Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb16/03)
18 February 2016
Third World Network
WTO flexibilities for African countries must be preserved
Published in SUNS # 8181 dated 16 February 2016
Geneva, 15 Feb (Kanaga Raja) - The flexibilities in favour of the
African countries and the key principles underpinning the architecture
of the WTO Agreements must be preserved, the African group of countries
at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) told an informal Heads of Delegation
(HOD) meeting last week.
The HOD meeting, convened by WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo
on 10 February, was the first meeting of the full membership since
the conclusion of the Nairobi Ministerial Conference (MC10) last December.
A number of other developing countries, in their interventions at
the HOD meeting to discuss the work going forward post-Nairobi, also
said that the flexibilities that have been inscribed in the texts
over the past 14 years must be preserved.
They also underlined the need to address the remaining Doha Development
Agenda (DDA) issues as a priority and that the development dimension
and special and differential treatment (SDT) are key in moving forward.
Some developing countries also expressed disappointment with the negotiating
process in Nairobi, saying that having five countries making decisions
and the membership being presented (with less than 1-1/2 hours to
digest the draft and decide) at the end (of an extended meeting) with
a more or less take-it-or-leave-it text was not something that was
acceptable (see SUNS #8179 dated 12 February 2016).
In its intervention at the HOD meeting on 10 February, the African
Group, represented by Lesotho, said that it cannot over-emphasise
the need for a candid discussion on the elements inscribed in the
"Any attempt to run over the declaration in overdrive mode would
be a gross miscalculation. More so given that the Nairobi process
was largely left to a few members. A reflection is called for on whether
we will operate on the basis of the need justifying the means in our
Lesotho noted that Members have skimmed over the real challenges they
face without a thorough discussion.
"We may understand the broad contours of Members' concerns but
we have so far not gone deep enough to further understand the specific
challenges or even device means with which we can deal with those
challenges," it said.
It added that what is clear though is that developed members cannot
have it both ways without making a requisite contribution.
These set of Members have maximised the benefits from the WTO agreement
for the past 20 years with a multilateral agreement tilted in their
"It will be unacceptable therefore for these benefits not to
be accounted for in our negotiations," said the African Group.
Concerns by some members seeking to depart from the Doha mandates
must be openly discussed, the African Group added.
One clear standpoint of the African Group in this context is that
the flexibilities in favour of the African countries and the key principles
underpinning the architecture of the WTO agreements must be preserved.
A discussion that "we will engage in is one that preserves the
internationally recognised vulnerabilities and levels of development
of Members. We know the truth behind the WTO negotiated outcomes and
Nairobi was no different. To this end, we must ensure that the design
of the MTS [multilateral trading system] is not left in the hands
of a few members to model it for the majority of Members."
It further emphasised that the architecture of the WTO agreements
must be preserved, adding that the Marrakesh Agreement provides for
clear distinctions along the lines of countries' levels of development.
It is through these distinctions that LDCs and developing African
countries will be integrated into the Multilateral Trading System.
"The Africa Group is therefore of the strong view that the architecture
of the subsisting WTO Agreements should be preserved."
"While it is important to pursue an avenue that will lead us
to a win-win outcome, it is equally important to recognise that we
have an outstanding in-built agenda, say in the area of services and
agriculture," it said.
"We all know that the agreement on Agriculture as it stands today
falls far too short of being characterised as a truly multilateral
agreement both in word and in spirit. This is one area that needs
Lesotho said that it is unacceptable to the African Group for the
progress in the MTS to be based on the domestic process of a few members
who in the final analysis give no meaningful concessions.
"The current phase of the Geneva negotiations should not replicate
the structure of negotiations we have seen in times past. The system
today is generally anchored on negotiations that are considered successful
only if developing countries undertake domestic reforms," it
said, citing Trade Facilitation as one of the recent examples.
"In the final analysis there is no equity and the system turns
into one that grants exceptions to the most economically powerful
Members. Clearly, the next set of steps must ensure equity in the
The African Group said that it will seek well-balanced and properly
sequenced negotiations in Geneva.
Engagement of capitals is heightened to ensure coherence in all areas
and processes that as member states we are involved.
A good example of this is the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda
so critical for the developing world, it added.
Meanwhile, in a separate intervention at the HOD meeting, Uganda,
a member of the LDC group of countries at the WTO, registered its
profound disappointment with the manner in which the negotiations
were conducted in Nairobi.
