CTD puts off till 31 December recommendations on S&D

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

GENEVA: The WTO’s Committee on Trade and Development (CTD), in a report to the General Council about its Special Session adopted on 24 July, has recommended the establishment by the Council of a monitoring mechanism for special and differential (S&D) treatment.

The establishment of such a mechanism was part of an Africa Group proposal that had received the commendation of the United States recently.

However, without any real operational content in the current S&D provisions in the WTO agreements, what a monitoring mechanism can do now is not clear. Nor is it clear how the proposal, ultimately put forward by the Africa Group as part of its package of proposals, emanated and came to be incorporated in their papers.

The work programme set by the WTO’s Doha Ministerial Conference in November had instructed the CTD to report to the General Council, by July this year, with clear recommendations for a decision on strengthening the S&D provisions and “making them more precise, effective and operational.” Unable to meet this July deadline, the CTD Special Session’s report merely says that it would postpone till 31 December its recommendations on actions to be taken in respect of the Doha mandate.

The CTD meets in Special Sessions, under the chairmanship of Amb. Ransford Smith of Jamaica, to deal with the issues of S&D treatment as mandated by the Doha Ministerial Declaration and the Ministerial Decision on Implementation-Related Issues and Concerns.

The industrialized nations, without engaging in serious discussions thus far, managed to make everyone agree that it was too late to abide by the 31 July deadline set at Doha, but members were at an impasse on a new date for extension of the deadline.

Several of the key developing countries pushing this issue, at the Trade Negotiations Committee meeting in mid-July, complained of the missed deadline but were willing to agree on a new deadline of 31 December 2002. The major industrialized countries had suggested deadlines ranging from 31 March 2003 to the next Ministerial (the EC) and maybe something at the end of the new round of negotiations (the US).

Two drafts for the CTD report were turned down by several developing countries in earlier informal talks, before the Chair managed to cobble together the draft adopted on 24 July.

In that report, the CTD refers to the 80 proposals before it and the need for more time for consideration, and says:

“The Ministers mandated the CTD to ‘report to the General Council with clear recommendations for a decision by July 2002.’ A large number of issues, including some that are complex, have been raised, both in the written submissions and the ensuing discussions, and while some recommendations have been made, a significant amount of work remains to be done before Members can agree on clear recommendations in a number of areas, in accordance with the Ministerial mandate.”

In a statement at the CTD Special Session after the adoption of the report, the Chair Amb. Smith thanked the members for the “compromise and goodwill that were indispensable for us to be able to arrive at an agreement on this text.”

He told the delegates that much, and more difficult, work remains.

Suggestions on S&D put forward by the US, the EC and other industrial nations include the need first to discuss and agree on the objectives and concepts behind S&D, and a detailed agreement-by-agreement examination of the negotiating history and various discussions behind the S&D provisions in individual agreements, before taking up and acting on the proposals.

This will be a never-never El Dorado for developing countries, even as their trade negotiators will be negotiating and agreeing to general commitments and obligations in other areas (whether agriculture, services or the “Singapore” and other new issues) to end up with something worse than the Uruguay Round outcome.

The CTD report, according to trade diplomats and officials, includes a summary of the discussions so far, with over 80 proposals tabled, and a “more detailed work plan” for the coming months, and says that the Committee would postpone until 31 December 2002 its recommendations on actions to be taken.

Chairman Smith told the CTD Special Session that a difficult issue they had faced was the relationship between the work to be carried out on specific proposals (on individual agreements) relating to the S&D issues and the so-called cross-cutting issues.

The report (which was not immediately available to the media), Smith said, “preserves the various positions expressed by members on that relationship.”

It also preserved the opportunity for members who so wished to make cross-linkages between the two areas of work and to make inputs from one to the other as they considered appropriate.

As for the deadline issue (dealt with in paragraph 14 of the report, according to the statement made available to the media), Smith said: “I recognize that some delegations strongly felt that the new deadline at the end of the year was impossible to meet, and that it is only in the spirit of achieving the necessary consensus in order to continue our work, that these members went along with the end of December 2002 deadline. These members have also expressed the view that they believe that the results achievable by the end of 2002 had to be assessed in the light of these views on the deadline.

“Other delegations,” Smith’s statement said, “expressed their disappointment that the July 2002 deadline was not adhered to, given the importance they attach to this deadline in the overall process agreed to in Doha. However, I understand that the same delegations are willing to a new deadline of 31 December 2002 as suggested by the Chairman, as they see it as an appropriate and reasonable extension.”

The public in developing countries have been offered assurances from their trade establishments pointing to S&D treatment as a safeguard for their countries. However, if, after observing the developments in the CTD, they come to the view that no conclusions or recommendations would be reached by 31 December 2002 either and that the assurances and decisions of the WTO and ministers collectively or individually are no more than “words writ on the surface of water, that create ripples and disappear” (as the proverbial saying goes), they may not be far wrong. (SUNS5169)                           

From Third World Economics No. 285 (16-31 July 2002)