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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb08/20)

25 February 2008


Trade unions voice opposition to WTO's revised NAMA text


Published in SUNS #6420dated 22 February 2008

By Kanaga Raja, Geneva, 21 Feb 2008

Trade unions from the NAMA-11 developing countries, as well as those from Latin America and the Caribbean have voiced criticism over the revised NAMA text that was issued on 8 February by the Chair of the non-agricultural market access (NAMA) negotiations, Ambassador Don Stephenson of Canada.

Their opposition to the revised draft NAMA negotiating text came just as the NAMA Negotiating Group held an informal meeting on Wednesday afternoon for members to provide their initial reactions to the revised draft text (see separate article).

A statement endorsed by the NAMA-11 trade unions from South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, India, the Philippines, Indonesia and Tunisia said amongst others that the range of coefficients in the Swiss formula proposed by Chairman Stephenson for developing countries (between 19 and 23) is far too low and unacceptable.

These cannot constitute the basis for further negotiations, the NAMA-11 trade unions declared.

A separate statement voicing similar criticism was issued by Latin American and Caribbean trade unions. It was endorsed by two international federations, 18 national federations and six regional federations from Latin America.

Both the NAMA-11 and Latin American and Caribbean trade union statements were delivered to the NAMA-11 negotiators on 19 February.

In their statement, the NAMA-11 trade unions said that like in the July 2007 draft text, they considered the proposed range of coefficients in the Swiss formula for developing countries of between 19 and 23 "far too low and unacceptable". These cannot constitute the basis for further negotiations.

First of all, "these coefficients will lead to cuts in applied rates in our countries and will thus affect employment. Secondly, they will lead to low bound rates across the board and thus hamper industrialization processes in our countries."

Thirdly, said the statement, the reductions that developing countries are asked to make are much higher than that for the developed country reductions. Fourthly, the reduction that developing countries have to make in NAMA are much higher than in Agriculture.

Noting that their governments had indicated in July that this range is not acceptable, the NAMA-11 trade unions said that in the new text, the same range is again included. "The positions of our countries therefore do not seem to be taken into account."

While welcoming the fact that the amount of flexibilities is left open, the NAMA-11 trade unions stressed that these flexibilities need to be much higher than the flexibilities proposed in the July draft (that is, higher than 5% and 10%), to enable developing countries to shield labour-intensive industries.

Developing countries should also have the possibility to alter these flexibilities (the tariff lines chosen) over time as developmental needs will change over time.

The trade unions continued to support the NAMA-11 position of at least a 25-point difference in the coefficients between developed and developing countries and the need for more flexibilities for the NAMA-11 countries.

"At the same time, we strongly call upon our governments to reinforce the NAMA-11 group, to keep unity within the group, to strengthen links with other developing country groupings, and to keep with the strong NAMA-11 position that was taken in July 2007."

The NAMA-11 trade unions called upon their governments to clearly identify the tariff lines and sectors that need additional flexibilities due to their labour intensity. Competition and unemployment are already too high to further compromise the position of workers through high tariff cuts in NAMA, they added.

They also called upon all negotiators to find balance in the NAMA negotiations that is fair, in line with the mandate, and that would not put developing countries further into unemployment and social disruption, while taking away future prospects for development.

"We cannot accept an outcome that puts the full burden of adjustment on the developing countries."

In their separate statement, the Latin American and Caribbean trade unions said that if the ministers of their countries were to approve the new text, "it would mean a true step backwards in the process to achieve sustainable development and thus guarantee decent work and respect for workers' fundamental rights."

They also said that the range of coefficients in the Swiss formula for developing countries, of between 19 and 23, "is not acceptable", arguing amongst others that it will not only lead to significantly low bound rates across the board in their countries but also reduce the important policy space needed to build and diversify their industries in the future.

The Latin American and Caribbean trade unions supported the NAMA-11 position regarding the need to have at least a 25-point difference in the coefficients between developed and developing countries.

They called upon their governments that are not part of the NAMA-11 group to adopt similar positions with regard to coefficients and flexibilities in the current stage of negotiations.

The Latin American and Caribbean trade unions also reiterated the recommendation of the International Trade Union Confederation to urge Labour Ministers to request a joint ILO-WTO effort aimed at conducting a deep ex-ante analysis of the consequences of the Doha Round-driven trade liberalisation on decent work and sustainable development.

They called upon their governments not to accept the current NAMA modalities text. + 

 


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