‘A highly biased and imbalanced text’

The following is the text of a Third World Network statement commenting on the WTO Ministerial Draft Declaration of 13 November. This draft Declaration was eventually followed by another, final draft.

THE draft declaration is highly imbalanced and if adopted would seriously jeopardise the development interests of developing countries. It is also unfair and grossly biased because many of the views put forward by developing countries have been ignored in the text, which overall and in many sections one-sidedly reflects the interests of developed countries.

This is so in particular in the sections on the new issues (paras 20-27). In Geneva and again at Doha in the past few days most developing countries spoke up in the consultations and put forward proposals to alter the Harbinson text.

The Africa Group, the LDCs group and the ACP countries have made it clear that they are unable to accept any commitment to negotiate the new issues (investment, competition, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation). Many other developing countries (such as India) have shared this view.

Their reasons include the lack of capacity to understand and negotiate the proposed issues, and the concern that obligations on them in these new areas would have further negative effect on their development options and policies. As Trade Minister Mr Iddi Simba of Tanzania (who represents the least developed countries) put it: ‘These are matters of life and death for us.’

However there has been little change in the new draft. Paragraphs 26 and 27 ask for negotiations to begin immediately on transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation. This is despite the stated views of large numbers of developing countries (including members of the Africa, LDCs and ACP groups) that they are unable to start negotiations on these areas.

The section on investment is clearly based on the assumption that there will be future negotiations, as it recognises the case for a multilateral framework, and commits Members to further work to focus on clarifying many issues that are in effect elements of a multilateral agreement. Whilst the text states that the Fifth Ministerial will decide on whether to launch negotiations, it is worded in a way to provide a push towards negotiations. This provides an unfair advantage to those advocating negotiations.

Another unfair advantage

Similarly, the section on competition is based on the assumption that future negotiations will be undertaken. It recognises the case for a multilateral framework, and commits Members to a work programme to clarify issues (such as core principles, non-discrimination and procedural fairness) that are in effect elements of an agreement.

Thus, whilst the text states that the Fifth Ministerial will decide whether to launch negotiations, it already commits Members to lay the groundwork for an agreement.

On market access for non-agricultural products (industrial tariffs), many developing countries (including the least developed countries and several African countries including Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Zambia, Tanzania and supported by India) have called for a study process to examine the effects of past and future tariff reductions on local industries, jobs and government revenue. This proposal arises from concerns that local industries and firms have closed in most African and least developed countries as a result of previous tariff cuts. They asked that new negotiations should be held only after the completion of the study process which could set guidelines on the negotiations. However, the request of such a large number of countries has been ignored in the new draft, which calls for negotiations to start immediately. It merely states that studies would be carried out during the negotiations, which is vastly different from the proposal to have a study process prior to initiating negotiations.

The section in the main declaration on TRIPS is extremely disappointing as it does not deal with widespread NGO concerns about the need to prohibit the patenting of life forms and ensure that countries have enough flexibility to protect local community rights in seeds and biological materials as the basis of a sui generis system. Thus the problem of biopiracy and the erosion of farmers’ rights to seeds etc will continue to worsen. Many other important points that NGOs have demanded for needed reforms to TRIPS have also not been dealt with.

The final section on organisation of the work programme (paras 45-52) continues to contain many points that actually launch a comprehensive new round without the term being used. These include a Trade Negotiations Committee (para 46) and a single undertaking (para 47). The retention of these in the new text goes against the objections by many developing countries and many hundreds of NGOs worldwide that do not want a new round launched.

Wrong direction

If adopted, this draft will initiate a vast expansion of the mandate and work of the WTO in the wrong direction. It will lead eventually to seriously restricting the rights of developing countries to have the development options and policies they require. It would also cause severe economic and social problems. We therefore call on the governments not to adopt this draft. As a minimum, the following changes have to be made:

·        On the Singapore issues, there should not be any commitment to negotiations on all the four issues. The relevant paragraphs have to be revised to reflect that the study process should continue with a special focus on the implications and effects (economic, social) of placing new obligations on developing countries.

·        On industrial tariffs, the text should be revised. Instead of initiating negotiations immediately, a study process should be established to learn the lessons of past experience so as to guide any decisions on future negotiations, and take account of the real fears of future deindustrialisation in developing countries.

·        The section on TRIPS should be amended to take into account the need to prohibit the patenting of life forms and the need to protect local community rights relating to seeds and other biological materials.

·        The section on organisation of the work programme should be changed to remove the elements of a new round.

·        If these changes (especially on new issues) cannot be made now (due to lack of time or political will), the text as a whole should be rejected. The process should then be transferred to Geneva under the responsibility of the General Council (and not under individuals such as the Director-General or the General Council chairman). In that renewed process the present text should not be taken as the basis, due to the bad record of its evolution both in Geneva and Doha as well as its highly biased and imbalanced contents.