G77 and China seek redressal of ‘development deficit’ at WTO

In a declaration on the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference at Doha, the Group of 77 and China have emphasised as a priority before any negotiations on new issues, the resolution of the ‘implementation’ grievances of the developing countries and the redressal of the ‘development deficit’ in the WTO.

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

AT a press conference to release the Declaration of the G77 and China on the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha, the chairman of the group, Amb. Jorge Ivan Mora Godoy of Cuba, in responding to some questions, said there was no agreement within the group on whether to support a new round or not. A group of countries, a small group, were in favour of a new round, but a large number did not agree and wanted the issues relating to implementation and removing the asymmetry to be settled before going on to a new round.

On the current preparatory process in the WTO for the Doha meeting and the drafting of a declaration, Godoy said that it was a difficult process and he was not ready to predict what would happen. The chairman of the WTO General Council had issued a first draft declaration, and the members have been expressing their views. A number of countries, he noted, had joined in putting forward specific amendments to various parts of the text.

Amb. Federico Cuello of the Dominican Republic, coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean group said there was no consensus as yet on the launching of a new round and its content. However, members of the group had some varying positions.

Asymmetries in trade system

In their declaration the G77 and China said they recognised the critical importance of the rules-based multilateral trading system (MTS) and of a transparent decision-making process in the WTO managing globalisation and reducing the scope for unilateral actions. However, in many respects the multilateral rules need to be improved to become more responsive to the trade and development interests of developing countries and to achieve equitable objectives.

Due to the systemic shortfalls in the international economic and trading system, a large majority of the developing countries have, so far, failed to secure a share in the global economic prosperity, and the global economic slowdown/recession was going to affect all, including, most seriously, the developing countries and the poorest among them.

The benefits of the existing MTS continue to elude developing countries. Progress towards full liberalisation in sectors of particular interest to them was  lagging behind, and there were significant imbalances between rights and obligations in the multilateral trade agreements, as well as in conditions of market access, and  decreasing participation of developing countries in world trade.

All these asymmetries and the development deficit of the system should receive primacy in all future WTO work programmes since the key to sustained global economic growth lies in unlocking the potential growth of developing countries. The development dimension must be fully incorporated into the MTS.

Expressing ‘deep disappointment’ on the lack of any meaningful progress on some 104 implementation issues clearly identified by the developing countries and emanating from the inadequate or faulty implementation of WTO agreements in letter and spirit, incorrect interpretation of the provisions of those agreements, and inherent asymmetries and imbalances within the agreements, the G77 and China reiterated the need for full and faithful implementation and the redressal of existing imbalances arising from the WTO Agreements as an important step towards confidence-building and restoring the credibility of the MTS. These must be meaningfully resolved, with urgency before the Fourth Ministerial Meeting and without any extraneous linkages, the G77 and China said.

The WTO agreements have not resulted in greater access to the developed countries’ markets for the exports of developing and least developed countries. There was continued existence in developed countries of tariff peaks, tariff escalation and non-tariff barriers such as arbitrary and complex rules of origin, technical barriers to trade, and sanitary and phytosanitary measures used for protectionist purposes, as well as abuse of the so-called trade remedies such as anti-dumping, countervailing duties and safeguard actions particularly in sectors of interest for developing countries including textiles and clothing, agriculture and other agro-industrial products. These have had a serious negative impact on the trade and development prospects of the developing and least developed countries, preventing these countries from reaping the  benefits  of  trade  liberalisation.

The Ministerial meeting in Doha should address the negative impact of these measures on market access opportunities for developing countries with a view to their elimination.

Special and differential treatment

The group also complained that the provisions on special and differential (S&D) treatment in the existing WTO agreements were mostly in form and not in substance, and said the agreements should take into account the special development needs of developing countries, including LDCs, in a more meaningful and effective manner.

Developed countries should urgently undertake positive measures to respond to the development, financial and trade needs of developing countries without reciprocal obligations, and ensure their effective applicability in terms of the intended objectives, by making those provisions more precise and effective.

The S&D provisions need to be legally binding and must be operationalised and made enforceable so that these do not remain merely ‘best-endeavour clauses’.

The G77 and China called on WTO members to conclude a framework agreement on the S&D provisions.

On TRIPS, the G77 and China called for operationalising the provisions of the TRIPS Agreement on transfer of technology and ensuring the TRIPS rules were supportive of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The TRIPS review should fully take into account the development dimension. No provision in TRIPS should prevent governments from taking measures to protect public health and nutrition and ensure affordable access to essential medicines.

The TRIMs Agreement should also be reviewed and appropriate amendments made to that agreement to enable developing countries to pursue their goals of development and rapid industrialisation including indigenisation.

The G77 and China also called for meaningful integration of the textiles and clothing sector.

In setting out these goals and objectives for the Doha Ministerial, the G77 and China said that measures to address implementation and mandated negotiations, including the review of various WTO agreements, ‘already constitute a broad agenda for work’.

While issues such as trade and investment, competition, transparency in government procurement, and trade facilitation were important, ‘any decision to conduct negotiations on these issues in the WTO should be on a consensual basis and would need to be carefully assessed in respect of any implication on developing countries and their capacity to engage in negotiations,’ the G77 and China said.

Also, proposals of the developing countries to redress the development deficit in the WTO must constitute the first priority for any additional negotiations.

In other comments, the G77 and China called for actions to achieve universality of the WTO as soon as possible, and for appropriate assistance to developing countries seeking accession. Such countries should be offered terms of accession that do not exceed or are unrelated to commitments of developing countries and LDCs in the WTO.

WTO members should refrain from placing excessive or onerous demands on applicants from developing countries, and there was a need for a transparent, streamlined and accelerated accession process in keeping with WTO rules and disciplines.  

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS - issue no. 4994), of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.