Developing countries still short-changed at WTO

Posted on Friday, December 2nd, 2011 by Alu, Kinsley (Leadership, Abuja) in News

Developing countries, particularly from Africa, are concerned about attempts by industrialised nations to change the negotiating dynamic of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

They are worried that developed countries want to introduce new issues at the multilateral body’s eighth ministerial meeting later this year without first completing the unfinished Doha agreement.

The Doha Development Agenda (DDA) trade negotiations, launched in 2001, were meant to correct the historical imbalances and asymmetries in the global trading system and were designed to enable poorer countries to integrate into the system.

But industrialised countries are insisting on negotiating new controversial issues like investment, competition policy, energy security and climate change, often referred to as 21st century issues, without concluding the old issues of duty-free and quota-free market access. The WTO eighth ministerial meeting will take place from December 15 to 17 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Over the last few weeks, developed countries from North America and Europe launched a campaign to alter the WTO’s negotiating framework from a multilateral format, where all members have a say in an agreement, to a plurilateral one, which would restrict participation to selected countries.

The developed countries are arguing that “the business as usual approach” involving every member at the WTO would not work.

The discontent comes at a time when WTO Director-General, Pascal Lamy, wants the theme of the upcoming ministerial meeting to be “WTO: The Institution That Delivers.” However, trade officials from developing countries are questioning whether the organisation and its powerful drivers have actually delivered on the promises made in the DDA.

“What is the point in embarking on 21st century issues without first concluding the negotiations of the 20th century issues that are relevant to the poorest countries in Africa and elsewhere?” the Mauritian trade envoy to the WTO, Ambassador Shree Baboo Chekitan Servansing, is understood to have asked the chair for the WTO’s General Council, Ambassador Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria, during an informal consultation. Agah is overseeing the preparations for the eighth ministerial meeting.

Developed countries, however, are not convinced. In a confidential letter written to many trade ministers, Australia’s Minister of Trade, Craig Emerson, fired the first salvo by calling for a “new pathway to global trade liberalisation” prior to next month’s G20 meeting in Cannes, France. The G20 is a group of the world’s most powerful countries.

While the letter speaks of some concessions for the poorest countries, the thrust of the document is on bringing new issues and new approaches that are “antithetical” to the multilateral negotiating principles underlying the 153-member WTO.

Emerson said in his letter: “The Doha agenda is large and complex, with many entanglements between issues, making it impractical to achieve progress. But some parts of the Doha (agreement) may be more easily resolved and we should be permitted to advance those issues.”

Referring to new issues such as competition policy, investment, climate change and energy security, the Australian trade minister urged his colleagues to contemplate agreement on the negotiation of identified issues beyond the existing Doha mandate, adding that this would offer a mechanism to modernise the WTO’s work and to ensure it kept pace with the demands of the modern global economy.

Though African and other countries oppose the Australian approach, developed countries have solidly supported the move.


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