"We always pride ourselves in the fact that this is a member-driven
Organisation riding on the principles of transparency, inclusiveness
and bottom-up approach. In fact, this is the process we had set up
in Geneva, prior to Nairobi. However, what transpired in Nairobi left
a lot to be desired. Nairobi did not portray our being a member-driven
Organisation. What happened to Nairobi being a Ministerial Conference?"
It said that while the Facilitators on the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration
conducted a transparent and inclusive process, Section III of the
Declaration, which was not under the facilitators' responsibility,
was managed in a very isolationist manner.
Uganda recalled that this was the most critical part of the Declaration
and yet, the vast majority of the membership did not participate in
shaping its outcome.
"We were never consulted. Even when we prompted discussion on
this issue in the bilaterals, we were greeted with silence. We do
not even know who was consulted," it complained.
"This attitude should stop. It cannot become the norm that we
all surrender our sovereign right either to the Secretariat, or to
a handful of handpicked delegations to decide on our behalf. Our Ministers
were relegated to coffee cup bearers instead of negotiating their
trading rights. This Organisation is made up of 164 Members and we
all have a stake in this Organisation."
Uganda further recalled that the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 codified
the principle of the sovereign equality of states, and that this principle
has been carried forward in all conventions and treaties that form
the bedrock of international relations.
Uganda therefore rejected any artificial and isolationist tendencies
not grounded in public international law, engineered to deprive states
of their inalienable rights of representation.
It called upon Director-General Azevedo and all the members to ensure
that this cardinal principle is promoted, protected and respected
at all times.
Uganda also suggested that the idea of sending "half-baked documents"
to a Ministerial Conference should not be allowed to happen again.
Like the practice in other Organizations of similar standing, documents
submitted to the Ministerial Conference should simply be for adoption.
"Nairobi would never have happened in the past."
It noted that Bali (venue of MC9 in 2013) was so much different. LDC
issues were closed in Geneva; as for the Trade Facilitation Agreement
(TFA), "we could identify landing zones in the draft agreement,
all that remained was a political decision."
On the other hand, Nairobi was neither here nor there, Uganda said.
It was of the firm belief that any documentation for submission to
a Ministerial Conference should be basically for adoption.
In the unlikely event that this is not the case, then the exception
should be for a simple question of 'yes' or 'no'.
"And all of us must procedurally agree, by consensus, whether
to submit such unfinished documents or not."
On the substance, Uganda was of the view that work should start immediately
on the remaining issues of the DDA towards its conclusion with development
at the centre.
"We should take lessons from the past. We have increasingly come
to the conclusion that whenever members choose to be creative in interpretation
of text, we end up losing time like we did in the Post-Bali Phase."
In its reading of Paragraphs 30-31 of the Declaration, the mere expression
of divergent views on the DDA does not mean its death.
"By way of example; the mere expressions of marital discontent
in public, by a spouse engaged in, inter alia, extra territorial activity,
does not necessarily mean the dissolution of the marriage. It may
lead to, but it is not, a divorce."
[Para 30 of the Declaration states: "We recognize that many Members
reaffirm the Doha Development Agenda, and the Declarations and Decisions
adopted at Doha and at the Ministerial Conferences held since then,
and reaffirm their full commitment to conclude the DDA on that basis.
Other Members do not reaffirm the Doha mandates, as they believe new
approaches are necessary to achieve meaningful outcomes in multilateral
negotiations. Members have different views on how to address the negotiations.
We acknowledge the strong legal structure of this Organization."
[Para 31 states: "Nevertheless, there remains a strong commitment
of all Members to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues.
This includes advancing work in all three pillars of agriculture,
namely domestic support, market access and export
competition, as well as non-agriculture market access, services, development,
TRIPS and rules. Work on all the Ministerial Decisions adopted in
Part II of this Declaration will remain an important element of our
In its statement, Uganda was therefore encouraged by the resolve of
Ministers for members to advance negotiations.
"This does not mean re-writing history, whether contemporary
or ancient in the context of the WTO. It simply means that we soldier
Towards that end, Uganda said that it would like to reaffirm the Doha
Development Agenda and its entire architecture.
"We call for the preservation of all flexibilities for LDCs and
developing countries as enshrined in DMD (Doha Ministerial Declaration)
and all Ministerial Decisions and Declarations adopted thereafter."
