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WTO drafts biassed towards the North, charge NGOs

by Kanaga Raja

Geneva, 30 Oct 2001 - The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) revised draft Declaration maintains and even increases the bias in favour of industrialized-country trade interests, especially in light of the conduct of negotiations for a new comprehensive trade round for the upcoming Doha ministerial, charges Friends of the Earth International (FOEI).

The international NGO made this charge in a press release here Tuesday and said that the release of the WTO’s final draft declaration has been greeted “with a muted response because developing country ambassadors and civil society groups were so shocked by its contents.”

In a separate statement, some 14 active international NGOs, charged that the latest Harbinson draft showed that a “blatant lack of democratic process” prevailed at the WTO, “as a ‘complete text’ is steamrolled into a proposed launch of negotiations, despite continued protests by a majority of WTO members and civil society.”

In its declaration, the FOEI which is also a signatory to the other, argues that the draft effectively initiates negotiations on all new issues including investment, competition, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation.

These issues have been vehemently opposed by many developing countries and civil society groups even before the last Seattle Ministerial in 1999.

The FOEI contends that combined with extremely weak language on all other developing country concerns (on agriculture, implementation issues, debt and technology transfer), no new initiatives on environment, and the reintroduction of the notorious ‘green room’ process, the stage would be set for a Seattle Mark II.

Ronnie Hall of FOEI says, “In a show of breathtaking bravado, Harbinson has produced a ‘clean text’ intended to give an impression of consensus and simplicity. Nothing could be further from the truth. This text offers nothing on development, nothing on equity and nothing on the environment or sustainability.”

He cautions that “Anyone wondering about the real motives of the US and the EU would be well advised to watch developments in Doha: in the WTO, it’s still business as usual.”

The FOEI points out that all the elements of the current revised draft are consistent with previous Northern country statements regarding a new and comprehensive round of trade negotiations.

These preferences have been consistently opposed by many developing countries such as India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Tanzania, the FOEI emphasizes.

Such a round incorporates the ‘new issues’ as negotiating areas to be included in the post-4th WTO Ministerial Conference work programme and removes other options presented in the first draft that would have relegated the new issues to study groups.

The draft language on the new issues, says FOEI, uses sophisticated language effectively to initiate negotiations on investment, competition, government procurement and trade facilitation.

The FOEI also argues that the draft declaration is weak when it comes to the concerns of the developing and least developed countries. It says that the language in the draft text remains unclear, ambiguous and non-committal on the proposals and concerns raised by the developing countries and the LDCs.

For example, the language referring to trade; debt and finance; trade and the transfer of technology; technical cooperation and capacity building; LDCs; and small economies, does not involve the conduct of negotiations leading to binding commitments from WTO members in these areas.

The draft merely requires the WTO to ‘examine’ or study these issues and then make recommendations to the General Council.

FOEI complains that the concerns raised by developing countries over the issues of implementation of the Uruguay Round and on special and differential treatment have not been adequately addressed.

In fact, says FOEI, by packaging implementation issues together with the new issues, developing countries will have to pay twice for the supposed benefits of the Uruguay Round.

On agriculture, the FOEI says that the language in the draft text does not explicitly commit developed countries to immediately eliminate agricultural export support measures and the dumping of surplus agricultural production, which is a key concern of many developing and Cairns group countries.

Overall, says FOEI, the language on agriculture is so biassed towards a Northern agenda that it is unlikely to succeed and would likely infuriate developing countries.

The FOEI also points out that on the issue of services, GATS only gets a passing reference in the draft declaration.

The language does not recognize or address the call of developing countries and civil society for the conduct of a full assessment of trade in services and its impacts.

The FOEI notes that the draft declaration does not take into account the institutional flaws within the WTO that have resulted in the greater disadvantage of developing countries and the LDCs.

In light of the severe bias of the draft declaration in favour of the North’s trade agenda, the FOEI has made several proposals to redress this imbalance, which among others, has called for the conduct of socio-economic and environmental assessments of the impact of the implementation of trade liberalization under the Uruguay Round agreements on local communities and the poor.

The FOEI also proposes making a clear statement that the implementation issues raised by developing countries and the LDCs, and by a broad range of NGOs, need to be addressed. Also, references to new issues of investment, competition policy, government procurement and trade facilitation for negotiation should be deleted.

On TRIPS, the relevant paragraphs should be rephrased to provide for clear statements supporting, among others, public access to medicines and genetic resources and the right to regulate in pursuit of national health, safety or environmental protection policy objectives.

Expressing a sense of civil society outrage, the 14 international NGOs repudiated the new draft released over the weekend by the WTO, and underscored the ‘disbelief and frustration’ among developing countries and LDCs over the drafts, because the tone and content of the Harbinson texts presumed a consensus on a future agenda of the WTO that did not exist.

The NGOs asked their governments to denounce the texts as ‘illegitimate’ and opposed its being moved forward to be used at Doha.

The new text, the NGOs said, continued to exclude key demands of developing countries but included many proposals that the developing world objected to.

The WTO consultations have now resulted in a “further breach of due process” by steamrolling ahead with a version lacking any options or brackets around a text that was still heavily disputed.

In contrast to the text, “there are deep disagreements” among WTO members on the organization’s future agenda, the NGOs pointed out.

Since before Seattle, most developing countries have demanded that the existing flaws and imbalances in the WTO be addressed, but the US has led the unbending opposition to this. The EU’s own push to expand WTO disciplines to new issues has been resounding rejected by developing nations. In agriculture, developing nations are pushing their development concerns, such as food security and rural development, while the US and EU continue to protect their markets through export subsidies and credits.

Even the issues and WTO provisions that developing nations have identified for review and repair have been watered down. The plea of many poor countries on development and health policies have come under attack as violations of WTO rules, while the new draft effectively restates the hardline US positions.

“The recalcitrance of the WTO secretariat and the few rich nations having the greatest pull on the WTO agenda to address the demands of developing nations and civil society is pushing the Doha Ministerial to an outcome that may either spell disaster for the majority of the members or another Seattle, an outright rejection of an invalid text,” the NGOs warned.

The signatories are the US-based Alliance for Democracy, the Arab NGO Network for Development, the France-based ECOROPA, the Thailand based Focus on the Global South, Friends of the Earth International, US-based Global Exchange, Manila-based Ibon foundation, the Minnesota based Institute for Agriculture Trade Policy, French-based Institute for relocalisation of economy, OXFAM solidarity group of Brussels and URFIG, US Public Citizen, Public Services International and the Brussels-based Via Campesino International. – SUNS4999

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