Developing countries press for progress on implementation

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 16 Mar 2001 - A range of developing countries, with the like-minded group in the front, but others too including Brazil and Jamaica, gave a strong message Friday at the General Council on the importance of a solution to the implementation issues before the Doha ministerial, as a confidence-building measure.

Some of them suggested that the views of their governments on other processes and work at the WTO might be influenced by the way the implementation issues were tackled and resolved, and that they were not ready to place the implementation questions in the so-called ‘larger context’ - an euphemism for a new round with new issues, being promoted by the EC, Japan and Director-General Mike Moore

The message of the developing countries came out at the informal General Council meeting on implementation where the chairman, Mr.  Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong China gave an assessment of the consultations he had been holding since mid-February (to draw up a work programme) and said some ‘fresh thinking’ was needed to be injected into the process.

The Quad countries (Canada, EC, Japan and the US) responded with a thunderous silence. It is clear that by not responding or engaging in the process and remaining silent, they are hoping to tire out the developing countries raising the issue and thus focus attention on the preparations for the Doha ministerial and the launching of a new round there.

Chile was the odd man out at the informal General Council, when its Ambassador Alejandro Jara sought to downplay  ‘implementation’ issues and said it should not be blown out of proportion and that agriculture and services negotiations were important and work on these could not grind to a halt for lack of progress in implementation. Agriculture and services were important to Chile and work on these could not be held up for lack of progress on implementation.

There were some acerbic  exchanges, between Jara and Pakistan’s Amb.  Munir Akram, with some caustic comments from Akram after Jara suggested that the confidence-building exercise launched soon after Seattle  had not been a failure.

In other comments, India’s Amb. S. Narayanan made clear that there was no question of the implementation issue being viewed in the ‘larger context or comprehensive talks’.

In his opening remarks, Harbinson recalled his views on 16 February (when he had held his first informal on this issue) and that rather than spending time on process, they should get into substance, with emphasis on ‘achievable’ results.

Trade observers note that terms like ‘achievable’, ‘deliverables’ are often used by secretariats to persuade developing countries to give up their demands on the ground that the majors would not yield. However, as pointed out by several Third World ambassadors at the Third World Network seminar earlier this week, when the implementation issue was first raised at Singapore and at Geneva and even in the early stages of the run-up to Seattle, it was ignored or dismissed, or (as now) sought to be rolled into the agenda of a new round with new issues, and it became a major issue leading to the collapse of Seattle.

Harbinson’s report covered some consultations, held by him or the secretariat, on outstanding issues in the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement, agriculture, GATS and TRIPS.

But the substance of his remarks suggested that in fact there has been no progress.

In opening the discussions, trade officials said that Pakistan, followed by India, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Egypt, and Malaysia said that the outcome of the implementation issue was very much tied into other work at the WTO.

Pakistan’s ambassador Akram said that before his government could consider any new issue or round, the implementation issues had to be resolved, and that before Doha. Industrialized countries said the issues raised political difficulties for them, but it was important to take decisions before Doha. The chairman should hold intense consultations, if necessary, twice a week. The preparatory work for Doha should not in any way impede the implementation work and it was very important to have solutions before any new activity could be considered.

Supporting Akram, India’s Amb. Narayanan said the implementation issue was of great political importance in India. His country was being asked all the time to take hard political decisions, but this could not be a one-way street. Industrialized countries too had to take the difficult political decisions. The discussions on implementation had been going on for more a year and everyone had agreed it was an important issue.  There should be progress well in advance of Doha. He hoped the talk of ‘new thinking’ and ‘new approach’ was not an euphemism for a new round.  While it was useful for subsidiary bodies to examine the issues, it was important that the General Council guide these.

Narayanan also underscored the importance of reaching some quick agreement on TRIPS, noting the pressures outside over prices of pharmaceuticals.

Malaysia supported India’s call for quick decisions on TRIPS, and the suggestion of Pakistan for five special sessions of the General Council on implementation to be held, and decisions reached,  if possible before July, but in any event, before the Doha meeting.

Brazil said it was important to get decisions on implementation before Doha. The subject was an important one and part of the confidence-building initiative launched after Seattle. The subject required political interventions and some momentum, but important for the confidence-building exercise.

Malaysia and Indonesia called for the special session meeting on this to be set for April.

Zimbabwe in supporting India, noted that the initiatives on TRIPS and pharmaceutical prices were coming from outside the WTO, including from NGOs.

Egypt said, without progress on implementation, progress in other areas would be moot. Uganda and St. Lucia also called for intensive consultations and insisted that a successful outcome was necessary to build confidence in the trading system.

Responding to Harbinson, as well as to Chile (which questioned the priority on implementation), and the issue of confidence-building, Akram said 60% of Pakistan’s exports were in the area of textiles and clothing where nothing had been achieved. For Pakistan, this was a priority, and so was some parts of agriculture and the way anti-dumping actions were being taken against Pakistan, both in developed and developing countries.

The Uruguay Round had not delivered on its promises and before new obligations and commitments could be taken by developing countries, the implementation issues had to be resolved.-SUNS4857

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

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