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Majors working to force their will on rest of WTO?

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 31 July 2001 - - The discussions on preparations for Doha at the informal General Council meetings of the WTO, showed an element of ‘hardening’ of positions, officials and trade diplomats said Monday evening, at the end of the first day of a two-day meeting.

Some have the impression that majors,  particularly the US and EC, though they has not succeeded (after a Sunday meeting of the Quad countries, and another of friends of the round) in drawing up and presenting a joint declaration, were proceeding on the basis that the old GATT history could be repeated and their agendas forced on others, even when disavowing this was their intention.

Though an informal meeting (with no records), delegations were speaking from prepared texts and giving them out to the media outside. Though these showed no movement forward from key protagonists, outside the meeting room the majors, particularly the US and EC, and the secretariat, seem to think that at Doha (where there would not be much scope for protestors), the majors could force down an accord on others The US and EC spoke late in the afternoon of Monday, with India following soon after.

In its intervention, Japan shared the assessment of the Chairman of the General Council, Mr. Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong China, that there was wide and growing support for enlarging the agenda for negotiations, and for including a number of issues for a new round, and  for preparations to be based on this working hypothesis, and on basis of convergence.  However, the agriculture negotiations could not be separated from ongoing negotiations, nor would Japan agree to make changes of substance in the current mandate for agriculture (beyond Art. 20 of the Agreement on Agriculture, AoA).  Investment should be in the new negotiations, and work should be done (between now and Doha) to clarify the mandate and scope of negotiations to find common ground.

PAKISTAN WARNS AGAINST IMPOSING ANY FAIT ACCOMPLI

Pakistan’s Amb. Munir Akram, a leading member of the like-minded group of developing countries, faulted the Harbinson assessments, and warned there should be no expectation “that an agreement among major players evolved outside these halls in more exclusive conclaves could be sold here or imposed as a fait accompli” on a majority of marginalised countries. “Success at Doha,” he added, “would have to be painstakingly negotiated here and there is not much time left to do this.”

The assessment of Harbinson, reflecting a sense of optimism, Akram said, may not be justified by the realities on the ground. The underlying spirit of optimism was not warranted.

On implementation issues, there was an obvious lack of political will on the part of major trading partners, even to engage in discussions and negotiations, much less to respond positively. There had been virtually no consultations on textiles and clothing or anti-dumping. And the last minute discussions “were proforma, without substance or result.” The consideration of extension of transition for TRIMS, had led to demands going beyond the WTO agreement. Most of the discussions on implementation had prompted “evasive reactions or procedural deflection.” There had been “no welcome advances, no positive developments and no headway towards positive decisions” and, unless there were tangible results on implementation and the imbalances resulting from the Uruguay Round Agreements were redressed or at least tangible progress made towards redressal, Pakistan would find it difficult “to continue consideration of proposals to enlarge the WTO agenda - before, at or after Doha,” Akram said.

Pakistan had remained ‘agnostic’ about the virtues of a round, and so long as the political will to redress the inequality of the multilateral trading system (MTS) remained invisible, “we see little reason to enter into negotiations that would further accentuate the existing inequality.” The membership had a collective responsibility for the health of the MTS, but it was a “differentiated and unequal” responsibility, with the major burden falling on the major trading countries.

In the context of implementation, the questions before them were whether the major trading partners were politically incapable of responding positively to the main implementation concerns of the developing countries - as some news reports indicated they were - conclusions should now be drawn to remain firmly within the built-in agenda in terms of Doha.  “Wider objectives will not be possible.”

But if they were holding back responses, mainly for tactical reasons to extract concessions from developing countries on the trading partners ambitions and objectives for Doha, the Council should send a clear message that this was a recipe for “continuing deadlock and ultimate failure at Doha.” Until there was significant progress on implementation, particularly on textiles and anti-dumping, “there is very little prospect of agreement on the proposals relating to new areas of negotiations,” Akram declared.

In the present circumstances, there was very little prospect of agreement on Singapore issues. Though some 35 meetings had been expended on them, there was little prospect of bridging the gap and reaching consensus on a negotiating mandate on them. The views in the report on trade and competition was not a correct reflection of the discussions so far. And what kind of trade facilitation could they talk about without targeting the most important barriers to trade - the TBT and SPS agreement and if GATT was excluded.

