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TIME-BOUND PRIORITY ACTION ON IMPLEMENTATION ISSUES

by Chakravarthi Raghavan


Geneva 4 Oct 99 -- A group of developing countries have called for actions on some of the implementation issues (where no changes in texts may be involved) through the Ministerial Declaration to be adopted at Seattle, and on the others,  in the first year of negotiations.

In separate papers, they have formulated the implementation issues of the WTO agreements to be addressed between now and the Seattle meeting, and resolved as part of the Ministerial Declaration, and the others that may need to be negotiated and addressed by the General Council by 1 January 2001.

And they have also called for maintenance by developed countries of existing market access for developing countries, including preferential access, and for a moratorium on raising disputes against developing countries over agreements to be implemented after a transition period ending 31 December 1999.

The proposals were put forward last week at the informal Heads of Delegations (HOD) meeting of the General Council which has been discussing a draft declaration for the Seattle Ministerial Conference of the WTO, the developing countries have again formulated proposals to focus on implementation issues.

Under the heading of principles and organization of the future work programme of the WTO, the developing countries have called for decisions by Ministers at Seattle on some implementation issues, and decisions at the General Council on others by January 2001.

This proposal has been tabled by 14 countries (Barbados, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Malaysia, Pakistan and Venezuela), and supported or endorsed by ten others.

Two separate papers -- from the Like-Minded Group (LMG) group of countries (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Uganda) -- outlines specific proposals and actions to be taken before and at Seattle, and another set of proposals to be addressed in the first year of negotiations.

In the former category falls proposals in the area of services, anti-dumping, the subsides agreement, sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, technical barriers to trade (TBT), textiles, trade-related investment measures (TRIMs), agriculture, TRIPS, customs valuation, rules of origin, the BOP provisions of GATT 1994, and Special and Differential Treatment.

All call for implementation of existing commitments by the developed countries and by decisions on agreements where the intentions are clear, but the language of the agreements have been used to avoid implementation or not implement at all.

The other set of proposals on implementation issues to be addressed in the first year of negotiations include proposals on WTO agreements on anti-dumping, subsidies, SPS measures, TBT, TRIMs, TRIPS, customs valuation, and GATT Art. XVIII (government assistance by developing countries to economic development).

Another paper by Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand has called for the establishment of a working group to be set up to study the impact of the current global financial and monetary system on trade and development.

And the United States announced that it would be putting forward a paper for a Working Group on Trade and Living Standards. While it did not disclose more of its details, beyond saying that the WTO's preamble refers to raising living standards, delegations who greeted this with some laughter said they thought it was a US move to bring up in another way the workers rights issue that others have refused to entertain.

The proposals on principles and organization of the future work programme of the WTO, put forward by the developing countries, call for:

* the work programme being conducted in an open, transparent and manageable manner to ensure participation of all WTO members;

* "main implementation" issues to be resolved through Ministerial decisions adopted as part of the Ministerial Declaration at Seattle, and the remaining issues to be addressed by the General Council by 1 Jan 2001;

* the principle of S&D for developing countries "shall be binding", and the principle converted into concrete benefits in terms of market access and closely adapted to the development policies of developing countries. The costs of implementation of multilateral trade agreements at national level are to be considered an integral part of negotiations;

* the particular situation of LDCs, weak, vulnerable and small economies are to be taken into account;

* autonomous liberalization measures taken since 1 January 1995 are to be recognized as a concession on the part of developing countries;

* commencing immediately, and until after the conclusion of the work programme, Members are not to take measures that would reduce the current market access opportunities of developing countries, including those derived from preferential access; and

* until the conclusion of the future programme and entry into force of the outcome, developing country members are not to be subject to dispute settlement procedures in regard to agreements to be implemented after a transition period ending 31 December 1999.

As for the organization of work, the proposal calls for the mandated negotiations on Agriculture and Services to be entrusted to the Committee on Agriculture and the Council for Trade in Services respectively, with both operating under the aegis of the General Council.

Any other issue included in the future work programme is to be considered either by the General Council or delegates to an existing relevant body or mechanism established under the General Council.

Some of the developed countries have suggested that the negotiations arising out of the Seattle meeting should be entrusted to a Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), and to be chaired by the Director-General of the WTO. They have used the analogy and past precedent of successive rounds of multilateral trade negotiations, under the provisional GATT 1947, being entrusted to a TNC and headed by the GATT Director-General.

However, the developing countries have noted that there was no provision under the old provisional GATT to launch periodic MTNs, and this was always done outside the framework as a political decision by Ministers of GATT countries, and incorporated into the GATT at the end.

The WTO as a ratified treaty has provided for negotiations among members in all areas of trade covered by the WTO, and entrusted overall responsibilities of the WTO to the General Council, which in between meetings of Ministers, can do everything Ministers are authorized to do.

While a number of industrialized countries called for a TNC, and for the TNC to be headed by the WTO Director-General on the ground, among others, to provide continuity to the negotiating process, several others questioned it. India pointed out that there was no certainty of continuity even with a DG heading the TNC.

Moore, the present DG, will demit office on 31 August 2002, and would be replaced by Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi and, if he is not available, by a DG from a developing country.

Some WTO members see the call to put Moore at head of the TNC as a move to ensure Moore (the US candidate) will continue to be there to run the negotiations, while Supachai will be reduced to running the WTO shop. During the prolonged deadlock over the DG selection, the US (and Moore himself) had said Moore should take a 4-year term and continue until the new Round is concluded.

While there is talk of a 3-year duration for any new Round, given the range of issues sought to be included, and given that no serious negotiations are possible until at least the middle of 2001 (when a new President and administration would be in office, and the Congress would decide on giving or not giving fast track authority), even for further negotiations within the WTO's current remit, more time would be needed.(SUNS4522)

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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