Civil society groups call for a genuine “development agenda”

A group of British charities have advanced proposals for a genuine development agenda in the WTO’s post-Doha negotiations in order to make the trading system work in the interests of the poor.

by Kanaga Raja

GENEVA: If the new round of multilateral trade negotiations launched by the Doha Ministerial Declaration is to be a “genuine development agenda,” the situation that developed after the Uruguay Round should not be allowed to be repeated, and changes must be made “to make the trading system work in the interests of the poor,” a group of British charities have said in a joint statement, in effect challenging the WTO and the European Communities.

The statement, which was signed, among others, by Cafod, Save the Children, ActionAid, Oxfam, Christian Aid and the World Development Movement, said the Doha Declaration had failed to address the most pressing needs either of the poorest countries or of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

The statement noted that at the conclusion of the Uruguay Round in 1994, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had calculated that as a result of the round, within six years, world  income would grow by US$200-500 billion. However, it has been acknowledged that all these gains would go to mostly the industrialized countries, but even before implementation had started, the least developed countries (LDCs) were predicted to lose US$600 million a year and sub-Saharan Africa US$1.2 billion a year from the Uruguay Round.

The World Bank has now forecast that a new round of trade liberalization would give rise to US$355 billion in global income by 2015. However, the Bank’s Global Economic Prospects 2002  has said that the greatest income gains will accrue to Western Europe, and that in both sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the net gains will be minimal - and lower in both cases than the aggregate losses resulting from displacement due to trade liberalization.

The charity groups have outlined a programme on the various issues in the Doha Declaration on which steps must be taken immediately, if the round is to have any claim to being a genuine development agenda:

Implementation issues: These should be resolved as an urgent priority. By including them within the single undertaking, developing countries are being asked to pay twice for the concessions they won during the Uruguay Round. More favourable access for textiles and clothing exports of developing countries has been called for.

Agriculture: There should be a phasing out of export subsidies and credits, and reorientation of domestic support. There must be immediate and substantial reductions leading to the phasing out of export subsidies and credits, as well as an end to the abuse of food aid, so that the exports of developing countries will get fair market access and the ruinous dumping of subsidized produce on developing-country markets is ended.

The industrialized countries should implement existing tariff reduction commitments immediately, and eliminate tariff escalation and tariff peaks in order to increase market access for all agricultural products, including processed products. A Development Box should be included in the Agreement on Agriculture to enable developing countries to address their development needs, including both food security and rural development.

Non-agricultural market access: There should be a full and thorough assessment of the development implications of non-agricultural market liberalization in developing countries. This assessment should be carried out prior to the start of any negotiations.

Services: A full and thorough assessment of the agreement and a recision of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) must be undertaken. Developing countries and civil society organizations from around the world have consistently called for an assessment of services trade liberalization and the future impact of GATS, both in order to preserve developing-country service industries from inappropriate competition and to protect vulnerable communities from the negative consequences of services trade liberalization.

Singapore issues (investment, competition policy, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation): The charity groups have rejected any new negotiations on these issues, adding that the EU and the WTO secretariat should respect the consistent opposition of the clear majority of developing countries to WTO negotiations on these issues, and refrain from including such negotiations within the single undertaking of the new round.

TRIPS and public health: The TRIPS Council must lift restrictions on the export of drugs to developing countries which have decided to override a patent or which do not recognize drug patents but which do not have the capacity to produce cheap generic equivalents.

To protect the large number of farming communities worldwide which depend on locally saved seed and local livestock breeds for their food security and sustainable agricultural production systems, the mandated review of Article 27.3(b) of the TRIPS Agreement must clarify that there can be no patents on genetic resources for food and agriculture. Full flexibility must be ensured for developing countries to implement national sui generis options so that they can protect the rights of their farmers; and the TRIPS Agreement made  fully compatible with the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and with the provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on prior informed consent and benefit sharing.

Special and differential (S&D) treatment: Provisions must be made mandatory, legally binding and enforceable. Trade liberalization must not be allowed to undermine the national policy and development objectives of developing countries.

WTO rules: Negotiations must put an end to the abuse of anti-dumping disciplines as a protectionist measure by the industrialized countries.

LDCs: Tariff-free and quota-free access for all LDC exports must be provided.

Debt and finance: The WTO Working Group concerned must send a strong message to international financial institutions, particularly the World Bank and IMF, that substantial and meaningful debt cancellation beyond the Enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative is a prerequisite to a fair world trading system.

Even such debt cancellation is not enough. The Working Group must also draw attention to the need for a massive injection of new resource flows from North to South, requiring all OECD countries to meet the UN aid target of 0.7% of GNP as a first priority.

Trade Negotiations Committee: The TNC should not become a permanent “Green Room”. In light of the WTO’s previous failures to fully involve developing countries, the TNC must conduct proceedings in the fairest and most open manner possible. Its proceedings and those of the negotiating mechanisms it establishes must be transparent and documented, with an open system for reporting irregularities.

The industrialized countries must also sign up to a code of conduct committing them not to use underhand tactics like untoward pressure and extraneous linkages during the new round of negotiations. To ensure greater external transparency, all WTO documents should be declassified and published immediately on presentation.

The charity groups reject the paradigm that the world’s richest countries must win further concessions from the poorest as a reward for redressing the imbalances of the world trading system. If the new round of negotiations is to be presented as a Doha Development Round, they  add, the  WTO and its member states  must enshrine  the principles of S&D treatment and non-reciprocity at the heart of the WTO. (SUNS5052)