On Trade and Environment, there was further work to be done at the Committee on Trade and Environment, and there was no possibility of agreement to open negotiations on this issue, which presented opportunities for new protectionism against developing countries.

On market access a wrong impression was being conveyed about the position of a number of developing countries. The priority objective of any future negotiations must be the removal of tariff peaks and tariff escalation, and if this was not the case “we have no interest in entering into any market access negotiations.” On Anti-Dumping and Subsidies, the issues raised under this head in implementation should first be addressed. “We are not prepared to pay twice for rules, which we felt were implicit” in the two agreements.

As for regional trade agreements (RTAs), work in the committee is in fact paralysed. The progressively serious implications for many Asian and African countries of being excluded from RTAs that included major trading partners, need to be frankly addressed at Doha. If Development be the central objective of trade negotiations, developing countries, particularly low-income countries should not be subject to discrimination through RTAs.

Any attempt to inject any labour standards or socalled social clause into the WTO or on the Doha agenda would be disastrous.  Pakistan had joined in efforts to address the issue where it belonged, the ILO. However, repeated illusions about the possibility of raising this at Doha, whether openly or in an ambush scenario, made it necessary to ask those concerned to assure the WTO membership publicly and openly that they would not raise the issue at Doha or inject it in any way into the work of the organization.

As for the calls for a new development round, one had to be cautious about slogans, Akram said. If development was to be the primary focus of any new negotiations, it must reflect the priority objectives of a development agenda - - solution to implementation issues, particularly textiles and anti-dumping and problems of unilateral evaluation of standards; agriculture with a commitment to complete liberalisation and address the ‘development box’ issues (of support by developing countries); of services and priority for movement of natural persons; reviews of TRIPS and TRIMs to reflect the development dimensions through appropriate amendments and interpretations; commitment to address tariff peaks and tariff escalation, especially in areas such as textiles; a commitment to operationalise S&D treatment and enhance it through a new and broader framework agreement; and a commitment not to introduce issues such as labour and environment that would promote new protectionism.

BRAZIL SEES AGRICULTURE AND IMPLEMENTATION KEY TO DOHA SUCCESS

Brazil’s vice-minister for external relations, Amb. Seixas Correa, said that the two areas that held the key to success at Doha were Agriculture and Implementation and there was little progress on them.

Efforts should be stepped up on agriculture, to establish a level of ambition compatible with the legitimate expectations of a very significant number of members. No round could be successfully launched “without an appropriately specific mandate in agriculture.” Brazil could not support “a broad-based round with a narrowly or vaguely conceived mandate for agriculture,” Correa said.

A broad and balanced negotiating agenda for a new round covering items such as investment and competition policy would only be possible if an “appropriately high level of ambition” for agriculture is established. Those reluctant to move forward on this issue must be more forthcoming and accept the Seattle text on a mandate for agriculture negotiations.

Brazil agreed that on the implementation issues, “the results have been meagre” and the absence of a more palpable response could “erode support for a new round, and fail to dissipate suspicions associated with the proposed expansion of the WTO into new territory.” Brazil could not agree with Harbinson’s conclusion that discussions on implementation had clearly demonstrated the significance members attached to the issue.  Regrettably this did not seem to be entirely true.  Insufficient results had been singled out for immediate actions, and scant attention paid to questions that should be part of their work programme. The support for a new round was not yet universal, and even among those who support the concept, there were considerable differences on the scope and priorities. If the core items - such as agriculture and implementation - are ignored, and a disproportionate  amount of energy devoted to issues viewed by many as only peripheral to the main challenges facing the WTO “it will be difficult to narrow existing gaps,” Brazil said.

The Brazilian vice-Minister noted the wide measure of support to the issue of TRIPS and access to medicines, and said the stage was set for a constructive declaration on this out of Doha.

