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Launch a new round, and promote employment (at WTO)

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 25 October 2001 - - If the proposals of subjects for negotiations or study and negotiations, in the draft ministerial declaration unveiled in September by the General Council chair, Mr. Stuart Harbinson, and the proposed organization and conduct of this ‘work programme’ of negotiations prevail, there will be at least 16 separate negotiating groups and negotiations taking place, besides a Trade Negotiations Committee as a fifth wheel to the WTO coach.

In the Uruguay Round, often described as the most comprehensive negotiations with the greatest participation by developing countries, there were 12 negotiating groups (including one on the separate track of services) and an overall catch-all group under Functioning of the GATT System.

This last, which most delegates of the developing world did not even staff, was the one that looked after the secretariat’s own agenda, and resulted in the final WTO and its annexed agreements being treated as a single undertaking. The chair and co-chair of that group went to become a member of the appellate body, which has been extending the remit of the WTO against the developing world.

Everyone now agrees that the Uruguay Round negotiating groups were so many that developing countries, and more so the smaller ones could not staff at all, and suddenly found out their obligations only when they were forced to join all of them at the end under the 1993 accord.

In theory, there were decisions at the old GATT that no more than two negotiating bodies would meet simultaneously. But this was always got around by convening at very short notice, informal and informal informals, and sometimes outside the GATT premises.

The Harbinson draft text of subjects for negotiations and the organization of the work on a rough reading would involve setting up of at least 16 negotiating groups to study or examine and negotiate.

The groups that would be required are:

1.   Agriculture

2. Services

3. Tariffs (and may be the same or separate one on sectoral market access for non-agricultural products)

4. Transparency in Government Procurement

5. Trade Facilitation

6. Investment

7. Competition Policy

8. Dispute Settlement Understanding

9. Environment

10. TRIPS

11. WTO rules/implementation

12. E-Commerce

13. Trade, Debt and Finance

14. Transfer of Technology

15. Committee on Trade and Development (S&D Framework Agreement)

16. Institutional Matters, Transparency

The new round, the US, EU, WTO secretariat and Moore argue is necessary to meet the current global recession and the resulting unemployment, particularly in the wake of the 11 September events.

Well, they may be right.

For, each of the new negotiating bodies will need sufficient staff, at least two or three professionals and some general service staff at the secretariat to service them, with those now in the secretariat dealing with them being reassigned (and promoted) for the negotiations, and others recruited to staff the existing bodies.

The many old hands who have retired or retiring could also be rehired as consultants to run these negotiations, since the current economic crisis has shut off opportunities for private sector employment for them!

It will even force the SUNS to remain in business!

It would also require countries to post more staff at their Geneva missions, excepting Europeans who can fly-in and fly-out - providing business to a hard-hit airline industry, and business to hotels etc in Geneva.

Perhaps, some UN body, now trying to look at unemployment and economic crisis in the post-11 September situation, may undertake a study on the potential direct and tertiary employment that would be generated.

And hopefully, even the World Bank and the IMF, under the coherence envisaged in the Ministerial Declaration would take note, and make exceptions for national bureaucratic expansion to meet these new demands under their conditionality and poverty reduction strategies - compensating perhaps in cutting down the government staff being wasted on such matters like regulatory work of  corporations, stock markets, income-tax and other tax assessments, customs etc etc. – SUNS4996

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

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