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A CHECKLIST OF ISSUES AND POSITIONS FOR THE WTO MINISTERIAL PROCESS 1999

The following is a Checklist of Key Issues and Positions for the 1999 WTO Ministerial Conference prepared by Martin Khor, Director of the Third World Network. The aim of this Checklist is to briefly set out what the author considers to be the central positions that should be taken with regard to the Ministerial (i.e. that there should not be any new issues, that the focus should be on implementation problems and on reforming the WTO system); and the positions regarding some of the key issues. The paper was written in April 1999.

by Martin Khor


A. GENERAL

1. No expansion of powers of WTO. Therefore no new issues should be launched at Seattle as topics for negotiating new agreements - especially NO to investment, competition policy, government procurement (the 3 new issues being pushed by EC in the WTO).

2. Seattle instead should decide to initiate a process to REVIEW, REPAIR AND REFORM the existing WTO agreements and the system of decision-making and participation within the WTO, and the WTO's accountability with citizens, Parliaments and the public.

B. NO NEW ISSUES

1. INVESTMENT: There is now a working group in WTO to only study investment and trade without a mandate to negotiate an agreement. EC wants to convert this into a negotiating group for an investment agreement. We should oppose this and insist that the working group continue to study the issue for 2 or 4 more years. The investment agreement model being adocated will be likely the same (perhaps watered down) version as the failed OECD-MAI, the aim being to promote greater rights for foreign investors (the right to establishment, national treatment, investor protection, removal of the state’s rights to impose obligations and performance requirements on investors, freedom of capital inflows and outflows, and the WTO’s enforcement (dispute settlement) system. Should there be a decision in Seattle to negotiate an investment agreement, we are likely to see this model emerging.

2. COMPETITION: There is now a working group in WTO to only study competition policy and trade with no mandate to negotiate a new agreement. EC wants to convert this into negotiations for a new agreement on competition policy and trade. The concept and interpretation of “competition” is likely to be that foreign firms and investors must have the same rights as local firms and people, so that there be “equal competition.” We should thus oppose the EC move to initiate a competition agreement and instead insist the working group on competition continue to study the issue for 2 to 4 more years.

3. GOVERNMENT PROCUREMENT: There is now a working group in WTO to consider an interim agreement on "transparency" in government procurement. The US and EU have made clear that this is only the first step to a full-blown agreement on procurement which would then include"national treatment" and "market access" for foreign firms, We should oppose an agreement on "transparency in procurement" and oppose a full-blown agreement as well. If there is a first agreement on transparency, it would already mean acceptance of the issue of procurement in the WTO. That would make it very hard to later fight a full agreement on national treatment and market access since conceptually government procurement would already be accepted as a WTO issue.

4. INDUSTRIAL TARIFFS: The EC is also pushing for a new round of tariff reduction in manufactured products. This will put more intense pressure on developing countries to cut its import duties and allow cheaper goods in, which will threaten whatever local industries remain. We should therefore oppose this “new issue” as developing countries are already finding great difficulties keeping their local industries alive as they have already liberalised previously, and also now face the constraints to industrial development as a result of the TRIPS and TRIMS treaties.

C. REVIEW, REPAIR EXISTING WTO AGREEMENTS

The WTO already has a built-in agenda to review many existing agreements. We can propose reviewing problems faced by developing countries in implementing the present agreements, as well as reviewing the environmental and social effects. We can then propose repairing or changing the agreements in an appropriate way, reflecting our concerns for development, social and environmental principles. For example:

1. TRIPS article 27.3(b) - There will be a review in 1999 of the clause permitting patenting of life. Our proposal: amend the clause to exclude patenting of life forms. "Members must exclude from patentability living organisms including plants, animals, microorganisms and their parts as well as biological, microbiological and non-biological processes.” Or allow countries to choose: "Members may exclude ..."

2. AGRICULTURE AND FOOD SECURITY - In most developing countries, small farmers form a large part of population. Their livelihoods and products (especially food) are the main basis of Third World economies. These could be threatened by agriculture liberalisation under WTO's Agriculture Agreement. We can propose that "in developing countries, food produced for domestic consumption and the products of small farmers shall be exempted from the Agriculture Agreement's disciplines on import liberalisation, domestic support and subsidies."

3. TRIMS - In the review of the TRIMS Agreement, we can ask for an amendment to allow developing countries the right to have "local content" policy (ie to require firms or projects to use a certain minimum amount of local materials) so as to help their building a domestic industrial sector (ie to enable the state to support local firms).

D. REFORMS TO WTO SYSTEM

There is lack of transparency in negotiations and decision-making in WTO - for most developing-country Members of WTO and for the public and Parliaments in all Member countries.

We can propose that Seattle make decisions to make WTO system more open, transparent and participatory to developing countries, Parliaments and civil society.

For example:

1. Consultations, discussion, negotiations and decision-making in WTO have to be truly transparent, open, participatory and democratic.

2. Any proposals to rules or for new agreements should be made known in their draft form to the public at least 6 months before decisions are taken so that civil society in each country can study them and influence their Parliaments and governments.

3. All WTO members must be allowed to be present and participate in discussions and negotiations (including in informal groups and meetings where many key decisions are made). The practice of small informal groups making decisions for all Members should be discontinued.

4. Parliaments should be constantly informed of proposals and developments at WTO and have the right to make policy choices regarding proposals in WTO.

5. Civil society should be given genuine opportunities to know issues being discussed and to express their views and influence the outcome of policies.(Third World Resurgence No. 108/109, Aug-Sept 99)

Martin Khor is the Director of Third World Network.

 


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