Brazil also highlighted the need for a serious re-examination of rules on anti-dumping and subsidies. Brazil was disappointed with the lack of serious attention so far to anti-dumping issues in the implementation context, and similarly to the subsidies issues. There should be a focussed exercise to remove the inequities and lacunae in the agreements and clarifying and strengthening the disciplines.  Brazil had put forward a paper on export credits dealing inter alia with: the current provisions in the agreement in the light of existing export credit practices; the inadequacy of these provisions in providing a level playing field, taking into account the specific situations of developing countries and the least developed; the relationship between the agreement and the OECD’s arrangements on officially supported export credits; and the openness of government institutions in the so-called ‘market window’.

On the question of investment rules, while Brazil was willing to consider negotiations, the rules must ensure flexibility to developing countries, and any disciplines must follow a GATS-like bottoms up approach, with no investor-to-State dispute settlement, and no further disciplines on performance requirements.

On the precautionary principle in Trade and Environment (being promoted by the EU), Brazil said the prevailing perception was that positions were far apart, and the proposals would weaken present rules and pave the way for unilateral measures, raising obstacles to trade, even when claiming they were not protectionist in nature.

Brazil, Correa concluded, remained concerned over absence of progress on the core issues of agriculture and implementation.  A disproportionate amount of energy was being concentrated on some issues to the detriment of other key ones. Until recently, ‘development round’ was in the air, even as a growing awareness of the less equitable effects of globalization raised hopes of a constructive response to the ‘development deficit’ in the discussions on trade issues.  There was now an urgent need for results, and to re-engage in a spirit of cooperation after the northern summer break to begin work on a language for the Ministerial Declaration.

In a separate statement of the position of the  Mercosur and its associate states, a press release said that agriculture must be a central element in an eventual new round of trade negotiations, and must result in  putting agriculture under the same rules and disciplines as other tradeable goods.

The Mercosur and associates were willing to support a new round that takes into account the interests of all parties on the understanding that this will be the most appropriate way to achieve ambitious results on all fronts, specially in agriculture. The launching of a new round of  negotiations must include a mandate on agriculture,  setting  out as objectives the elimination of all forms of export subsidies, the reduction of domestic support, including the elimination production and trade-distorting domestic support, and substantive improvements in market access for agricultural products. They expressed their concern over the minimal attention given to agriculture so far in the Doha Ministerial Conference preparatory process, and stressed the serious dangers to the process as a whole of continuing to postpone substantive consideration of this issue.

ALL OR NOTHING APPROACH WOULD MEAN FAILURE AT DOHA

In its intervention, Malaysia warned that with so many differences in positions, an all or nothing approach would be a recipe for failure at Doha.

While “relatively fair and factual” reflection of the situation, Malaysia’s Amb. Supperamaniam differed on certain aspects of the Harbinson report for not presenting  the actual status of  discussions.

The reality was that there remained “wide and substantive divergence” on a host of issues - including the implementation concerns, agriculture, TRIPS, investment, competition, transparency in government procurement, environment and trade facilitation.

On all these issues, Malaysia said, “the house is divided into two totally opposing positions.”

On implementation, the proponents were arguing that many of the concerns can be addressed before and at Doha as against certain delegations unwilling to discuss textiles and anti-dumping at all as well as stating that most of the other concerns have to be renegotiated.

“Given that we are in a major reality-check,” said Malaysia, “we are very disappointed that there has not been any substantial outcome on any of the implementation-related concerns. We wish to remind Members of the General Council Decision to resolve these matters at the latest by the Fourth Ministerial Conference”.

On agriculture, Malaysia said that there wer two opposing views on the question of expanding the negotiating mandate as embodied in article 20 of the AoA.

On the issue of TRIPS, there was a lack of convergence regarding a common understanding of the flexibilities allowed under the TRIPS for public health measures.

“In this respect, any clarification that weakens the current flexibilities under the Agreement will not serve the purpose, but on the contrary defeats the primary purpose in ascertaining that TRIPS offers the solution and not the problem to public health.”

Also, there is no agreement as to whether the other subjects raised by Members are actually up for negotiations, Malaysia stressed.

On investment, competition and transparency in government procurement, the positions remained “ polarized” and it was “either having negotiations or not initiating them.”

