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Third World views ignored, new text for new round with new issues

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Doha, 13 Nov 2001 - After going through what now clearly is seen as mere motions, verging on the fraudulent, of a process for taking note of concerns of the majority of the membership who are opposed to new issues, without any intention of seeking a genuine consensus, a new draft text for a ministerial declaration - Job(01)/140/Rev.2 - was put forward here, this time from the Chair of the Ministerial Conference, and one which is worse from every point of view of developing countries.

The texts were presented at a noon meeting of the Committee of the Whole, who have been reassembled two hours later to react, and discuss and negotiate.

There is no agreement on any of the issues, and the texts, in almost every part, is in effect square bracketed. But unlike even the Harbinson-Moore texts brought to Doha on their own claims of authority, this one by Sheikh Yusuf Hussain Kamal, does not even say on the face of it that this is not an agreed text.

African and Asian delegations were extremely angry on first glancing through the texts, but as they went into the meeting, the outcome was not at all clear.

And at a second meeting today of the Committee of the Whole (that began at 1400 hrs local time), a number of delegations objected strongly to the texts on the new issues, on the environment paras and negotiations. These included India, the ACP group, the African group, and the LDCs. Though none of them formally declared they will withhold consensus, it seemed clear to many in the meeting that this could be the case.

It was not clear how this is going to be handled between now and midnight (the time announced and set for the closure).

In a late development, India, the LDCs, the ACP countries and the African group have rejected the Singapore issues in the new draft. The Conference is recessed till 11.00pm (local time) to find a way out.

Unless the objections of India, the African group and others on the new issues are met, the Conference faces virtual failure.

The four new ‘Singapore issues’ have been brought on board - with negotiations to be launched on government procurement and trade facilitation, and a process for developing what amounts to a framework for trade and investment, and trade and competition, that theoretically will be subject to a decision to be taken at the 5th ministerial conference.

But given the experience of the WTO processes witnessed so far, there should be no doubt left in anyone’s mind in any developing country, that if the present text (which again is full of suggestio falsi and suppressio veris, that characterised the Harbinson-Moore texts, and its process and claims of transparency and hence legitimacy - words of Moore at the Doha opening), or its substance, remains as part of a new round of trade negotiations, and governments acquiesce in it, the developing world has been taken one step further on a path towards losing its political independence.

Semantically, whether to negotiate or not is a matter to be decided by Ministers at the 5th ministerial, but given the way the Geneva and Doha processes have been run, and things decided, there should be little doubt at least among the peoples, parliaments, domestic businesses and others, that full fledged negotiations are in fact sought to be put under way.

The paragraphs on the mandate on investment and competition provides that Ministers agree that at the 5th session a decision will be taken on whether to launch negotiations in these two areas.

Nevertheless, the paras of the draft on investment (paras 20-22) is clearly based on the assumption that there will be future recognition. Though it is placed within square brackets (meaning not agreed), the text assumes the need for a multilateral framework, and the mandate for further work or study is all focussed on the various points that a framework generally contains.

Like the old GATT, where a framework was developed side by side with the preparations for Havana, and tariff concessions were negotiated and exchanged initially to bring it into being, or like the GATS where as part of the Uruguay Round a framework was developed, and commitments sought on a request/offer basis, but a minimum applicable to everyone, a framework on General Agreement on Trade and Investment is to be worked out over the next two years, and on the GATS approach, and then a decision taken on whether to negotiate or not.

The approach on Trade and Competition (paras 23 to 25) is no different.

As for government procurement and trade facilitation, the text calls for the launch of negotiations.

And given the way, the Harbinson-Moore proposals for the organization of the work programme and negotiations are set up, with ability to add, improve and change along the way, this text is nothing but an open-ended invitation for open-ended negotiations for global government (on behalf of foreign corporations).

Objections too have been brushed aside to launch full-fledged negotiations aiming at tariff peaks and tariff escalations, as also the high tariffs (in developing countries).

The high agricultural tariffs are not mentioned in the agriculture text.

In the rules area, while anti-dumping rules are to be examined and negotiated as in the Harbinson-Moore text, the scope is sought to be limited a little bit (from the US perspective), with a formulation suggesting that not only the basic concepts, principles and effectiveness of these agreements and their objectives are to be preserved, but also the ‘instruments’ (square bracketed to suggest there is no agreement yet), of the anti-dumping rules.

The paras on trade and environment (though square bracketed) calls for negotiations on reduction or elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to ‘environmental goods and services’ - which seems a way of bringing in a ‘cluster’ approach to services negotiations that was rejected in agreeing on modalities. Also, to be negotiated are procedures for regular information exchange between multilateral environmental agreements secretariats and the relevant WTO committees and the criteria for granting observer status.

On labour standards, the formulation now removes the wording that the ILO is the appropriate forum for a substantive dialogue on labour rights. This implies that the WTO could be used to bring up the issue. – SUNS5009

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

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