Snow-job under way on Doha agendas on S&D and implementation?

An end-of-year deadline to move forward on two issues of crucial importance to developing-country members could be in jeopardy, if the latest stocktake of progress in implementing the WTO’s Doha work programme is any indication.

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

GENEVA: Judged by the reports of progress in talks in various negotiating groups, the assessments at the 3-4 October meeting of the WTO’s Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) and the remarks of the major industrialized countries, developing countries face the prospect of another fraud being perpetrated on them under the Doha work programme in the priority areas identified by them, individually and collectively.

The 3-4 October meeting was the first meeting of the TNC under Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, who took over as WTO Director-General (and hence also as TNC chairperson) from Mike Moore on 1 September 2002. Trade diplomats said that while his predecessor functioned purely as a chair, ‘passing the mike’ to various speakers, Supachai announced, both at the outset and at the end, his intention to be actively engaged with the chairs of various negotiating groups to ensure progress and that various deadlines are met, including that on conclusion. The TNC had been entrusted by the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference last year with the task of supervising the overall conduct of the negotiations mandated under the Doha work programme.

Supachai at the meeting introduced his Deputy Directors-General, three of whom were present - Roderick Abbott, Kipkorir Aly Azad Rana and Rufus Yerxa. (The fourth Deputy Director-General is Francisco Thompson-Flores.) Trade officials said that Yerxa will be dealing with all the divisions relating to legal issues, while Abbott will be looking into institutional questions. Rana, who is from Kenya, will be looking after technical assistance programmes and capacity building.

At the TNC, the developing world got clear indications, for example, that not only did the WTO miss the July deadline for completing the work on the cross-cutting special and differential (S&D) treatment issues, but the new deadline of December 2002 may not produce any outcome either, and there would be merely efforts to make “substantial progress” on what is now presented by the EC, the US and other major industrialized nations as a “very complex” issue. The Doha work programme had instructed the WTO Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) to report to the General Council, by July this year, with clear recommendations for a decision on strengthening the provisions on S&D treatment in the WTO agreements and “making them more precise, effective and operational.” This deadline was subsequently extended by the General Council till 31 December 2002.

The outlook was equally fuzzy on the “implementation-related issues and concerns.” The Doha Ministerial Declaration (in paragraph 12) calls for the negotiations on these issues to be part of the single undertaking of the work programme, with some to be addressed as part of specific negotiating mandates provided in the declaration, and others as a matter of priority by the relevant WTO bodies, which are required to report to the TNC by the end of 2002 for appropriate action.

Supachai, who listened to the various viewpoints, at the end said that the WTO secretariat will provide a paper on “revised timelines” - various deadlines from now to December for the negotiating bodies and the TNC - and stressed the need to look beyond the next Ministerial Conference, which is to be held in September 2003 in Cancun, Mexico.

He summed up the views at the meeting and identified agriculture, S&D treatment and TRIPS (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights), in that order, as among the more controversial issues requiring hard work on all sides to reach a consensus.

Supachai also spoke of the endorsement by the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development of the WTO agenda. “Everyone has to make concessions for a successful outcome of the round,” he said, mentioning, in relation to agriculture, the need for both “realism” (a codeword of Europe, Japan, etc. for moderating demands put on them on domestic support, market access and export subsidies and credits in the sector) as well as “flexibility” (presumably by the agricultural protectionist countries).

Priority areas

At the TNC, after the chairmen of various negotiating groups and bodies had presented reports on the progress in each group and area, Malaysia’s Ambassador M Supperamaniam, who is chairing the “informal developing country group” at the WTO, drew the TNC’s attention to “two important elements” of the Doha Development Agenda, the implementation issues and the work on S&D that has the deadline of December 2002.

On the implementation issues, he also drew attention to paragraph 12(b) of the Doha Ministerial Declaration, which decided that the relevant WTO bodies were required to report to the TNC by the end of 2002 for appropriate action on some of these issues.

