Much-hyped “development round” is devoid of development, says WDM

by Kanaga Raja

GENEVA: The  new round of trade negotiations agreed to by WTO Members in Doha, which, in the preparatory process in Geneva, had been touted by the US and the EU as a “development round”, has been criticized by a British-based NGO as being devoid of development.

The World Development Movement (WDM), in commenting on the outcome of the 4th Ministerial Conference of the WTO on 14 November, said that while the EU failed to initiate agreements on investment and competition, there was still no victory for the world’s poor in Doha.

The Ministerial Declaration coming out of Doha commits WTO Members to launching negotiations on, among others, issues such as the environment, industrial tariffs, and subsidies and countervailing duties, in addition to the ongoing negotiations on agriculture and services. All these issues would be negotiated as a package.

On the “Singapore issues” of investment, competition, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation, the WDM said that in the final hours it became clear that India was unwilling to let the EU get its way and launch negotiations on these issues.

Barry Coates, Director of the WDM, said, “Time and time again in the weeks before the meeting, groups of developing countries made it clear that launching new agreements on investment, competition and government procurement was not acceptable.”

“This should never have been on the agenda in Doha,” he stressed.

He was also critical of the Doha process, saying that “after two sleepless nights, under massive pressure from the EU and with a number of countries’ delegations having gone home, delegates were forced to make a decision that would affect the lives of billions of people. This is no way to run a multilateral trade system. Developing countries, not just India but small island states and the very poorest African countries, have bravely stood up to the bullying and threats of the rich countries.”

Coates underlined that this was a massive defeat for poor people around the world, adding that “the much-hyped development round is empty of development”.

He also took aim at the WTO, saying,  “The declaration that has been agreed is a massive extension of the WTO. This is both reckless and dangerous. It will further undermine the WTO’s legitimacy.” He lamented that the cost of current trade agreements is already being counted in people’s lives.

Developing countries do not have the capacity or the wish to negotiate these new agreements, he said.

He emphasized that the workload involved in negotiating these issues is impossible to shoulder for even the larger middle-income countries, let alone for the world’s poorest.

He elaborated by saying that “the poorest countries in the world, such as Mozambique, were forced to spend their time negotiating on investment agreements and intellectual property rights, instead of improving their access to developed countries’ markets.”

“It is a recipe for their further marginalization,” he points out.

Coates also pointed to the “deeply unfair process before Doha that resulted in almost the whole of the Ministerial Conference being devoted to issues of interest to the rich countries.”

“The concept of a development round was completely sidelined,” he concluded. (SUNS5011)