TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec11/01)
17 December 2011
Third World Network

Developing countries stress multilateralism and development dimension

Geneva, 16 Dec (Ranja Sengupta) – The 8th Ministerial of the World Trade Organisation which began today saw more than 100 developing and least developed countries (LDCs) come out with strong statement that reiterated their commitment to the Doha Development Agenda based on its core principles of “the development mandate, single undertaking, decision based on multilateral consensus and progress made and a bottom up approach that is inclusive and transparent”.

The group in a ministerial declaration entitled ‘Friends of Development’ highlighted the need for following due process for ensuring “inclusiveness, transparency and multilateral consensus based decision making” (para 7).

The declaration was supported by Ministers of the African Union, the African Caribbean Pacific Group, the LDCs, the Small and Vulnerable Economies, Argentina, Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela most of whom addressed delegations, press and NGOs yesterday morning. Before presenting the declaration, the Chair (Kenya) highlighted the current context and the bigger challenge facing the group today. He emphasised that the main concern of the group over the past ten years continued to be poverty, rising unemployment, recession, climate change and other factors.

The group , in para 2 of the declaration, said that “we are willing to look at different approaches that are constructive to resolving the impasse. However, we do not support the adoption of a plurilateral approach to concluding the Round or parts of it, because it goes against the principles of multilateralism and inclusiveness.”

The LDC package was another of the thrust areas and the declaration asked that in their efforts to reach provisional or definitive agreements based on consensus, members must give first priority to issues of interest for LDCs. The full implementation of Decision 36 of Annex F of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration, Cotton, Special and Differential Treatment (S&DT), monitoring mechanism, implementation issues and several concerns related to agriculture. The Group also emphasised the role of the Trade and Development Committee and asked that it be strengthened so that it can conduct a review of the S&D provisions in the WTO agreements from a development perspective.

An issue that has come up in the Ministerial is the ‘rise of protectionism’ in the wake of the economic crisis, with some members asking for limits to be imposed even on the use of currently available instruments of protection such as raising applied tariffs to the bound rate which is allowed by the WTO. The declaration made a commitment to resist the rise of protectionism in all forms but only on the condition that “there is full recognition of a Member’s ability to use WTO consistent measures to achieve its legitimate objectives of growth, development and stability” (Para 8). This clearly reiterates the rights of developing countries to protect themselves in WTO-consistent ways.

Welcoming the new accessions of Vanuatu, Russian Federation, Samoa and Montenegro, the group also welcomed the decision to evolve benchmarks for the accession of LDCs and urged WTO members to commit themselves to the spirit of the decision.

Ministers from the various countries and blocs who spoke echoed the sentiment expressed in the declaration. The Chair urged members to not look at the current Ministerial as ‘business as usual” as circumstances in the global economy were very severe.

The Brazilian Ambassador supported the statement.

South African Minister of Trade, Rob Davies, said that the adoption of this Declaration shows that the vast majority of WTO members (more than 100 countries) have stated that the way forward is to remain focused on the development mandate and seek a development outcome and retain the policy space that they have fought for, consistent with WTO rules. Minister Davies said the 100+ countries were calling on the rest of the WTO membership to take very seriously what they were saying. The Minister concluded that “We are not the blockage, we are the life force and the way forward …. Someone else is the blockage and the cause of the impasse we are facing today”.

China said that the interests of developing countries needed to be safeguarded and continuous efforts were needed to realise the development dimension of the Doha Round.

India’s Minister of Commerce and Industry reflected the feelings expressed by his fellow speakers. He said it is imperative that they reaffirm with clarity to take the DDA and its core principles forward. While the group recognises the various approaches to new issues, he stressed that multilateralism is the only way which is balanced and also addresses the historical distortions. This round has taken so much of human, physical, financial resources, and so much work has gone into making it a successful development round, that the centrality of the development dimension cannot be undermined and that is the only way forward.

Bangadesh on behalf of the LDC Group also echoed that sentiment and said that development must be at the core of the DDA.

The ACP Coordinator said that the “friends of development group” is not only a powerful group in terms of numerical strength, it is also a group that has a powerful voice supporting development.

Egypt commended the statement and said it should be put into action by all. It said that after 10 years of negotiations, years that have seen different types of crisis, there is the need to give clear indications that without a sustainable, development outcome the world will still be worse off. This message is important to send out as otherwise the issues of development, jobs and participation will be eroding.

In a separate Communication, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela noted that “increasingly sophisticated methods are used to prevent the participation of all Members and to give the appearance of an inclusive and consensual process.” Referring to the Political Guidance document the statement pointed out that ‘just a day before the formal meeting of the General Council of 30 November 2011, the unchangeable results of a consultation process conducted in small groups were presented; unchangeable because, according to those responsible, they reflected a delicate balance and could therefore only be made available for other Members' information” (Para 2).

The Communication stated that ‘In practice, the WTO has become an organization that is not led by its Members, in which decision-making based on facts is not governed by consensus, and negotiating meetings are not open to participation by all Members.’

The Communication made it clear ‘that all work at the Eighth Ministerial Conference and from 2012 onwards must be open to the participation of all Members, and it cannot be assumed, in any circumstances, that one or more Members represent others. Moreover, any document resulting from consultations conducted in small groups should be considered as another contribution, subject to amendment by any of the Members.’

The Communication criticises the report by the Chairman of the General Council (Elements for Political Guidance) as containing ‘elements that intentionally underline the fundamental principles of the Doha Ministerial Declaration; it deliberately fails to identify the causes of the impasse in the Round, and fails to point out the lack of political will to overcome them.’ After listing specific concerns on the Elements of Political Guidance, the Communication concluded that ‘We reaffirm the crucial importance of the development dimension in all WTO work and the importance of continuing the Doha Development Round. . . To this end, it is essential to preserve multilateralism and the single undertaking, without the inclusion of new topics, plurilateral initiatives or reinterpretations of the mandate of the “Doha Development Agenda”’.

The countries making this Communication then stated that these Elements for Political Guidance represent only the opinion of some Members and they therefore disassociated themselves from the consensus. They declared that they consider the Elements for Political Guidance document to be void of any legally binding effect on WTO Members, since it has been presented under the sole responsibility of the Chairman of the General Council.+