Call for a "Development Round"
Despite a change in emphasis, a recent proposal by the UK Secretary of State for International Development for a "Development Round" of WTO multilateral trade negotiations appears to be just a repackaging of the EC drive towards a comprehensive "Millennium Round."
by Chakravarthi Raghavan
GENEVA: Britain's Secretary of State for International Development, Ms. Clare Short, called on 2 March for a "Development Round" of multilateral trade negotiations at the WTO, but her proposal was received coolly, if not critically, by developing countries.
Short, from the left wing of the British Labour Party and the Blair government, came to the UN Conference on Trade and Development to deliver a speech where she suggested a new trade round offered important development perspectives.
As key elements on the agenda of such a round, she mentioned agricultural liberalization, industrial tariffs, rules of origin, anti-dumping, government procurement and new issues of investment and competition.
While undoubtedly on all these her emphasis was different, and even supportive of some proposals and demands of developing countries, overall it seemed to be a repackaging of EC Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan's call for a "Millennium Round" with all old and new issues, and developing countries making concessions on new issues to enable the industrial world to live up to their commitments on old ones.
In comments from the floor, Pakistan's Amb. Munir Akram, who made clear that he saw no need for a new round at the WTO, prefaced his remarks with the view that he wished they could hear the British voice at the WTO. (The reference is to the fact that in the WTO, it is not Britain or any of the 15 EU members who speaks or negotiates, but the EC Commission.) Egypt's Mounir Zahran, Morocco's Benjelloun-Toumi and Uruguay's Perez Del Castillo also expressed some scepticism.
Short's replies did not respond to their questions, but she insisted that since developing countries now form the vast majority in the WTO, if they are united and put forward their demands, it is bound to result in all their proposals being on the agenda.
In her address, she spoke of the need to address the issues of implementation and developing-country participation - but her suggestions on how these could be done were at best naive, and suggested that she was not even aware of the detailed views and problems raised by the developing countries in the current WTO preparatory process for the 3rd Ministerial.
On implementation, she spoke of the need for technical assistance and extending deadlines for compliance on a case-by-case basis.
She, however, also conceded the need to look, as a process of review, on all the agreements, and see whether they had worked as intended, and improve them where difficulties have arisen.
In terms of key elements in the new round, she called for agricultural liberalization, and ensuring that the agreement not only improve market access and reduce export subsidies, but also ensure a supportive framework for domestic development and food security.
On industrial tariffs, she said that tariff escalation and peaks need to be tackled, but at the same time the developing countries should open their markets to foreign goods and service providers, and use the WTO system to consolidate their own policy changes.
This seemed another way of saying that developing countries should bind the reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers effected autonomously under IMF/World Bank structural adjustment programmes.
On anti-dumping, she spoke of the misuse of the provisions and underlined the risk of the WTO agreement in this area becoming a WTO-endorsed route for protection of domestic industry. (Third World Economics No. 205, 16-31 March 1999)
The above article was originally published in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.