Particularly, on investment, Malaysia considered the Chair’s assessment to be long on those favouring launching negotiations in Doha, while being short on those, like Malaysia, who prefer continuing the educational work in the Working Group.

“Our concerns stem from the fact that, apart from reducing the policy options, WTO rules and discipline on investment would seriously impede the current flexibility that developing countries have in pursuit of their developmental goals,” Malaysia said.

On market access negotiations for non-agriculture products, while not questioning  the thrust of the assessment, Malaysia was of the view that many, if not almost all members “have clearly intimated the need to address tariff peaks and tariff escalation”. It was hence “an understatement” to say that there was “an expectation on the part of many delegations that the negotiations should aim to address these two fundamental problems.”

On environment, the discussions have underscored real concerns that opening up this issue, when current rules are already adequate, would lead the WTO into engaging within the realm of non-trade issues.

The WTO is not a forum to engage in such debates. There are wide divergences of views over many issues proposed on environment. Given this strong opposition, these issues should not form part of the elements for the draft declaration. The Chair’s  report should also note that many developing countries made the contention that the development aspect of sustainable development need to be given greater emphasis.

On trade facilitation, Malaysia said it was unable to accept the report’s assertion that there seemed to be some degree of acceptance that a negotiating mandate would probably be as outlined in paragraph 25 of the Harbinson report. It was clear, that apprehension remained as to whether new rules were needed.

Further, there was scepticism as to whether technical assistance on capacity building could really materialise given their current experience with technical cooperation.

Equally, on e-commerce, Malaysia disagreed that the application of existing WTO rules and disciplines to e-commerce and extending the customs duties’ moratorium were foregone conclusions.

On anti-dumping, Malaysia questioned the assessment that there was wide support for the initiation of negotiations on anti-dumping. “While it is true that supporters generally envisage work aimed at improving, clarifying and strengthening the rules within the existing framework of the Anti-dumping Agreement, we doubt as to whether there is wide support to initiate negotiations - as improving, clarifying and strengthening the rules can be pursued through various vehicles - either as part of the implementation issues, or some other form.”

A major focus of the preparatory process had been by far, on the socalled new issues of investment and competition, as well as on an issue that evokes controversy i.e. environment, said Malaysia. And the consultations have underscored the fact that many Members continue to have fundamental difficulties in initiating negotiations on these subject matters.

By focussing mainly on the issues that are currently outside the scope of the WTO, Malaysia said, “we create the impression that these are the only main issues that would make or break the Doha Ministerial Conference.”

The preparatory process has elevated them as the key to a successful Conference. Malaysia had misgivings about this approach from the beginning,  but went along with it out of due respect to the Chair and the hope that we could progress further.

“It is abundantly clear that the differences in positions are intractable. Clever drafting cannot resolve fundamental difficulties and this has to be recognised. It has to sink in as well that Members should not hold a workable agenda for the DMC hostage to issues, that aren’t even core WTO business,” Malaysia said.

When differing positions are intractable, trade-offs becomes a moot point. In this respect, Malaysia sincerely believes that many Members have difficulties in trying to grasp the objectives of negotiating on the new issues and more importantly the implications of these negotiations on their countries. These difficulties cannot be taken lightly. The level of comfort is just not there.

“The problem  is that we are up against an ‘all or nothing’ approach to the Ministerial Conference,” Malaysia said. This situation is “no more different then where we were in the run-up to Seattle. We run the risk of a ‘Seattle II’ if we are to continue with the ‘all or nothing’ course of action”.

In summing up the reality, Malaysia noted  the report acknowledged there was no consensus on the launch of a new Round in Doha. WTO members should spare no effort in dealing with the actual problems being faced by the developing countries. Market access for products of interest to them across the agriculture, industrial and services sectors need to be enhanced. The operationalisation of the S&D treatment should no longer be a political slogan but a reality call.  They should agree to work on those issues that, at this stage, seem to have a reasonably good chance for consensus.

This includes tackling the development deficit, negotiations on non-agricultural market access and an enhanced work programme on trade facilitation and e-commerce.

