To tackle or not to tackle implementation at Seattle

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 28 Sep 99 -- The attempts of major industrial nations to launch new negotiations for new commitments by developing countries at Seattle, without first addressing substantively the implementation problems raised by developing world, was criticised Monday the informal General Council meeting.

In the discussions at the Council Monday on the "implementation issues", the US had referred to its paper for decisions at Seattle to remit the issues to the WTO subordinate bodies to identify and assemble an inventory of problems by July 2000, and for the General Council to consider and take actions thereafter.

In the earlier GATT rounds - the Dillon, Kennedy and Tokyo Rounds - the industrial countries would agree to put on the agenda developing country issues, and at the end when they had concluded negotiations on issues of interest to them, would put forward decisions that outstanding problems and issues should be tackled through a work programme.

This time, they seem to be moving to put on a work programme developing country issues even before reaching Seattle (perhaps getting Ministers merely to adopt and accept them), and on a separate track in the WTO bodies, while the new round issues are negotiated and concluded within a 3-year time-frame as a 'single undertaking'.

The pronouncements of the US so far suggest that it wants the agriculture and services negotiations to be launched at Seattle, and agreements on transparent in government procurement and on trade facilitation, which would in effect bring these issues into the WTO.

A separate US paper on implementation is largely procedural for a post-Seattle work programme.

The EC which wants Seattle to launch negotiations on a range of liberalisation measures in all areas except agriculture -- further services liberalisation, non-agricultural tariffs and new issues of investment, competition, government procurement and trade facilitation -- suggested that since there was no time to reach a consensus between now and Seattle on the implementation questions, these should be tackled after Seattle, but with questions needing changes in existing agreements to be made part of a new round.

In a lengthy intervention, outlining point-by-point various agreements in which implementation problems should be tackled first, India (supported later by a number of other developing countries) in effect challenged the argument that there was no time before Seattle to tackle the implementation issues.

In other comments, a number of countries, both developing and developed, also pressed for extending the moratorium on raising disputes on 'non-violation' complaints under TRIPS, but the US insisted that the five-year moratorium should not be renewed.

Egypt focused attention, as part of the implementation, the Marrakesh decision on net food importing developing countries (NFIDC), and for meaningful market access to developing countries who had gained no benefits from the Uruguay Round. Work should also be completed on negotiating a safeguards agreement in services, on rules of origin (and harmonising the various origin rules in countries, as mandated in the WTO agreement and decisions at Marrakesh), and on movement of natural persons as a mode of supply in services. The transition period in TRIMS should be extended, action taken for meaningful liberalisation under the Textiles and Clothing agreement, and in changes to the anti- dumping agreement relating to actions against developing countries. Egypt also wanted a working group set up to deal with the technology transfer issues under TRIPS and GATS.

India recalled that there had been lengthy negotiations before the Geneva meeting on implementation issues and developing countries had forcefully presented the view that "there is no point in asking developing countries to take on new commitments, when they still have difficulties in implementing existing commitments." It was against this background that paras 8 and 9 (a).i of the Geneva Ministerial Declaration was negotiated and accepted. The implementation issues in relation to the Seattle process had been before them for now more than a year, and it was difficult to understand the argument that there was not enough time before Seattle to achieve a consensus. It could not hence be argued, as the EC was doing, that the implementation issues raised had come as a surprise and there was no time before Seattle to reach a consensus.

There was a need to address existing inequities, imbalances and remedy them. It was necessary to identify the issues in this area where actions should be taken at Seattle. In others, the General Council should be directed to address and solve them before end of 2000. India mentioned among the agreements where there are inequities and asymmetries, the anti-dumping agreement and repeated initiation of actions on the same product against developing countries, the subsidies agreements including the 'green box' subsidies enabling industrial countries subsidies in areas of interest to them like industrial restructuring or development of backward regions, but blocking subsidies of developing countries to promote diversification, the agreements on TRIMS, TRIPS, Rules of Origin, services (where the economic needs test was being used to prevent movement of natural persons as a mode of supply).

Pakistan, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Honduras were among those who strongly supported the Indian argument.

In other comments, Canada saw a fundamental difference of opinion on what could be done at Seattle and in a post-Seattle work programme on the implementation issues. (SUNS4518)

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

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