WTO and the Singapore Issues
A feature of the World Trade Organization (WTO) during its first ten years has been the impact of the so-called Singapore issues of investment, competition, government procurement and trade facilitation. The name association arises because WTO Members decided at the 1996 Singapore Ministerial Conference to set up three new working groups on trade and investment, trade and competition policy, and transparency in government procurement. They also instructed the WTO Council for Trade in Goods to look at possible ways of simplifying trade procedures, or, as it became known, ‘trade facilitation’. These four issues were also included on the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), with negotiations to start after the 2003 Cancun Ministerial Conference, ‘on the basis of a decision to be taken, by explicit consensus, at that session on modalities of negotiations’. However, following the infamous ‘train wreck’ of Cancun, a wreck induced in part by the acrimonious debate on the same Singapore issues, WTO Members agreed on 1 August 2004 (the so-called July Framework) to proceed with negotiations in only one Singapore Issue, trade facilitation. The other three were dropped from the DDA. Thus, the impact of the Singapore Issues has been not through negotiating new disciplines per se, but rather due to their pivotal role in contributing to the failure of recent Ministerial conferences in the WTO.
The objective of this paper is to review the issues in the context of the WTO and assess to what extent they legitimately belong in this WTO forum, or alternatively, to what extent they belong within regional and bilateral agreements and how they may be treated within these types of agreements. An essential question related to the latter is the extent to which the EU and the US in particular are attempting to re-introduce these Singapore issues ‘through the back door’ of African bilateral and regional trade agreements where they are perceived to have a more asymmetrical negotiating position than in the WTO.
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