Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Where are the Singapore Issues?

Trade Reports

Where are the Singapore Issues?

Where are the Singapore Issues?

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The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Members decided at the 1996 Singapore Ministerial Conference to set up three new working groups on trade and investment, 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 as, ‘trade facilitation’. These four issues collectively became known as ‘the Singapore Issues’. They were subsequently 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’.

The basic problem for the WTO was that these negotiations would only proceed following a clear consensus decision to do so, and this was especially crucial for competition policies and investment as the WTO already had an Agreement on Government Procurement. Were Singapore Issues a bridge too far? Yes they were, and the outcome from Cancun was that talks collapsed with the three Singapore Issues of investment, competition policies and procurement shouldering a significant and possibly unfair portion of the blame. Trade facilitation did however find common ground. 

In some respects, for Africa the international conflict of Cancun continues. Even though the arena has shifted the developing countries still see these issues through the prism of exporting countries that are trying to force open markets of the poorer importing countries, thus attempting to ensure economic development in their nations at the expense of the developing countries’ policy space. The extent to which ‘ex-Singapore issues’ are being introduced into the African and other regions through bilateral and regional agreements negotiated with the EU and the US as the dominant economies becomes an important one, and in general the EU seems to be pursuing them with some vigour and rigour while the US is adopting a more benign approach.

This paper focuses on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for developments in investment, competition policy and procurement, because we believe it is both the most advanced of the mega-regionals in its negotiations (because of the economic and development status diversity of its members) and because its potential outcome holds the most interest and important lessons for South Africa and its regional negotiations. Developments in the WTO trade facilitation package negotiations and the implications for Africa are also considered.

Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.


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