Jamaica’s Amb. Ransford Smith, said the report of the Chair had some important lapses, but recognized the existence of wide divergences. With only three months to go, there was a need to be realistic, and the first order of business for Doha should be to give direction to the ongoing work, especially the built-in agenda and the confidence exercise initiated after Seattle. The Director-General was continuing to speak of the importance of a new Round, but Jamaica was not yet convinced.

“But we see a situation in which time is running out and we may be in danger of repeating recent history, unless we focus on the necessary pre-conditions and what is feasible at this time... the resolution of implementation issues is a necessary pre-condition, and there is very little progress.”

As for an enlarged negotiating agenda, the litmus test should be the existence of a clear mandate, consensus on inclusion and the preparedness of members to accept binding and justiciable obligations.”

Beyond the built-in agenda, many issues fell into the realm of “what is possible” and hence so much of divergences at this late point. “We should admit the reality as quickly as possible, so that a focussed agenda could emerge. The Doha ministerial must also treat the non-negotiation issues fully - those relating to confidence-building, such as issues of transparency, technical assistance, capacity building and treatment of small economies.”

As for the concerns that the WTO might sink into irrelevance (without new negotiations and new issues), while respecting such views, those in Jamaica still struggling to implement the UR agreements, adjust to the economic consequences of well-known panel rulings and awaiting the EU-ACP waiver, the notion of WTO’s actual or potential irrelevance is “more than a bit surprising.”

The EC’s Director-General of Trade, Peter Carl, in pushing for the new issues in a new round,  said Doha would provide an opportunity to see whether the WTO had exhausted its capacity for change, cooperation and international trade-opening and rule-making. From the EC’s own extensive informal consultations with developed and developing countries, there was much support for addressing the new issues of investment and competition in a new round.

The EC welcomed in this connection the continued cooperation with the US in establishing the strategic objectives and for the launch of a new round at Doha.

The EC in effect repeated much of its known positions:

On implementation, some issues could be addressed before Doha, and the EC was willing to address others at Doha. On a wider development agenda, the EC found the declaration of the Zanzibar meeting very persuasive. On market access, the EC would accept market access negotiations in the context of a wider round. On existing rules, the finer points of the WTO rules should be clarified to avoid too much uncertainty in dispute settlement.

The US Deputy Trade Representative, Mr. Peter Allgeir, said it was clear that significant differences remained on key issues.  But the chairman’s report must be used to review positions and arrive at accommodations, and find common ground.

The US was committed to find the common ground. Its close cooperation with the EU to pursue the common objective of launching a new round at Doha had created some anxiety among other countries about attempts to impose a solution on them.  But the US realized that consensus could only be developed by cooperation among all members.

In the areas of non-agricultural market access, services, trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement, the US saw the differences as manageable. On TRIPS and Public Health, the US official envisaged a clear affirmation of the WTO’s “sensitivity” to and “compatibility” with the public health objectives of members.

[In the TRIPS Council discussions, the US has yielded little ground.]

On the Singapore subjects, the clarifications of proponents on investment would enable the US to support a “well-defined, modest negotiating agenda”, with the parameters of such negotiations clearly defined. On competition policy, the US saw some merit in a modest negotiating agenda.

On agriculture, though there was a wide gap on how to frame the mandate, it could be bridged. There should be an ambitious outcome resulting in fundamental agricultural reform.

On implementation, the US was as vague as before, promising to work with countries to generate positive results.

In the US view, given the weakening state of the world economy, commercial and economic aspirations of countries could not be achieved without a new round. In its absence, while some would weather the storm better than others, everyone would be worse off without a round.

NO CONSENSUS FOR EXPANDING NEGOTIATING AGENDA, NOT EVEN ONE MORE SUBJECT

India’s Amb.S.Narayanan, commenting on the overall evaluation in the report said though many delegations, including some developed country delegations, had cautioned about the “serious risks” in viewing the Doha preparatory as one for launching a comprehensive round, the GC chair’s  evaluation inadvertently appeared to underplay the concerns of many developing countries with regard to implementation issues as well as enlargement of the agenda. And, the use of phrases like “many delegations”, “some WTO Members” and “a number of Members” in different places raised some concerns for India “even if there was no intention to prejudice” the position or interests.

