TWN Info Service on WTO Issues (Dec03/8)

15 December 2003

Third World Network

Dear friends and colleagues




As the WTO General Council started its critical meeting on 15 Deecmber, 44 developing countries have called for all further work on three Singapore issues (investment, competition, transparency in government procurement) to be dropped.

They said work can continue on the fourth issue, trade facilitation, but on the basis of further clarifying the issue, and not for commencing negotiations.

The countries also rejected the plurilateral approach (which the EC has been proposing) as unsuitablke for a multilateral organisation like the WTO.

The paper by the countries (that include China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh on behalf of the LDC group, Malaysia, Philippines, Egypt, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Venezuela, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Zambia) was submitted as a formal communication to the General Council meeting.

Below is a report of the paper.

LATEST:  Since this report was written, Jamaica has also joined the signatory countries, thus raising the total number of co-sponsors to 45.

With best wishes

Martin Khor




TWN REPORT by Martin Khor, Geneva 15 September 2003

Forty four developing-country members of the WTO issued a formal communication at the WTO’s General Council meeting today calling for “all further work” on three of the Singapore Issues (investment, competition, and transparency in government procurement) to be “dropped.”

They said work on the fourth issue, trade facilitation, may continue, but only on the clarification of various aspects of this issue, and not on commencing negotiations.

The countries also made clear they are against a plurilateral approach to the issues as this would be “systemically unsuitable” for a multilateral organisation like the WTO.

The paper, entitled “Singapore Issues: The Way Forward”, is in the form of a joint communication (WT/GC/W/522) for the General Council meeting of 15, 16 and 18 December.

The meeting was mandated by the Ministers in a closing statement at the Cancun Ministerial Conference last September, to take action enabling a successful conclusion of the negotiations.  The Ministers had also instructed their officials in Geneva to “continue work on outstanding issues.” The Singapore Issues are the most complex of the outstanding issues as under the Doha Declaration, the Ministers were to (but in the event did not) take a decision on the status of these issues.

The paper was submitted by Bangladesh (on behalf of the LDC Group), Botswana, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, Tanzania, Uganda, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe.  Of these 16 countries, four are LDCs, and there are another 28 LDC members of the WTO.  Thus, a total of 44 delegations are associated with the communication.

The paper said that after the Cancún Ministerial Conference, the Chairman of the General Council has held informal discussions with Delegations on the Singapore issues.   “However, the fact remains that on all these issues, there continues to be significant divergence of views among Members, and in the absence of explicit consensus, there is no basis for the commencement of negotiations.”

It is also important to note, said the paper, that in the Green Room process at Cancún, one major proponent of the Singapore issues was willing to drop further work on two issues, Trade and Investment and Trade and Competition Policy.

“During further discussions in the Green Room meeting, it became clear that there was no consensus on the need for any multilateral disciplines on Transparency in Government Procurement and hence, there was a suggestion that further work on this issue may also be dropped.

“The co-sponsors of this paper, therefore, are of the view that all further work on Trade and Investment, Trade and Competition Policy and Transparency in Government Procurement should be dropped.”

The paper said Article III:2 of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO makes it clear that “the WTO shall provide the forum for negotiation among its Members concerning their multilateral trade relations.....”.  The core competence of the WTO thus lies in trade in goods and services.

“The co-sponsors of this paper believe that binding disciplines on Singapore issues would certainly not only curtail the policy space for developing countries but would also entail high costs, which many developing countries cannot afford at their present level of development,” added the paper.

“Moreover, due to continued division over such a long period among Members on the status and substance of the Singapore issues and in the interest of early completion of this round of negotiations, we should concentrate our efforts first and foremost on issues of core competence of the WTO namely, agriculture, non-agricultural market access, services and development issues.”

With regard to Trade Facilitation, work on clarification of various aspects of this issue may continue in the light of the interest expressed by several Delegations, said the paper.”  However, this work should be carried out in parallel with the other segments of the Doha Work Programme and there should be no attempt to seek an early harvest on Trade Facilitation in advance of progress on core issues in Doha Work Programme.

“This work must also address the points raised by a group of developing and least developed countries, which are contained in Ministerial Conference document (WT/MIN(03)/W/4 dated 4 September 2003) such as cost of compliance, justification of any binding rules subject to the DSU, commitment for provision of technical and financial assistance to meet the cost of compliance and implementation of any possible multilateral framework.  Furthermore, after completion of the clarification process, a decision would need to be taken on the modalities, by explicit consensus, before negotiations can commence.”

The paper also makes reference, though not by name, to the European Commision’s post-Cancun attempt to introduce the option of plurilateral negotiations and agreements on some or all of the Singapore issues, in the event there is no consensus to begin multilateral negotiations on them.

Said the paper:  “The co-sponsors would also like to make it clear that they are against the efforts for the adoption of a plurilateral approach in respect of any multilateral issues because such an approach is systemically unsuitable for a consensus-based multilateral organisation like the WTO.  A plurilateral approach could lead to a two-tier system of membership, which would be contrary to the basic character of the WTO.”

An earlier portion of the paper traces the chronology of the Singapore issues, as viewed from the co-sponsors’ perspective.  It recalled that in the Doha Ministerial Declaration (paragraphs 20, 23, 26 and 27), relating to the Singapore issues, Ministers stated that negotiations will take place after the Fifth Session of the Ministerial Conference on the basis of a decision to be taken, by explicit consensus, at that Session on the modalities of negotiations.

“It is thus clear that a decision on modalities, by explicit consensus, is required before negotiations can commence,” commented the paper.

“Certain elements were identified for clarification, besides which Members were free to raise other issues of relevance.  A work programme on each of these issues was adopted, which was to be completed in the period until the Fifth Session.

“However, during this period, various elements relating to each of the four issues remained unclear.  More importantly, there was significant divergence of views among Members on each of the Singapore issues.  A group of countries, in response to the Chairman’s Draft Ministerial Text (Job(03)/150/Rev.1), indicated, in their Ministerial Conference document (WT/MIN(03)/W/4 dated 4 September 2003), the various elements that need to be clarified in respect of each of these issues.

“At the Cancún Ministerial Conference, discussions on the Singapore issues were held under a Facilitator.  A large number of developing country Members expressed concern, inter alia, about the impact that multilateral rules on the four Singapore issues would have on their domestic polices and the fact that they have neither the negotiating resources nor the capacity to implement obligations, which such multilateral rules will entail.”

The paper added that a revised text was produced by the Chairman of the Cancún Ministerial Conference on 13 September.  But the part of the text dealing with Singapore issues did not address the concerns of the majority of Members, who expressed their strong opposition to it.

“As a consequence, no decision was taken at the Cancún Ministerial Conference by explicit consensus on the modalities of negotiations on any of the four Singapore issues.”

The paper recalled that in their Cancun statement the Ministers instructed officials to continue work on outstanding issues.  However, despite informal consultations by the General Council chairman after Cancun, significant divergence of views among Members have continued, and “in the absence of explicit consensus, there is no basis for the commencement of negotiations.”