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No new issues in WTO, say India and Malaysia

Jakarta, 29 May (TWN) -- India strongly believes that the World Trade Organization should focus on trade matters without expanding into non-trade issues, and India is opposed to multilateral rules in the WTO on investment and competition, as well as in linking trade with social issues.

In stating this Indian position, at the meeting of the Group of 15 Trade and Economy Ministers, India’s Commerce Secretary Prabir Sengupta also said the WTO’s Ministerial Conference need not be linked to any new round of negotiations as any fresh round will only further compound the problems of developing countries as they will have to give concessions.

The Indian delegation was the only one that released a text of its speech. However, the Malaysian deputy Trade Minister, Kerk Choo Ting, gave a media interview in Jakarta in which he stated Malaysia does not want the WTO to include new issues before current issues being negotiated are settled.

According to sources at the meeting, many of the delegations stressed the need for the WTO to focus on implementation and development issues.  One major delegation agreed with UNCTAD secretary general Rubens Ricupero’s call for the WTO to “return to basics” of trade liberalisation.  Doha should therefore focus on closing the “development deficit” in the WTO.

On the other hand, some other Ministers or officials that spoke were more receptive to the idea of a wider agenda for negotiations at and after Doha.

Sengupta said that public opinion in many developing countries including India is getting restless in the absence of meaningful benefits accruing from the WTO regime.

“We strongly believe that the WTO process must concentrate on matters of trade without expanding into non-trade issues for which other more appropriate forums already exist,” he said.

“The Ministerial conference need not be linked to the launch of any new round of negotiations and may be devoted to consolidation and confidence building.  Any open-ended fresh round of negotiations will only further compound the problems of developing countries, as they would once again be expected to give concession.

“And the items of  interest to developing countries will get side tracked as developed countries like to focus on areas of their core interest.”

Moreover,  the launch of any new round  should be discussed only after a full convergence of views among the entire WTO membership and this could come about only if implementation issues are resolved upfront, contentious non-trade issues are kept off the table and the developing countries are convinced about the need of inclusion of any item into the WTO agenda and how it is going to benefit them.

Recounting the experience of the last six years of implementation of WTO agreements, Sengupta said there has been a non-realisation of anticipated benefits in agriculture and textiles, several inequities and imbalances in agreements such as TRIPS, subsidies and agriculture.  The special and differential treatment clauses have not been operationalised.

He added that the implementation concerns should be dealt with upfront without in any way linking it to the launch of any new round as these concerns are a hangover of the past Uruguay Round for which the developing countries have already paid by taking several onerous obligations.  However the General Council process to address these concerns has not given any satisfaction even after one year of arduous work.

Sengupta said that under the TRIPS review,  provisions of the TRIPS agreement need to be clarified so that it does not come in the way of providing affordable access to life saving and essential drugs.

“Indeed this Agreement needs a complete review to redress its perverse effects undermining food security, rights of communities on their traditional knowledge, and access to health care,” said Sengupta.

“Pending such a review there should be a moratorium on dispute settlement procedure being invoked by the developed countries against developing countries if they have used the provisions of TRIPS for achieving their public health objectives. It is also necessary that there be a common understanding in WTO that developing countries shall not be precluded from taking all possible measures to achieve the objectives of public health.

“There should also be international recognition of the sui generis systems of protection of biodiversity and the associated traditional knowledge including by way of prior informed consent and benefit sharing for the traditional knowledge used by patent applicants and others.”

Sengupta added that the TRIMS review should recognise that developing countries are in different phases of development.  To take care of their developmental objectives, they should have the freedom to prescribe certain percentages of components to be indigenised while permitting foreign investments.

The Indian commerce official concluded: “Mandated negotiations and reviews plus the work programme for implementation concerns, by themselves constitute a broad enough agenda for WTO.

“The developing countries are reeling under the burden of the onerous commitments undertaken by them and are not at all having the confidence to take on any fresh commitments especially when the expected benefits from the Uruguay Round have not materialised.  There is therefore no need to overload the WTO as it may become unsustainable....

“With all the force that we can summon, the developing countries must put up an effective and united voice to project our concerns and protect our interests.  Only in this manner can we ensure ushering in a system that is equitable and that corrects the imbalances that have seriously jeopardised the interests of the developing countries.”

Meanwhile, the Malaysian newspaper, The Star, reported an interview by Malaysian journalists present in Jakarta with Malaysia’s deputy Minister for International Trade and Industry, Kerk Choo Ting, who led his country’s delegation to the G15 Trade Ministers’ meeting.

According to The Star, Malaysia does not want the WTO to include new issues before current negotiations are settled. Kerk said: “We cannot allow developed countries to include certain matters without first scrutinising and dissecting the contents and study the impact they would have on us."

“The interest of developing nations must be taken into account and it is up to us to protect it. We must stand on common ground and make our interests and needs known.”

Kerk also said that Malaysia wanted G15 members to understand the content, rules and ramifications before deciding on their stand on including new issues in the WTO. – SUNS4905

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

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