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Africa Group, LDCs outline stands on Doha

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 30 July 2001 - - The Africa group of countries at the WTO said Monday that substantial differences remained on the positions of countries and groups on the Doha agenda, and that unless the gaps could be filled, the scope and level of ambition for Doha may have to be scaled down.

Zimbabwe, speaking for the Africa Group, repeated Africa’s high priority for the declaration on TRIPS and Public Health and ensuring that TRIPS does not come in the way of full flexibility to developing countries to ensure access to medicines. The overall evaluation of the Chairman’s Report, Zimbabwe said,  “makes  rather grim reading”.  Indeed, Africa Group shared the view that substantial differences remain between delegations on the way forward on most of the issues.

“We cannot run the risk of going to Doha with too many complex issues still open,” added Zimbabwe.

Ambassador Ali Mchumo of Tanzania, on behalf of the LDCs, set out the five overriding considerations of the LDC ministers at their recent meeting in Zanzibar, and said the Multilateral Trading System must address decisively the issues of development, and promotion of development should form the core business of the system. The Doha Ministerial Conference should result in a clear commitment by the LDCs’ trading and development partners to fully implement the commitments agreed at the Brussels LDC conference.

The Doha meeting should also make significant movement in adequately addressing implementation issues, confirm and seek to operationalise the principles of S&D treatment and trade policy flexibility to accommodate the interests of the LDCs, and “ensure an inclusive transparent negotiating process before, during and after the Doha Ministerial Conference.”

The LDC Ministers were also emphatic that the scope of future multilateral trade negotiations needs to take into account the inability of the LDCs to participate effectively in negotiations on a broad agenda and implement new obligations due to the well-known limited capacity of the LDCs.

Zimbabwe said that “Doha must send a strong message that the multilateral trading system is adaptable enough to accommodate the needs of poor countries and their development concerns.”

The Group believed that the concerns of the LDCs should be fully reflected in the Doha outcome, including  priority for support to LDCs for their integration into the global trading system - through an integrated approach, encompassing market access, finance, infrastructure, education and other supply-side measures.

At Doha Ministers should affirm that the accession process to the WTO for LDCs should be tailored to their specific economic conditions, and among others  stream-line the procedural requirements.

The development dimension should be given adequate recognition by the WTO system,  especially in terms of the need to ensure that issues of development are addressed decisively and satisfactorily. This will require an affirmation by Ministers that future negotiations will take the development challenge fully into account by encouraging “appropriate structural adjustment” in developed countries to facilitate the integration of developing countries into the global trading system.

This should be achieved, Zimbabwe said, not only by the operationalising S&D provisions in the agreements but also through the reduction and elimination of protective support measures in sectors of export interest to developing countries, allow   relocation of investment and production to developing countries. Such an “adjustment” will promote development and industrialization in developing countries and provide the impetus for world economic growth from which all WTO members can benefit.

With regards to TRIPS, the African Group expected Ministers to affirm the understanding that no provision of the TRIPS Agreement prohibits members from taking measures to provide access to medicines at affordable prices and to promote public health and nutrition. “Due restraint” should be observed in raising  disputes as well as extending the transition periods for developing countries.

On  implementation issues, more progress will be required before Doha in the light of the 15 December 2000 Decision of the General Council.”Quite frankly,” said the group, “the current situation is far from satisfactory and challenges us to intensify the search for urgent and meaningful solutions.”

On agriculture, the group wanted affirmation by the Ministers that all issues of concern to African members will be addressed as specified by articles 15, 16 and 20 of the Agreement on Agriculture. The negotiation should focus on the progressive reduction of the bound levels of tariffs; provision of enhanced market access opportunities for developing countries; phasing-out of trade distorting  support in the developed world including in the area of export competition;  full recognition of  the S & D provisions for developing countries as well as the importance of trade preferences for African countries.

On services, the Africa Group wanted Doha  to give a clear message reflecting the inter-linkages, from a negotiation point of view, between agriculture and services and the potential for exchange of benefits and concessions. Equally important,  Ministers should give political impetus to enhance the completion of work related to the negotiation including the assessment of trade in services and its implication for developing countries; modalities for credit for autonomous liberalisation; and completion of rule-making work with regard to Emergency Safeguard Measures.