It committed to work with its colleagues the members to find ways
to advance these negotiations in line with Para 33 of the Nairobi
[Para 33 states: "Mindful of this situation and given our common
resolve to have this meeting in Nairobi, our first Ministerial Conference
in Africa, play a pivotal role in efforts to preserve and further
strengthen the negotiating function of the WTO, we therefore agree
that officials should work to find ways to advance negotiations and
request the Director-General to report regularly to the General Council
on these efforts."]
On the new issues, Uganda said that Para 1 (g) of the July framework
is very clear. "Which is why we must make haste and conclude
the Doha Work Program so as to afford us ample opportunity to treat
any new elements as members may want us to."
[Para 1 (g) of the July 2004 framework states: "Trade Facilitation:
taking note of the work done on trade facilitation by the Council
for Trade in Goods under the mandate in paragraph 27 of the Doha Ministerial
Declaration and the work carried out under the auspices of the General
Council both prior to the Fifth Ministerial Conference and after its
conclusion, the General Council decides by explicit consensus to commence
negotiations on the basis of the modalities set out in Annex D to
[Relationship between Trade and Investment, Interaction between Trade
and Competition Policy and Transparency in Government Procurement:
the Council agrees that these issues, mentioned in the Doha Ministerial
Declaration in paragraphs 20-22, 23-25 and 26 respectively, will not
form part of the Work Programme set out in that Declaration and therefore
no work towards negotiations on any of these issues will take place
within the WTO during the Doha Round.]
Uganda urged all members to engage in good faith. "To uphold
and implement what we have already agreed. We stand on the shoulders
of two particular paragraphs, namely: para 24 and Para 5, especially
Para 5, where Ministers agreed to strengthen the multilateral trading
system so that it provides a strong impetus to INCLUSIVE PROSPERITY
and WELFARE for ALL MEMBERS and respond to THE SPECIFIC DEVELOPMENT
NEEDS of developing country Members, in particular the LEAST-DEVELOPED
COUNTRY MEMBERS," it said.
In its intervention at the HOD meeting, South Africa said it was pleased
that the first ministerial conference in Africa delivered agreed outcomes
both in terms of a Nairobi Ministerial Declaration and an agreement
on new disciplines on export competition.
"This was testimony to the determination of members to deliver
an outcome in Nairobi; nevertheless, while we agreed on these important
matters we also need to recognise the divergences amongst members
on many other important issues," it said.
"We were not able to agree on an outcome on Special and Differential
Treatment (S&DT), nor were we able to deliver an outcome on fisheries,
which are important to a large number of developing country Members.
Other important divergences include views on the future of the DDA,
on how to deal with new approaches and whether, and how to consider
All these issues are left open in the Ministerial Declaration and
"our challenge is whether we can find a way to move forward together
multilaterally," it said.
South Africa further said that there is need to implement the results
of MC10, i.e. new export competition disciplines - this is important
for the credibility of the multilateral trading system.
The Ministerial Declaration gives a particular profile to public stockholding
(to be addressed in an accelerated and stand-alone manner) and to
work on SSM (in the context of addressing all outstanding agricultural
"Work will need to be initiated on these issues," it said.
The Ministerial Declaration also proposes that priority be given to
the remaining negotiating issues including agriculture, NAMA, services,
development, TRIPS and rules.
"Given different perspectives in this, we need a period of careful
reflection to build a shared view on how to advance negotiations and
on what issues we should do so."
According to South Africa, this period of careful reflection should
consider the following elements:
* That negotiations need to be relevant to historic and current challenges
and policy requirements;
* That existing mandates are known and supported by many - these cannot
* That we need to review, build on, and adjust, what is already in
* In our view, it is clear that new approaches and issues are as yet
undefined, so, it is the responsibility of proponents to identify
and make proposals on these for members to consider;
* While the single undertaking principle includes possibilities for
early harvest, we cannot assume an issue-by- issue approach will work
on other issues: the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and export
competition had particular characteristics that may be difficult to
replicate in other issues.
On new issues, South Africa said that it is too early to focus on
these as unfinished Doha issues are given priority in the Ministerial
Nevertheless, this work presumes an identification of issues, a preparatory
stage to explore parameters and elements, before there is an attempt
to obtain agreement to launch negotiations, said South Africa.
It said that it remains committed to working constructively with members
to find a way forward, particularly on issues that are central to
the developmental mandate that launched these negotiations.