Members raise a range of subjects for assessment at Doha

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 10 May 2001 - - Trade Ministers of the WTO should focus on and express views on the state of the WTO multilateral trading system, rather than of the world economy, assess the impact of the Uruguay Round agreements and address and rectify its imbalances and cure the development deficit, and such burning issues as TRIPS and public health, protectionism in the industrial world, including those built into the rules of the system, such as anti-dumping and other such instruments.

These were among the themes and issues raised by WTO members which they wanted to be addressed by the Ministers at Doha at the 4th Ministerial Conference. The views were expressed at the informal consultations on the preparatory process for Doha, held by the Chairman of the General Council, Mr. Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong China.

The subjects or items raised by members included TRIPs and Public Health, multilateralism vs unilateralism, protection in the industrial world, Special and Differential Treatment, the impact of the Uruguay Round, sustainable development, the development deficit in the WTO agreements, the situation of the least developed countries and need to address their concerns and capacity-building, accession procedures (of new entrants), coherence, transparency and technology transfer, and regionalism vs multilateralism.

Harbinson had earlier circulated a check-list of issues and, under the heading Ministers of views, had flagged : state of the world economy and role of the WTO, need to combat protectionism, development dimensions of WTO work, global economic coherence, relationship between regionalism and multilateralism, accessions, sustainable development and other possible issues.

The discussions were held against the background of various business lobbies and lobbyists, like the forum of service industries, and some of their surrogates in the academic community, and shadow groups like the ‘Evian Group’ trying to promote the use of the WTO to establish a global liberal order.

These groups have been meeting in and around Genera to promote such concepts as ‘Global Governance’ through the WTO, a world liberal order -with the ‘Evian Group’ of some right-wing newspaper columnists of the financial media, big business and others, at a recent meeting in Montreaux, calling a liberal order agenda as ‘Back to the Future’ - and the secretariat and the European Union, Japan and a few others pushing for a new round with new issues, amidst charges from civil society of manipulative and secretive processes, that wrecked the Seattle Ministerial, being back again at the WTO.

On Thursday, at the first of several consultations that GC chair Harbinson has said he would hold, a large number of delegations spoke flagging the issues they would want to see figure in any Ministerial assessment and document to come out of Doha.

Several of the developing countries also underlined that views of ministers in such an assessment should be reflected in the actual measures they propose or adopt.

A number of countries from the developing world - Brazil, Egypt, India - all made the point that the WTO did control the world economy, that trade was just one element in this, and any assessment of the state of play should relate to assessing the state of play in the WTO system, and not the world economy at large.

A number of countries - India, Brazil, Egypt, Zimbabwe for the Africa group, Jamaica and several others - underscored the importance of the Doha meeting addressing the issue of TRIPs and Public Health.

The issue has already been raised in the TRIPS council, and developing countries say that such a burning question that has gripped public attention, and is being discussed by civil society and in other multilateral fora need to be addressed at the WTO.

The issue could not be put off or fobbed off or rolled into a new round, several of these say.

Public health and accessibility of drugs for the poor at affordable prices, can neither be left to charity nor the uncertain outcomes of a new round of negotiations, nor even left to the tender mercies of dispute panels and their interpretations of the flexibility allowed by the WTO/TRIPs agreement. Rather they should be dealt with by Ministers at Doha, both clearly setting out the available flexibility, and the changes in TRIPs needed to ensure that public health prevails over all other rights and concerns.

A number of countries also said that ‘length’ of the ministerial statement or views was not the real issue, but its content as a political message from ministers. As Egypt put it, the message should be factual, realistic and down to earth, and balanced.

Developing countries were particularly insistent that there was a need to assess the impact of the Uruguay Round Agreements, and its imbalances and inequities, and how to rectify and rebalance these.

A number of countries also underscored the need to elaborate on the development dimensions of the WTO work. Brazil said it was important that the development deficit in the WTO should be addressed.

Jamaica and India noted the frequent references from some delegations about the ‘balance’ in the WTO rights and obligations, and said this necessarily should mean that the imbalances should be rectified.

The issue of technology transfer, they said, should be addressed in a concrete manner.

A number of countries also spoke about WTO and globalization.

But India pointed out that in many countries, and this was certainly true of India, the WTO was being seen as the main instrument of globalization, and globalization itself was being seen by the people as having a negative impact on their lives. This should be addressed appropriately.

The United States spoke of the WTO contributing to peace and security in the world, inviting a remark from India that in many developing countries, as a result of the WTO and its obligations, governments were becoming unstable, if not destabilised.

The EC spoke of the importance of the WTO contributing to ‘sustainable development’ - though in a recent discussion paper, about which the International Textiles and Clothing bureau has complained, the EC’s use of the term seemed to be laying out the ground for protection on environmental and social conditions.

Almost everyone spoke of the need to counter protectionism, but with India and a few others noting that several elements of protectionism were built into the WTO agreements and these need to be addressed and rectified. Also, such provisions

should not be there in future agreements A number of countries in this regard pointed to the anti-dumping instrument and its misuse - an issue that has also cropped up in the context of the US attempts to negotiate and put in place a Free Trade of Americas Agreement. Even the raising of this question by some of the Latin American countries (like Argentina and Brazil) has raised the hackles in the US Congress, and the US industries using this instrument to protect themselves, with leading Congressional figures warning against putting on the negotiating table changes to the US anti-dumping laws and measures.

An issue with some differing views, cutting across developing and developed, was the one relating to regional trade agreements and the WTO multilateral system.

While several saw the two as complementary and supportive of each other, others viewed regional agreements and their proliferation as detrimental to multilatrals.

Turkey said that regional agreements were becoming a ‘black hole’ in the multilateral system. – SUNS4894

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

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