On the issue of mandated reviews, the Africa Group noted that the Harbinson Report does not mention TRIMs and the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (ASCM).

On TRIMs, the Africa Group would expect Ministers to affirm that the review under article 9 of the TRIMs agreement will be carried out as stipulated. The Group further expects an affirmation that article 5.3 of the Agreement recognises the trade, development and financial needs of developing countries.

On the ASCM, a review of Annex VII (listing low-income developing countries who could, subject to limitations, use export subsidies) to take into account specificities and development needs of African countries.

On TRIPS and access to medicines, there should be a separate declaration. Also, Ministers should  affirm that the review of the TRIPS Agreement under article 71.1, should examine to what extent the objectives and principles of the Agreement had been fulfilled, taking into account the review of article 27.3 (b) (patenting of life forms, traditional knowledge and biological resources).

On ‘other elements of the work programme’ (and the Singapore issues), the Africa Group “with all frankness” expressed its disappointment at the differences had  been portrayed (emphasizing views of advocates of negotiations), and the “need for a balanced treatment of the views of all members.”

On trade and investment, the Chairman’s report (in paragraph 21 third bullet) would make it appear that those insisting on more studies,  “want the work of the working group (quote) prolonged (unquote)”, thus reflecting  a judgement on the time frame. The  working group had  to complete its task and fulfil its mandate and not merely prolong its existence.

Similarly, on transparency in government procurement,  no mention is made of the specific fact that the main difference between members as to whether provisions for market access should be included in a future agreement. In fact,  the idea of  introducing market access considerations was “a new element that goes beyond the Singapore mandate.”

On the market access negotiations for non-agricultural products, the African Group attached to the elimination of tariff peaks and tariff escalation.

On trade and environment, there was no consensus to negotiate or set up rules, and “to the extent we are engaged in a reality check, there is no point in putting a gloss over these realities,” the Group pointed out.

Africa also wanted clarification and strengthening certain existing rules concerning anti-dumping, subsidies, the DSU, and RTAs. These may be best addressed in the context of the Implementation Mechanism, to be taken up after Doha.

Mchumo said LDC Ministers had emphasized the need for implementation issues to be adequately addressed before or at Doha and had identified key implementation issues of special interest to LDCs in the areas of agriculture, services, subsidies, SPS and TBT, textiles, TRIMs, TRIPS, Customs Valuation, Anti-dumping and Safeguards.

For instance, on agriculture, the LDCs were seeking “bound, duty-free and quota-free market access” conditions to exports originating in LDCs covering all agricultural products in all forms i.e. primary, semi-processed and processed products.  Another priority, was the abolition of export subsidies for agricultural products and reduction of trade and production distorting domestic support measures in developed countries which have adverse impact on exports of LDCs.

On the review of TRIPS, the LDCs emphasized  excluding from patentability animals and parts of plants and animals, and essential drugs included in the WHO list and with regard to geographical indications, LDCs want the mandated review of Article 24.2 of TRIPS to encompass extension of protection to other products than wines and spirits. LDCs also want a reaffirmation on the flexibility of TRIPS in ensuring easy access to medicines and ensuring food security.

On the socalled Singapore issues (trade and investment, trade and competition policy, trade and environment transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation), the issues involved were complex and divergent views continue to exist on a great number of issues. The new issues were yet to be fully understood, at least by the LDCs, especially regarding their implications on LDCs’ development. The LDC Ministers were hence of the view that the study process should continue in the respective Working Groups where applicable and that time is not ripe, for LDCs to undertake negotiations for multilateral regimes on these areas.

On accession, the Ministers reiterated their demand for a more flexible and speedier accession process for LDCs and further called for a Ministerial decision in Doha aimed at supporting the efforts of the LDCs to have easier accession to the WTO.  On the scope of the future work programme, the LDC Ministers emphasized that any future work programme is “manageable and [be] agreed by all members by consensus and that any future negotiations are based on an agenda accommodating LDCs’ interests”. – SUNS4948

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

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