REPORT ON THE SEMINAR ON “CURRENT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE WTO: PERSPECTIVE OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIES”
The Third World Network organised a seminar on “Current Developments in the WTO: Perspective of Developing Countries”. The seminar was held over 2 days on September 14-15, 2000, at the Palais des Nations, Geneva.
The objective of the Seminar was to contribute to the efforts of developing countries in taking stock of the present situation in the WTO, especially since the failure of the Seattle Ministerial Conference to come to a conclusive end. It was also intended to assist in the developing countries’ preparations for the upcoming negotiations and discussions, including those within the built-in-agenda of mandated negotiations and reviews, as well as, the recently-initiated process to consider the implementation problems of developing countries. The seminar brought together over a hundred policy makers, diplomats and trade negotiators, economists and trade experts, from the developing countries and international agencies, to discuss and to propose strategies from the perspective of developing countries.
2. SEMINAR PROGRAMME AND SPEAKERS
The seminar discussed a wide range of issues pertaining to the WTO agreements and problems relating to their implementation, as well as the proposals for new issues.
The seminar was organised around 9 substantive sessions, besides opening and closing sessions. The opening session was addressed by UNCTAD Secretary General Mr Rubens Ricupero. This was followed by substantive sessions in the seminar. Speakers and discussants in the sessions comprised diplomats from the developing country Permanent Missions to WTO, staff of the UN agencies (especially UNCTAD), and experts and resource persons from the developing countries. A summary of the Programme is as follows:
DAY 1: 14 SEPT 2000
V: Review of TRIPS
Several significant issues were brought up during the Seminar. Among these issues are the following.
A keynote speech at the Opening Session was presented by Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD. In his speech, the UNCTAD Secretary-General said that the improved understanding and awareness of developing countries on the developments in the WTO will help them prepare for the upcoming negotiations. However, he called attention to developments beyond the WTO context, such as bilateral and regional agreements, which also affect the developing countries’ obligations and commitments under the WTO. In this regard, he urged developing countries to prepare for new challenges not only in multilateral negotiations, but also the discussions on the regional and bilateral basis.
Other speakers at the Opening Session were SUNS Chief Editor Chakravarthi Raghavan and TWN director Martin Khor.
The Secretary-General’s speech is reproduced in the SUNS #4742, September 19, “Waiting isn’t bad, if used for better preparations”
B. Strategic view of current WTO negotiations and developing countries’ interests, and the agriculture and services negotiations
These issues were discussed over 3 sessions of the seminar. The main emphasis was on the mandated negotiations of the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Mr B.L. Das, speaking in the session on Strategic View of Current WTO Negotiations and Developing Countries’ Interests, suggested that developing countries should submit proposals for the modalities and guidelines for the agriculture and services negotiations, which should be different from those of the Uruguay Round, in order to effectively address the present imbalances and inequities in those agreements..
In the session on agriculture, speakers and participants highlighted the many imbalances in the Agriculture Agreement, which allow continued high subsidies and protection in the developed countries, whilst the flexibility of developing countries to promote or defend the interests of small farmers and food production has been seriously eroded, and the market share of developing countries has not improved. Also highlighted by many participants was the need for the major countries to eliminate their subsidies and protection, and the need for the WTO to operationalise special and differential treatment for developing countries; recognising their need to have flexibility of policies in relation to the disciplines on import liberalisation and domestic subsidy on grounds of protecting the livelihood of small farmers and promoting food security.
In the session on services, speakers and participants brought up imbalances in the services agreement and developments of the past several years, and the adverse implications of some proposals or initiatives by developed countries, such as a change in the Agreement’s architecture, the use of “domestic regulations” and the cluster approach to accelerate liberalisation in developing countries. Also stressed was the absence of (and need for) an assessment of the effects of services liberalisation of the past five years, and adequate data (and its correct presentation) on services trade to enable an assessment as well as meaningful negotiations.
