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A Caribbean view of Moore’s “new round campaign”

by Hon. Clement J Rohee

(Hon. Clement J. Rohee*) -- Last week, in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Foreign Trade Ministers from CARICOM countries met with Mike Moore, the man at the top of the world’s most powerful institution - the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

For two full days Foreign Trade Ministers met and discussed with Mr. Moore and his key aides who serve at the head of this international body which continues to be viewed with deep suspicion on the one hand, by millions around the world as a threat to their every day life and by Governments on the other as the custodian of trade liberalisation and as a vehicle to advance the process of globalization.

Caricom Heads of Government at their Inter-sessional Meeting held in Barbados early last year had agreed with a proposal by Moore to organise such an encounter.

Caricom Heads were of the view that such a meeting could prove useful if their Trade Ministers got together with Mr. Moore and his top aides to have a discourse on a number of issues ranging from the prospects for launching a new round of negotiations, among Member States of the WTO to addressing the concerns of the small economies by extending special and differential treatment to them in the context of small vulnerable economies.

Caricom Heads were proven correct. The meeting was indeed timely and a useful exercise.

Moore came with a single objective in mind, to convince Caricom Trade Ministers about the need to launch a new round of trade negotiations at Qatar, host country to the 4th Ministerial Meeting of the WTO which is to be held in November this year.

It was because WTO Member States did not agree, prior to convening the meeting in Seattle, to launch a new round of negotiations, among other things, that caused the break-down of the process at Seattle in December 1999. The situation was further compounded by protests by the anti-globalization forces.

Following the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of negotiations under the (old) General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the signing of the Marrakesh Agreement in April 1994 (at Marakesh, Morocco), establishing the World Trade Organisation, no fresh negotiations have been held on any new issues, though a Trade Ministers’ Meeting in Singapore in December 1996 had agreed to a number of new issues to be examined by trade Officials and Ministers.

The Singapore Meeting was divided on the way forward. The more developed countries in the WTO wanted to open negotiations on a fresh set of issues and launch a round of negotiations.

The “New Issues” known as the “Singapore Subjects” were, investments, competitiveness, government procurement, trade facilitation, industrial tariffs and the environment.

On the other hand, the developing countries have maintained their opposition to starting a new round of negotiations and continue to press the case for a discussion on two tracks.

First, on what is described as the “built-in-agenda” which include issues such as agriculture, services, trade-related investment measures (TRIMS), trade related intellectual property rights measures (TRIPS), Government procurement and transparency regarding the internal operations of the WTO.

But the developing countries had a stronger political argument. To them the key question is, why launch a new round when the “implementation issues” have not been addressed in their favour. The “implementation issues” called for in the “mandated negotiations” is part and parcel of the “built in agenda”. They include, TRIMS, TRIPS, subsidies and countervailing measures, sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, the cross-cutting issues as well as operationalising special and differential treatment.

It is against this backdrop that Mike Moore is travelling around the world canvassing support to avoid a repeat of what took place in Seattle in December 1999.

In the meanwhile in Geneva, intense consultations are currently taking place on several fronts.

First, “mandated discussions” are taking place on agriculture and services.

Guyana, through the RNM (Regional Negotiating Machinery) is participating in these negotiations having made its contribution to the text of the Caribbean Community’s negotiating briefs on Agriculture and Services.

And at the recent meeting of COTED, the RNM and the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on External Negotiations the Government of Guyana made a number of additional important contributions to further strengthen and refine the region’s negotiating position particularly, on the issue of agriculture.

Secondly, in Geneva, consultations are currently taking place on the shape, form and fashion of the agenda for the Doha Trade Ministers’ Meeting.

One of the key questions being considered is whether the agenda should be broad enough to include a mix of issues being advanced by both the developed and developing countries. Were this to happen, in essence it would mean including on the agenda, some of the “implementation issues” demanded by the developing countries as well as and some of the “new issues” demanded by the developed countries .

In canvassing support for this approach Mr. Moore is hoping that such a compromise agenda would kick-start a new round of negotiations.

Hinting at this Mr. Moore proposed: “We must launch a new round on a wider set of negotiations. We want to broaden the negotiating agenda beyond agriculture and services”.

But he went on to send a political message when he said, “We need a wider agenda because it creates political space”.

Our response to Mr. Moore was two-fold; first, that we in Caricom are not unalterably opposed to a new round of negotiations; but we remain unconvinced of its necessity and appropriateness at this time.

Secondly, that between now and Qatar we in Caricom will continue to examine the arguments carefully in order to determine whether any widening of the existing negotiating agenda is warranted and in our best interest.

It is clear that the “political space” Mr. Moore appealed for was in fact, for a compromise on our part given the mounting pressures currently being exerted by the industrialised countries for a new round of negotiations. However, Moore, was fully aware of the stand adopted by the various constituencies of the developing world. The key question, confronting him therefore was: ‘compromise on which issues and at whose expense.’

