Harbinson-Moore Implementation package doesn’t fly

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 2 Oct 2001 - A range of developing countries spoke in the informal General Council session on ‘implementation issues’, giving mostly a very negative view of the package of proposals, put forward last week by the Chairman of the General Council, Mr. Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong China, and the Director-General of the WTO, Mr. Mike Moore, and in effect indicating that the package would not remove road-blocks to a successful 4th Ministerial Conference at Doha.

The package jointly put forward by Harbinson and Moore were given out to delegations on 26 September, along with a draft text by Harbinson for a Ministerial Declaration at Doha, which would in effect launch a new round of trade negotiations at Doha, and with an open-ended agenda.

The Council is to hold an informal General Council Tuesday on the draft Ministerial Declaration, and on the 3rd is to hold a formal General Council on implementation - but this was probably on the assumption that the Harbinson-Moore package on implementation would more or less go through, with some perhaps minor adjustments.

The negative responses at the informal session Monday left this scenario in some doubt.

The Harbinson-Moore package on implementation, with an Annex I of decisions to be taken by the General Council immediately, and an Annex II of recommendations for Ministers to act upon at Doha, is an ‘empty package’ without any substantive content of benefit to developing countries.

The items listed and numbered in the package as ‘tirets’ refer to the items that were listed in a WTO secretariat note early this year as ‘implementation’ issues and proposals that had been put forward, and on which no action had been taken.

Developing countries had first raised the ‘implementation’ problems in the runup to the 1st Ministerial at Singapore in 1996, where the views put forward at the Ministerial were dismissed with the argument that the Ministers had raised these in their speeches and that ended the consideration of that agenda item. Then at the Geneva Meeting early in 1998, the concerns and complaints of the developing countries under the ‘implementation’ rubric were answered by the USTR, Mrs Charlene Barshefsky with the remark ‘you implement your commitments and we will implement ours’.

The developing countries however had put forward detailed proposals in the run-up to Seattle and, much against the wishes of the industrialized world and the secretariat, these found their way into a draft ministerial declaration, under paras 21 (decisions to be taken by Ministers at Seattle) and 22 (decisions to be taken in the next year) of the Mchumo text (the text of a draft declaration put forward for Seattle by the then General Council Chair, Ali Mchumo of Tanzania).

After Seattle debacle, there was talk of ‘confidence-building measures’ and high on this were the issues relating to the implementation issues, and for internal transparency and participation of all the WTO members in decision-making (as an anti-thesis to the hitherto GATT/WTO thesis of decisions in the ‘green room’).  And there was a subsequent General Council meeting in May 2000 which took decisions on the confidence building measures, including on implementation issues.

The Harbinson Doha draft in fact has some empty references to transparency and participation, but without any real operational content. And on implementation it is equally empty.

Considering that the issues raised by developing countries under the rubric of ‘implementation’ has been before the WTO since 1996, in one form or another, and with some very detailed proposals put forward by the developing countries in 1999, the outcome (in the Harbinson-Moore package) is more in the nature of a mountain in labour producing not the proverbial mouse, but a ‘dead mouse’ which, if left too long on the table would begin to stink in the nostrils of the public of the developing world.

At the informal General Council Monday, a number of countries spoke up, viewing the package as “very disappointing”, and lacking in any substantive content in its Annex I.

Not only the members of the Like-Minded Group, but many others too spoke to convey their disappointment, with some of them calling for merging the two Annexes, and adopting them now at the General Council as decisions even before Doha, with Doha filling in the gaps on the core points of developing country positions and proposals on ‘implementation’.

Only the US and perhaps the EU viewed the package as registering significant progress on these issues at the WTO, and showing that ‘development issues’ would be addressed up-front at the WTO.

Morocco, one of the sponsors of the socalled ‘submarine group’ paper (which before the summer break had proposed a number of issues, mostly of procedural nature, on which decisions could be taken at the General Council), while expressing dissatisfaction at the Harbinson-Moore package seemed to view it as providing a good basis for further work.