C. Implementation Issues
Implementation issues were discussed in a panel, which comprised Amb. Fayza Aboulnaga of Egypt, T. Chifamba of Zimbabwe Mission, Munir Ahmad from the International Textiles and Clothing Bureau and Yilmaz Akyuz of UNCTAD. A major theme arising from the discussions related to the problems and lack of benefits arising from the Uruguay Round Agreements. Speakers and participants dealt with the options that developing countries have to bring up the need to correct the situation in the forthcoming talks at the WTO on implementation. Dr Akyuz of UNCTAD pointed out that implementation problems should also be considered from an economic perspective. Although many developing countries are facing structural balance of payment deficits and problems, the WTO Agreements only allow safeguard provisions to deal with balance of payments problems as temporary measures. This situation would not allow developing countries to achieve stable growth rates, thus affecting the viability of the trading system.
Reports of the panel discussion was published in the SUNS #4741, Sept 18, “Implementation problems have to be resolved first”, and SUNS #4742, Sept 19, “Structural imbalances justify opening up WTO ‘Black Box’ “.
The above issues were discussed in 4 separate sessions. The TRIPS session focused on the on-going review of Article 27.3(b) of TRIPS (which requires patents on certain life forms) as well as other key issues in TRIPS. The presenters in the session discussed the political, legal and scientific arguments against patents on biological materials and life forms, and its impact on developing countries. The lack of technology transfer was also stressed as was the point that the TRIPS Agreement hindered access to technology. In a separate session, Dr Correa highlighted some of the recent decisions of the Panel and Appellate Body of the WTO’s dispute settlement system on IPRs and the TRIPS Agreement, and their implications for developing countries.
On TRIMS, the discussion emphasised the developing countries’ difficulties in fulfilling the TRIMS Agreements’ obligations and the need to legitimise the need of developing countries to make use of investment measures for developmental and national objectives. Participants agreed that there should not be any expansion of TRIMS, either through addition to the list of measures or performance requirements, or through rolling forward with investment policy and rules.
In the session on the dispute settlement system, Mr. C. Raghavan spoke about the deficiencies and flaws of the system and in panel and Appellate Body cases, and the implications for developing countries. Other issues, including the encroachment of panels and the Appellate Body into functions that belong to the General Council, the absence of an agreed negotiating history of the Agreements, and the role of the Secretariat, also arose in the discussions.
A report of this session on dispute settlement was published in the SUNS #4746, Sept 25, “DSU process becoming ‘outrage on law and justice’ “
In the session on proposed new issues, the speakers addressed the implications for developing countries of the proposals (mainly from developed countries) to introduce investment, competition, government procurement, labour and electronic commerce in the multilateral trading system. The discussions stressed the need to avoid upgrading the discussions in the working groups to negotiations, and the need for WTO to focus on redressing implementation problems instead of injecting new issues which would overload the multilateral trade system and also significantly add on to the existing imbalances that work against developing countries’ interests.
The final session of the seminar was a panel discussion on “Current Issues in the WTO”. The speakers on this panel were the Ambassadors of Malaysia, India, Jamaica and Mauritius. Some of the themes that emerged in the panel discussion included the need for developing countries to coordinate effectively in WTO negotiations, in order to correct the present imbalances in the multilateral trading system and to address the implementation problems of the developing countries. The panelists also expressed concerns regarding the introduction of new issues and the launching of a new round of trade talks at the WTO.
A report of this session’s discussion was reported in the SUNS #4742, Sept 19, “Need to revisit WTO Agreements and rectify imbalances” September 19, 2000
The closing session was addressed by Mr B.L. Das, who presented views on the the current state of affairs, based on what had transpired during the Seminar, and on the options for developing countries in the forthcoming negotiations. Martin Khor, on behalf of the Third World Network, gave a brief summary of the main points raised at the Seminar, and thanked the speakers and participants for contributing to the Seminar.
The seminar was attended by 108 participants. Of these, 81 were diplomats and officials of 41 developing countries, mainly based in their Missions to the WTO and UN in Geneva. A small number of participants came from Missions based in Brussels and London. Several experts from developing countries also participated in their personal capacity, as speakers and resource persons. Many officials of UNCTAD participated, some as speakers and panellists. There were also participants from other UN agencies (FAO) and other international organisations, as well as from the media, and NGOs.
A number of the participants were from the media. The seminar received press coverage and the discussions were reported by the SUNS, the Inter Press Service, other agencies and some national newspapers, including Deccan Herald (India) and The Star (Malaysia).
6. SEMINAR DOCUMENTS
Over 30 papers, on the different issues covered in the seminar, were distributed to the participants. Speakers and discussants at the seminar were requested to submit seminar papers, and some useful background papers were also distributed.