As for Harbinson’s view of the situation where the question of launch of a round and the question of its agenda pursue each other, India insisted that it should first be verified whether there was consensus to add one or more subjects to mandated negotiations and mandated reviews.

“As of now, it is clear that there is no consensus in favour of expanding the negotiating agenda; in fact there is no consensus in respect of even one additional subject proposed.”

It would have been appropriate if the references to “calls ...  in various international fora by a range of governments for the launch of a new round in Doha”, had been qualified by the remarks that the international fora were not representative of the broad  membership of the WTO, and  that in many international fora  there has been resistance to the idea of a launch of a round.

Particularly troubling for India was the chairman’s statement, repeated by the Director General, that if there was no enlargement of the agenda, it would be a catastrophe.  India did not share this view.  The mandated negotiations and mandated reviews involved difficult and sensitive subjects.  The chair’s assessment would provide a handle to those powerful Members who argue that “in order that they may implement commitments already undertaken in the area of mandated negotiations in good faith, a large number of developing countries should undertake new commitments in a number of new areas totally ignoring the fact that many developing countries are still groaning under the weight of the Uruguay Round commitments.”

On the comments (from the DG and others) that if a new round of negotiations is not launched at Doha, the multilateral trading system will become irrelevant, India said the WTO Agreement envisaged  the WTO as “a permanent forum” for negotiations among its Members.  India and others  were told during the close of Uruguay Round negotiations that one of the ideas behind establishing WTO as an Organisation was to do away the old approach of “rounds of negotiations” and take up negotiations on subjects as and when they are ripe.

“I do not think that WTO is being well served by those who claim that unless we launch a round of negotiations in every Ministerial Conference, it would become an irrelevant Organisation,” he said.

As for the DG’s view that unless developing countries agreed to a new round of negotiations “they cannot get the existing inequities removed nor ... get improved market access for their agricultural products,” Narayanan said this argument was not particularly convincing. What was being suggested was only launching of negotiations and not completion of negotiations.

It was only the powerful delegations that had “the luxury of saying that they are committed to commencement of negotiations but not their completion.”  The approach suggested by the DG ignored past experience of developing countries, current realities of power equations and obvious future risk. It was a matter of some regret that the Director General who has been a very close observer of the way the implementation issues are handled by major trading partners for nearly two years now, “should be advising developing countries to accept new asymmetries and imbalances in order to remove past asymmetries and imbalances.”

India’s own assessment was that a  new comprehensive round of negotiations, mainly aimed at removing even the limited policy space available to developing countries in areas of crucial development interests to them, would  only result in a net additionality to the existing asymmetries and imbalances of the system.

The meeting for a reality check, for deciding on “what the market can bear”, had regrettably become a discussion on the progress report submitted by the Chairman and the DG.

India’s assessment of today’s reality was that (a) without meaningful results on implementation issues and concerns, Doha Ministerial was unlikely to succeed; (b) there was no great enthusiasm for a comprehensive round involving a wide variety of new subjects as proposed by some major trading partners; in fact there is considerable amount of resistance; (c) the “all or nothing approach” is risky in as much as it is likely to result in “nothing” rather than “all”; (d) it will be a high risk game if the mandate for agriculture negotiations is left to be settled by Ministers at Doha.

As for environment, the Doha meeting should aim for a clear statement by Ministers that there is no inherent policy contradiction between upholding and safeguarding an open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system and acting for the protection of the environment and the promotion of sustainable development.

Earlier, in commenting on the report relating to implementation,  India shared the concerns expressed by Pakistan, Malaysia and Brazil about lack of progress in the area of implementation. The original secretariat document before Seattle had briefly outlined in some 70 pages, 50 papers from a large number of developing countries. These were captured in bullet form in paras 21 and 22 of the Mchumo text.

After Seattle everyone had recognized the need to deal with them meaningfully and satisfactorily. In effect there were detailed proposals listed in 97 tirets.

