial. The United States suggested the discussions had enabled clarifications of the implications.

“Implementation is the core business for Doha,” said Brazil. In a reference to the talk of a new round being launched at Doha, Brazil said the ‘implementation process’ had already been launched. Finding a successful outcome and conclusion on these questions was a collective responsibility of the membership.

Japan spoke in terms of the process - what could be done before, at and after Doha.

India suggested that a number of issues had been referred to subordinate bodies, with some reporting requirements (to the December 2000 session of the General Council, and the second session in April). This seemed to have led to a situation where in some subordinate bodies the position being taken was that there was nothing further to be done on reporting. “If a subordinate body had been unable to complete work on the issues referred to it, the General Council should take back the issue and deal with it,” India suggested.

In consultations earlier in the week on the Singapore items (Investment, Competition, Trade Facilitation and Government Procurement) as well as other issues (industrial tariffs, Environment and Labour), trade diplomats of developing countries said that it seemed that many countries did not see investment and competition as issues ripe to the taken up for negotiations or setting rules.

Many of the members of the like-minded group of developing countries, Venezuela and Thailand spoke up in opposition to taking up investment negotiations, while Hong Kong China, South Korea, Switzerland and Japan favoured the subjects being put on the agenda of the next round. Paraguay, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil said they had an open mind.

On competition policy, the LMG group, Hong Kong China, Venezuela and Thailand opposed its inclusion.

There was however wider support for trade facilitation, but a number of others came out in opposition.

On industrial tariffs being addressed as a separate issue, many more countries spoke in support, while Turkey, Cuba and Egypt did not favour it. India said it remained to be persuaded that on the issue.

On Environment, the EC, several East Europeans, Switzerland, Canada, Japan seemed to favour. But Hong Kong China, Singapore, the Philippines, Brazil, Colombia, Malaysia, Cuba, Jamaica, India, Australia, Egypt, Venezuela, Pakistan, Dominican Republic were among those who opposed its being brought on the agenda.

On labour standards, only two delegations intervened to speak, and both were opposed.

On electronic commerce, while many countries wanted to move forward, there was division on whether it should be done as part of the next round of negotiations or in a working group or something else.

Trade diplomats said these were just a preliminary staking out of positions in the Doha preparatory process. – SUNS4899

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

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