This is how Mike Moore put the question to us: “”Do you think you can get more out of the present system or will more be delivered from wider negotiations with a balanced agenda?” As far as Caricom and most developing countries are concerned, any compromise should be on the part of the developed countries having regard to the fact that the commitments they made six years ago have largely gone unfulfilled. And in any case, countries such as ours are benefiting very little from the “present system”.

Incidentally, in the GATT, there are over 147 references to special and differential treatment for developing countries that are signatories to the Agreement.

However, the reality is few of these measures have been implemented. And to compound the problem there is no consensus among WTO Members on how to operationalise any of the references to special and differential treatment for developing countries.

It appears that this is more a political rather than a technical issue which must be addressed by WTO Member States collectively.

Caricom’s concerns however is that when measures are taken by some industrialised States, who may be sympathetic to developing countries on one issue or another, which tend to reflect special and differential treatment, such actions are deemed discriminatory by other WTO Members

who do not stand to benefit from such measures. The issue then becomes a dispute and would invariably end up before the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism.

This is precisely the experience we have had with the WTO as regards the ACP/EU partnership agreement which allows for preferential access to the EU market for a number of commodities exported from ACP countries.

Consequently, having been granted preferential market access by the European Union (EU), a number of countries outside the ACP Group are up in arms about the “discriminatory” nature of the Cotonou Agreement.

Enter the Everything But Arms (EBA) initiated by the EU to help all the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the ACP Group as well as those outside the Group - the objective being to allow the LDCs to export all their products except arms to the EU market on a tariff- free basis. We say it is an attempt by the EU to help the poorest of the poor. At the same time, the EBA initiative is aimed at widening the geographic catchment area of developing countries, LDCs et al, who could benefit from EU largesse thus obviating the criticism about the “discriminatory nature” of the Cotonou Agreement.

Small wonder that the UN Secretary General, who also favours a new round of negotiations, gave political support to the EBA initiative when he appealed to other industrialised countries particularly the US, Japan and Canada to “follow the EU lead without restrictive provision or reservations”.

In fact what is unfolding is a coordinated approach by key players to mobilise as many sponsors as possible across the developed and developing world to support the launching of a new round of trade negotiations under the rubric of the WTO using the EBA Initiative, debt relief, grant aid, etc. as inducements.

Far from helping countries such as Guyana, the EBA initiative will only compound our problems in the long term. The preferential market access for sensitive products we now export to Europe will eventually have to compete with similar commodities from countries like Thailand, Bangladesh etc.

So much for special and differential treatment for countries such as Guyana.

Guyana, together with the rest of the developing world is opposed to any suggestion to the effect that special and differential treatment in the global trading system must be operational only in relation to the LDCs and to the detriment of the non-LDC countries particularly those categorised as HIPC countries.

Moreover, we do not agree with the view that special and differential treatment should have a narrow interpretation as regards extended time periods for developing countries to comply with multilateral trade rules. Of critical importance to us is greater market access for our products based on the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).

Developing countries are deeply concerned over the lack of progress as regards the implementation of commitments made by the industrialised countries to free up their markets thus allowing greater access to developing countries.

Take the cases of market access for agriculture, textiles and services which are of great interest to developing countries but still remain highly protected.

According to Martin Khor of Third World Network some of the tariffs in these areas are over 200 to 300 percent, while domestic subsidies in the industrialised countries have risen from US$275 Billion between 1986 and 1988 to US$321 Billion in 1999.

Moreover, it is now admitted that WTO Agreements on Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMS) and Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) are already causing serious problems for developing countries.

Given all these antecedents, it was not surprising to find that the question that dominated the discourse between Mike Moore and Caricom Trade Ministers was: why should we agree to a new round of trade negotiations when the developed countries have not delivered on their commitments.

Moore’s response was that we should look at the issue from a “broader perspective” and he advanced what he described as the three arguments in favour of launching a new round.

He argued that by cutting by 1/3 the barriers to trade in agriculture, manufacturing and services the world economy could be boosted by US$613 Billion.  And by doing away with all trade barriers the world economy would be boosted by nearly US$1.9 trillion. Further, we were informed that if trade in Agriculture is opened up further developing countries could receive three times more of all the current Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) put together.

Apart from the economic argument in favour of launching a new round, Moore gave what he termed the developmental , and the historical arguments - all of which sounded rather convincing but at the same time were all aimed at achieving lofty ideals sometime in the future.

We told Moore that our concerns are about today as well as the future. We asked again about confidence building measures that should have been put in place six years ago by the industrialised states to induce the developing countries to support a new round of negotiations. Moore’s response was: “The missing ingredient is the political will for members to compromise. Finding this will require courage and commitment”. With this statement, Moore placed the blame on both sides i.e. the developing countries on the one hand, for holding on to the implementation issues and the developed countries on the other , for insisting on a new round on a new set of issues.

[* Clement Rohee is Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation. A fuller version of this article contributed by him appeared in Guyana’s Sunday Chronicle, 8 July 2001.] – SUNS4938

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