Jamaica, Bangladesh (speaking for the Least-Developed country group at the WTO, in the absence of Tanzanian ambassador, chairing the UNCTAD Trade and Development Board meeting), Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Cuba, Honduras and Zimbabwe spoke making clear their view that Annex I of the Harbinson-Moore paper was empty of content and lacked any substantive decisions.  They wanted the proposals for Doha to be brought into Annex I and decisions taken on them, with some improved language, and the remaining core issues addressed and decided upon by the Ministers at Doha.

Among the others, Hong Kong China suggested that some of the items in Annex II (recommendations to the Ministers at Doha) should be brought up into Annex I (and decided now). Brazil also took a similar stand.

India provided some very detailed comments on the Harbinson-Moore package, examining both Annexes I and II, tiret by tiret (the tirets referring to the ones formulated by the secretariat early this year on the issues identified in the runup to Seattle, and on which actions were pending).

The LDCs also had a detailed text ready but, due to the time constraints, Bangladesh apparently only made an oral summary, though the text on behalf of the LDCs was made available outside.

The LDC statement found the Harbinson-Moore draft to be “very disappointing” and also “imbalanced” in that it had not taken on board many of the issues of concern to LDCs or proposals made by them. Though there were many points listed under tiers in Annexes 1 and 2, “a close reading shows that on only a few points are there anything of real substance in the form of changes or commitments, and in most of the points, “there is only mention of ‘best endeavours’ and ‘taking note’ of issues.”

“The draft has neglected many of the implementation issues raised by LDCs, either by ignoring them totally or treating them very lightly and in a manner devoid of substance,” Bangladesh further complained on behalf of the LDCs.

And although it was agreed that the implementation issues would be resolved before Doha, “yet we find that most of the important issues are either placed in Annex 2 (to be decided in Doha) or are even absent from the draft.”

“We therefore must register our deep disappointment and call on the Chairman to work hard and do better justice to the issues and our concerns,” the LDC statement added.

In its comments, a text of which was circulated inside and outside the General Council, India expressed its “profound disappointment and dismay” that even at this late stage, the major trading partners were unwilling to show the required degree of political will and flexibility.

The package, India said, had not effectively addressed core concerns of developing countries in certain of the implementation proposals. In others, the text of the decisions in several areas were “once more in the nature of best endeavour clauses.” Several other decisions were in the form of referral to subsidiary bodies whose consideration would stretch into well after Doha. And crucial concerns of developing countries on implementation, not figuring in Annex I or II, were being sought to be addressed in the course of a future work programme, whose parameters had not been defined.

While it found itself unable, despite its best efforts, to be positive about the Harbinson-Moore text, said India, in a “constructive spirit” it would offer some detailed comments on its concerns and scope for resolution in the current draft and the critical issues that had not found any place in the text. India urged Harbinson to undertake more intensive consultations on the implementation issues to improve the language in some of the items in Annexes I and II, and to identify possible decisions in respect of the items not covered by the draft decisions.

“Our efforts should be to implement the 3 May 2000 decision of the General Council in letter and spirit,” suggested India.

India also referring to the covering note to the draft implementation related issues and concerns, put forward on behalf of Harbinson and Moore which said that both “believe that this draft represents a credible effort to move the implementation debate to a new level of understanding.”

The significance of this remark, India said, was not clear. The 3 May 2000 decision envisaged resolution of all implementation issues and concerns latest by the 4th Ministerial Conference and it was surprising that at this point of time they should be only ‘moving the implementation debate to a new level of  understanding.’ The proposals of the developing countries had been on the table for more than three years and any number of formal and informal consultations had been organized regarding the proposals and there could not hence be “any question of lack of understanding”. While the Chairman and the DG had made extraordinary efforts to achieve results, “one cannot escape the conclusion that the results achieved so far are far from credible.” – SUNS4979

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

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