Of these there were decisions on three of them in December 2000;  and though India had been disappointed in the proposals of the “G-7” (submarine group) paper, yet, it had participated in the consultations. Despite flexibility shown by it, there had been no significant progress. Most of the implementation proposals had been on the t able for nearly 3 years now, and these were to have been addressed and resolved latest by the Doha Ministerial Conference, barely 3-1/2  months away,. Yet, subsequent to December 2000 when  only three decisions were taken, no decision has been taken on any implementation-related proposal; and even subsequent to the “G-7 contribution” there has been no significant change in the attitude of major trading partners. In this background, the chair’s report that the ‘progress’ in achieving concrete results has not been as rapid as might have been hoped is “a gross under-statement.” And linking implementation issues and concerns to ‘to wider negotiations’, would be “tantamount to reneging on May 2000 decision of the General Council, which was a consensus based decision.”

“We are terribly disappointed and distressed about the lack of progress in dealing meaningfully with implementation issues and concerns which have been on the table for a long time now.  Our sense of frustration gets accentuated when we notice that there is reluctance to deal with important areas like textiles, anti dumping etc. with the required degree of political will, even at this late stage.”.

On the Minister’s views and statements (in a possible declaration at Doha), India said that the Ministers reaffirm the fundamental right of all WTO Members to regulate and to introduce new regulations on the supply of services within their territories in order to meet national policy objectives under the GATS, “so that the current doubts in some quarters that the GATS Agreement might have negative implications in certain sensitive areas like health, municipal services and education which are services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority, may be removed once for all.”

On Agriculture, India shared the assessment that the gap between the positions of Members has remained wide and that views at both ends of the spectrum were strongly differentiated. The portion of  Declaration dealing with agriculture should acknowledge the legitimate concerns of developing countries with regard to food security and livelihood security, guarantee real and effective S&D treatment and recognize the inter-linkages among the three pillars of negotiations, namely, domestic support, export competitiveness and market access.

On TRIPS, in India’s view, it was necessary and possible to achieve tangible results at Doha on some of the priority issues, the highest priority issue being TRIPS and Public Health. “We do not and cannot envisage a situation in which TRIPS and Public Health issue is not addressed meaningfully in the Ministerial Declaration.... useful work has been done in the TRIPS Council [and India] looked forward to operational, binding decisions in this area. Also, negotiations in the area of geographical indications must result in extending additional protection to products other than wines and spirits.

On trade and investment, the GC chair’s assessment should have given ‘equal coverage in terms of length’, for the position of those opposed to the negotiations. While the report was ‘factually correct’, there was a hint that a significant number of Members were ready to consider positively negotiations in the context of a declaration with a satisfactory overall balance. However, there was no recognition of the fact that a significant number of Members have serious concerns about negotiating rules in the area of trade and investment.  As regards trade and competition, many developing countries are yet to acquire experience in implementing even national competition rules and, therefore, it was unfair to expect them to agree to deal with this subject  in any multilateral negotiations.

On transparency in government procurement, there were major differences even on some of the basic issues and India did not believe that differences could be narrowed down before Doha.

The assessment on trade facilitation, appeared to pre-judge the outcome of consultations on how this subject should be dealt with in the context of a Ministerial Declaration. It had identified the views of one group on the main elements of trade facilitation negotiating mandates. Though there was a qualifier phrase “if an accommodation can be reached”, in India’s view the report created an impression as if Members were close to reaching an agreement on this subject. In reality, there were “fundamental differences” among Members, going beyond the issues of capacity building and dispute settlement procedures. India and a number of other developing countries have pointed out that there was no point in negotiating new rules in the area of trade facilitation when implementation of some of the important trade facilitation agreements like that on the Rules of Origin was far from satisfactory. Also, other international Organisation, in particular, the World Customs Organisation, have already developed instruments such as the revised Kyoto Convention which addressed most of the trade facilitation elements. It was hence premature to talk about a negotiating mandate.

On the market access negotiations for non-agricultural products, India would like to point out that the report did not do justice to the strong position of many developing countries that addressing tariff peaks and tariff escalation was a “necessary pre-condition” for negotiations in this area.  Also, India was not persuaded that all the details regarding the modalities could be left for future resolution.

