TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb16/06)
24 February 2016
Third World Network

WTO Members must reassert development mandate, say CSOs
Published in SUNS #8187 dated 24 February 2016

Geneva, 23 Feb (Kanaga Raja) -- A host of civil society organisations including trade unions, environmentalists, farmers, and public interest groups has called on WTO Members to use the opportunity of the General Council meeting on Wednesday to reassert, and accept, the importance of the development mandate in future WTO negotiations.

In a letter addressed to the WTO Members, the groups expect that developing countries will again strongly reassert their understanding of the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration at the General Council meeting and to uphold the development mandate - and not so-called "new issues"- as the core agenda of any future negotiations within the WTO.

"We call on developed country members and others pushing the ‘new issues' agenda to put aside specious claims that ‘Doha did not deliver' and instead, to actually deliver on the promises included in the development mandate," they said.

The CSO letter was signed by international organisations such as the ACP Civil Society Forum, ActionAid International, Friends of the Earth International, LDC Watch and the Pacific Network on Globalization, as well as a number of national organisations and networks.

In their letter, the CSOs said that they have persistently challenged the existing rules of the WTO that are incompatible with people-centered development.

"Many of us were in Nairobi seeking to forestall efforts by some developed countries to abandon the so-called ‘Doha development agenda' to be able to replace it with new negotiations of a set of ‘new issues', that would impact deeply on domestic economies and constrain national policy space required for development and the public interest."

For civil society as well as according to the demands of the majority of the membership, the WTO membership had agreed to strengthening Special and Differential Treatment for all developing countries.

According to the letter, this includes removing WTO obstacles to food security, including through removing WTO obstacles to public stockholding for food security and developing a concrete and workable Special Safeguard Mechanism.

"In contrast, the abandonment of the development mandate would lock out the potential to fulfill this mandate in the future, thus locking the world further into the existing inequalities and imbalances forever."

In terms of process, the CSOs said they were shocked to witness how the majority of WTO members were kept out of the discussions on core elements of the agriculture negotiations and the contentious issues under the Ministerial Declaration.

"The lack of transparency, participation and inclusiveness in the Nairobi Ministerial Conference contradicts the WTO's claim to be a member-driven and rules-based institution and to operate by consensus," they said.

Developed countries have been quick to promote their interpretation of the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration through the media, proclaiming the "death of Doha" and the "birth of new WTO" and pointing to the potential for "new approaches" and "new issues" at the WTO.

"As global observers to the WTO negotiations, we disagree with this assessment. We have heard developing countries repeatedly and continuously reiterating their position calling for the reaffirmation of the Doha Mandate, both throughout the process in Geneva and in the Nairobi Ministerial Conference, as well as opposing the expansion of the WTO's agenda without first addressing its worst flaws and asymmetries."

The CSOs underlined that a handful of WTO Members succeeded in inserting a reference to "other issues for negotiations" under the Ministerial Declaration.

They noted that at the World Economic Forum, a few countries set forth a list of some of these issues.

This list includes issues that many developing countries, and civil society around the world, have rejected to negotiate in the WTO as well as in bilateral or plurilateral so-called free trade agreements (FTAs).

"It is outrageous to think of allowing such ejected topics back into the WTO," they said.

It is important to underline that under Article III. 2 of the Agreement Establishing the WTO, "further negotiations" may take place among Members "concerning their multilateral trade relations."

Much of this long list of "new issues" proposed by a few members such as investment would not fall within the boundaries of this mandate, the CSO letter emphasised. +