On S&D, Supperamaniam noted, the Ministers had agreed at Doha that all S&D provisions will be reviewed with a view to strengthening them and making them more precise, effective and operational. The CTD was instructed to carry out this task and report to the General Council with clear recommendations for a decision by July 2002. However, the CTD was unable to complete the work within that time-frame and the General Council on 31 July had extended the deadline for completion of work to 31 December.

“Developing countries,” Suppera-maniam said, “attach the highest importance to these issues which are important components of the Development Agenda agreed upon in Doha.”

These issues had been brought to the table by developing countries during the preparatory process for the 1999 Seattle Ministerial Conference and have been under discussion since then. The developing countries would like to see these issues addressed as a matter of priority. They have been actively participating in the various WTO bodies considering these issues, and are concerned over the lack of progress on the implementation and S&D issues, as well as other issues of critical interest to them.

“Early completion of work on these issues will allow developing countries, most of which have limited resources at their disposal, to participate more fully in the negotiations. Developing countries would like to flag for the attention of the TNC the need to adhere to the deadlines agreed upon in Doha. Completion of the work on these issues within the deadlines would also have a positive impact on progress of work in other areas of the Doha Development Agenda.”

Statements on behalf of the African Group of countries and the least developed countries (LDCs), both presented by Zimbabwe, sent the same message on the implementation and S&D issues, as well as on the issue of TRIPS and public health (where the WTO’s TRIPS Council has been asked to resolve, also by December this year, the problem countries with insufficient or no pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity face in securing access to essential drugs by using compulsory licensing to import from countries with the capacity). The LDC statement also referred to the need for implementation by the industrialized countries of their commitments under Article 66.2 of the TRIPS Agreement to provide incentives to their corporations to transfer technology to LDCs.

The EC said that it was fully committed to the Doha Development Agenda, and assessed the agricultural talks as having begun well, but stressed the need for proposals to be put forward in a “realistic manner.”

In the Uruguay Round of negotiations which brought the WTO into being, the developing countries were persuaded to go along on the basis of promises of S&D treatment and more export opportunities in goods trade, including agriculture, in return for their undertaking more obligations both in the goods trade and in new areas. At the end of it all, however, they found that they had gained little, if not actually incurred some losses - so much so that the trade expert and former Indian Representative to the GATT Bhagirath Lal Das has described it as a “fraud” perpetrated on the developing world.

In a chapter in the book Governing Globalization, a study prepared for the World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) of the UN University (UNU) and published by Oxford University Press, SP Shukla, who negotiated the compromises that led to the Punta del Este Declaration launching the Uruguay Round, has come out equally negatively on the outcome and the paradigm shift resulting in new asymmetries and inequities faced by the developing world.

Shukla has noted the considerable backlash against the WTO and the sought-for harmonization of domestic policies, and has called for rethinking, a standstill on new negotiations for new commitments in new areas and a decision that new agreements (going beyond the traditional trade in goods) should only be on a plurilateral basis, and for review and rollback of the agreements on TRIPS and services as well as the Dispute Settlement Understanding with its cross-retaliatory provisions. In the context of the complex issues which go beyond trade across borders, in the WTO agreements, Shukla has said that the talk of “trade weights” in decision-making at the WTO was meaningless. He has forcefully argued for developing countries to assert their collectivity and break the use of consensus by a few to dictate the WTO agenda, by insisting on recourse to voting.

The dissatisfaction and the considerable backlash generated in the developing countries forced their trade negotiators to raise these questions under the rubric of implementation issues, but they are getting nowhere.

Similarly, they have been trying to quieten domestic opposition to the increased burdens and obligations that a new round of WTO negotiations may involve, by talking about the assurances they have on S&D treatment.

At the 3-4 October TNC meeting, the developing countries, both collectively (on their behalf by Malaysia as the chair of the informal group of developing countries at the WTO) and in individual statements, stressed the high priority they attached to the implementation issues and to the S&D question, and the need to meet deadlines.