On anti-dumping and subsidies, India looked forward to meaningful resolution of these implementation issues. On e-commerce, there had been no discussion since Seattle regarding extension of moratorium on imposition of customs duties. Also, India hoped that the intention of the report about  the application of existing rules and disciplines to e-commerce, was merely to suggest that an updated work programme, and not that existing rules and disciplines apply to e-commerce.

On the S&D issue, there should be a general decision at Doha to make all the existing S&D Provisions binding, and to make at least some of the important ones, like those relating to anti-dumping, operational. Ministers at Doha should also direct initiation of negotiations to arrive at a framework agreement with regard to S&D Provisions. A group of developing countries including India had also forwarded papers on trade and debt, trade and finance and trade and technology transfer, all issues of utmost importance to developing countries, and the group looked forward to early discussions, aimed at establishing a suitable mechanism to address these issues.

EGYPT OPEN TO INVESTMENT TALKS

Magda Shahin, Vice-Minister of Trade of Egypt, cautioned against raising expectations to the level of not being able to deliver. Making Doha a success is “our collective responsibility, though certainly on the basis of the well known principle of shared but differentiated responsibility,”

Egypt she said, was working on several fronts to ensure a successful fourth ministerial, and refered to the COMESA and SADEC meetings in Cairo. A dominant theme of these and other consultations has been the strategic importance of the development needs, whhich from a trade policy perspective, go far beyond capacity-building to implement Uruguay Round commitments. They include liberalization of trade in products of export interest to developing countries, the need to avoid disguised and imaginative types of protectionism through the introduction of new agenda items, and not to press developing countries to liberalise beyond their development capacity.

While trade liberalization could contribute to the process of development, such liberalization must be paced and measured in line and commensurate with the development situation of each country.

On new issues, citing views at an Arab Ministerial meeting, she said, Egypt was ready to look into negotiating a multilateral framework for investment, provided that it is based on the GATS Agreement - principles of progressivity, the right to regulate and flexibility for developing countries.

On transparency in government procurement, Egypt believed that negotiations, if any, should not go beyond that, and the transparency issue should not be brought under the dispute settlement mechanism.

Issues such as trade facilitation, trade and environment, trade and competition, need thorough study and further understanding before they can be brought to the negotiating table.

Egypt also wanted developed countries to be more forthcoming in the services negotiations and make further commitments to liberalise across the board, the movement of natural persons.

On implementation, very little progress had so far been made and Egypt believed that much could be done before and at Doha to bridge the gap and build confidence for future negotiations.

INDONESIA DEEPLY CONCERNED OVER MOVES FOR ‘COMPREHENSIVE ROUND’

In an overall evaluation on the question of the possible enlargement of the negotiating agenda, Indonesian Ambassador, Ms. Halida Miljani, said that in Indonesia’s position was that the issues must be trade-related and represent a balance of interests of all members, in particular the developing countries and the least developed ones.

Indonesia was deeply concerned over the initiative of some members to launch a “comprehensive” round of multilateral trade negotiations, including new issues. Indonesia had learnt a very good lesson from the past experience that a proposal looking fair on the surface may have very different and serious consequences. A full understanding of all factors and implications was needed.

Although the proponents spoke of the promised benefits of having an agreement on new issues, they had failed to inform what the potential costs were. Indonesia did not want an agreement in which costs outweighed the benefits and the obligations undermined its capability to implement.

Any new round of negotiations at Doha, could be launched only after the agenda, representing the balance of interests of all members was agreed by consensus. Indonesia could not agree to launch a new round before agreement on its agenda and its parameter.

Indonesia’s position on the Singapore issues had not also changed. It was not in a position to support the negotiations on trade and investment, trade and competition policy, transparency in government procurement, trade facilitation and trade and environment.

These ossues were either not trade-related and or do not belong to the WTO competence or not ripe for negotiations; nor was Indonesia convinced that the agreement would deliver benefits to it.

On other WTO subjects, Indonesia supported the proposal to improve, clarify and strengthen the existing anti-dumping agreement. It was also for further liberalization of trade in non-agricultural products, where there were still problems of market access because there were a substantial number of tariff barriers and some non-tariff measures affecting international trade, including exports from developing countries. The negotiations in this area must aim at eliminating/reducing tariff peaks and tariff escalation. – 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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