At best, they got promises (from the US and the EC) of trying for “substantial progress” by the December deadline, amid talk of the large differences in situations of developing countries and the complexity of the issue.

And while there is no sign that decisions on the S&D issue would be reached by December as required, the US, the EC and others talked about their support for a “monitoring mechanism” - an idea that figured as one of the proposals in an African Group paper - and agreement being reached on it by December.

Trade officials who tried to present this as a positive outcome of the TNC meeting were hard put to explain what a monitoring mechanism would do when the Doha mandate on S&D remains unrealized and when the present problem surrounding the S&D provisions in the WTO agreements has precisely been their declaratory and hortatory language devoid of concrete content.

An indication of the approach to S&D has been that the CTD, which is meeting in special sessions to deal with this question as a priority and to complete its work by December, has been unable to get meeting rooms and slots for holding its meetings. It was first asked to meet in the evenings between 6-8 pm, and then during lunchtime.

Trade officials and some trade diplomats involved sought to explain it all away by noting that the CTD was to have concluded this exercise by end-July, and so the WTO secretariat had made no provisions for its meeting beyond that date, and that they could ask for meeting rooms and slots from the WTO Conference Services only after the decision was made in July to extend the deadline to end-December!

However, the negotiating group on market access in non-agricultural products, an area where the demandeurs are the industrialized countries and the developing world is called upon to cut tariffs and make more concessions - and where a deadlock on the timelines for negotiating modalities was only broken at the same time in July - was able to get the necessary space and slots.

The only outcome at the TNC meeting was for Supachai to take note of the widespread feelings voiced by the developing world and to say that one of his new deputies, Roderick Abbott, would be looking into this and trying to rearrange the programmes and calendar of meetings and slots.

While the developing countries underlined the importance of meeting the December deadline on implementation and S&D treatment, the US and the EC talked about achieving “substantial progress” on these issues - rather than the Doha requirement of completing the talks on them as a matter of priority and taking decisions or concluding agreements.

In other comments and interventions at the TNC, China stressed on the Doha work programme and negotiations being used to reverse the imbalances between the industrialized and developing countries flowing from previous trade rounds.

India spoke of the importance of the balanced work programme and the issues of priority to the developing world. Failure to meet the deadlines will result in backloading and will be difficult for smaller delegations.

Argentina focussed on agriculture and complained of the absence of political will on the part of some to negotiate.

The EC also spoke of the need to “build bridges”, and said S&D was a complex and complicated issue involving countries at different levels of development.

A number of members of the Cairns Group (of agricultural exporter countries) spoke, with each of them stressing the importance they attached to agriculture and the need to reduce and eliminate the protection and support in Northern agriculture.

Speaking for itself, Malaysia stressed on the rule of consensus, and was concerned that the fundamental problems were being sought to be swept away. The interests of the developing countries had to take centrestage in the institution. The yearend negotiating deadlines must be met, and at some point next year, well before the Cancun Ministerial, there must be an assessment of what could realistically achieve consensus and controversial questions not commanding consensus should be taken off the agenda. It would not be useful to pass on all issues to the Ministers.

Brazil also emphasized the importance of the December deadlines and agreed that the Cancun agenda should not be overloaded. Agriculture was the key to success, and so were subjects like subsidies.

Japan echoed the EC views about the need for proposals on agriculture to be “realistic and pragmatic.”

Mexico, the host for the next Ministerial Conference, spoke of the need to set priorities within the implementation issues and opposed suggestions for night and early-morning meetings to overcome the problems of meeting-room facilities. The work programme needed to be restructured.

South Africa, in focussing on technical assistance, said the stress should be on quality and the proper assessment of needs. The South African representative also criticized attempts to organize “technical cooperation” or support events to enable particular countries to bring in their experts  to promote  their viewpoints. Trade diplomats later said the South African complaint appeared to be related to a US attempt to organize a meeting for 10-12 African countries in South Africa  with  the idea  of bringing in US experts to present their views to these countries. (SUNS5206)

From Third World Economics No. 291 (16-30 September 2002)