Union ministers of trade, meeting in Mauritius, have re-affirmed
the longstanding position of African countries that the forthcoming
Cancun Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO)
should focus on addressing their developmental concerns in the existing
agreements, instead of starting negotiations for new agreements,
particularly on the so-called Singapore issues – i.e. of investment,
competition, government procurement and trade facilitation.
a declaration adopted unanimously in Grand Baie, Mauritius, on Friday
20th June, Ministers noted that "WTO members do not have a
common understanding on how [the Singapore issues] should be dealt
with procedurally and substantively." And, "taking into
account the potential serious implications of these issues on our
economies", they called "for further clarification on
these issues to continue."
the same time, the Ministers focused attention on the missed deadlines
in the current negotiations on issues such as agriculture, TRIPS
and public health, special and differential treatment and implementation-related
issues. Expressing concern at this evidence of general lack of progress
on the issues of critical concern to their countries, they challenged
the members of the WTO to "inject momentum into the negotiations
on these issues in order to ensure that the Cancun WTO Ministerial
yields positive results for African countries and makes the Doha
Work Programme a truly 'Development Agenda'."
declaration invoked the outcomes of earlier meetings involving African
ministers such as the COMESA meeting in Nairobi, SADC in Lusaka,
and the LDCs in Dhaka. It was adopted with little drama and no fuss,
in an efficient display of unity of purpose and will. This was at
the end of a day of deliberations in which a diverse range of speakers
–- Ministers, representatives of sister groupings like the
ACP group of countries, as well as African civil society organisations
-- all urged unity around a common African position as necessary
to ensure that the core concerns of Africa prevailed in Geneva and
Cancun, whatever pressures are brought to bear on these countries.
from their position on the new issues, the Declaration contained
specific positions in all the major areas of the on-going work in
the WTO, including agriculture, services, industrial tariff, TRIPS,
special and differential treatment, capacity building, and the lack
of transparency and inclusiveness in WTO processes.
Ministers stated that agriculture was of critical importance to
Africa's development, with the potential to "lift millions
of our people" out of poverty. They added that progress in
the agricultural negotiations was essential for the successful conclusion
of the Doha work-programme, and strongly urged members to fulfill
their Doha commitments. Ministers also noted the need for African
countries to continue to enjoy agricultural trade preferences, calling
for action to address the erosion of these preferences. Finally,
they called for LDCs to be exempt from any obligations to reduce
relation to services, the Declaration charged the Services Council
(of the WTO) with failure to satisfy the requirement in the General
Agreement in Trade in Services (GATS) to carry out an assessment
of trade in services. Furthermore, in a clear reference to the pressures
from developed countries to liberalise their service sector against
their will, the Ministers called for due respect for their rights
to regulate trade in services and liberalise according to their
national policy objectives. At the same time they emphasised the
respect to the principle of progressive liberalisation subject to
the principle of flexibility, as well as the need to promote and
facilitate the participation of African countries in international
trade in services. Developed countries only should therefore liberalise
their sectors and modes that are of export interest to African countries.
the Doha mandate regarding measures to enable countries which lack
manufacturing capacity to access medicine for public health, the
Ministers re-stated their support for their compromise deal reached
in December last year, and wrecked by the United States. This deal,
they added, still remains a means for members to fulfill their obligations
as required by the Doha declaration.
industrial tariffs, the Ministers stated the objectives of the negotiations
as being to facilitate the development and industrialisation of
African countries. These must be reflected in the modalities and
actual negotiations by addressing tariff peaks and escalations,
and take fully into account the special needs and interests of developing
and least-developed countries. This required, among others, fulfillment
of the principles of special and differential treatment, as well
as the principle that developing and least developed countries must
not make full reciprocal commitments to reduce their tariffs.
Declaration welcomed proposals to exempt LDCs from making fully
reciprocal commitments, and the proposed studies on tariff liberalisation
on LDCs. While cognisant of the special situation of LDCs, it calls
for the studies to be extended to other African countries, and should
take into account the effects of previous liberalisation measures
undertaken by these countries as well as the potential impact of
any proposed modalities for liberalisation. The Ministers also expressed
deep concern that the proposed modalities for liberalisation do
not take into account the vulnerabilities of African industries,
especially in clothing, fisheries and textile sectors, as well concern
of African countries over the erosion of their trade preferences.
They called for appropriate modalities to address these concerns.
special and differential treatment, the declaration re-iterated
Africa's oft-stated demand that all S&D provisions in the WTO
agreements be reviewed with a view to strengthen them and make them
more precise, effective, binding and operational. As on
issues, Ministers called for urgent need to complete work in this
regard, as a matter of priority before Cancun.
another declaration on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs),
Ministers affirmed the importance of consistency between these negotiations
and the aims and objectives as set out in the Constitutive Act of
the African Union, with the various regional economic groups as
the building blocs of African integration. The EPA declaration also
emphasised the importance of the unity and solidarity of the ACP
group as necessary for the EPA negotiations.
clear reference to the pressures by the European Union to rush the
process of negotiations and fragment the collective ACP strategy,
the Declaration on the EPAs emphasised the "importance of phase
I of the negotiations in which ACP groups as a whole negotiated
the applicable principles, as a foundation and framework to phase
II of the negotiations, during which groups of countries are expected
to set out to negotiate free trade agreements with the EU. It also
urged the ACP and EU to address all outstanding issues under the
phase I negotiations.
declarations were adopted following focused deliberations on the
measures needed by Africa to ensure that its interests prevailed
in the face of stark balance sheet of the disappointed hopes of
Doha. In his welcome address to the Ministers, Honourable J Cuttaree,
Minister of Industry and International Trade of the Republic of
Mauritius asked Ministers to draw their strength and decision of
purpose from their unity in order for Africa's pressing concerns
over the core issues of the Doha agenda to be recognised in Geneva
reminded ministers that nineteen months after the hope and optimism
evoked with the launch at Doha of trade negotiations under the "title
of Development Round", the development agenda is stranded in
missed deadlines. The negotiations have failed to yield "balanced
outcomes in which the interests of all, particularly those who are
in most need are truly attended".
stated that "had the WTO been effective in finding expeditious
solutions to the problems of TRIPS and Public Health, we should
have seen an improvement for millions of people in Africa who are
suffering from deadly diseases".
have African countries had any comfort "on their basic concerns
in the areas of special and differential treatment, agriculture,
pointed to the double standards at play in the area of industrial
tariffs. Here, proposals to drastically cut and eliminate tariffs,
which African countries have already declared a recipe for disaster,
are being pursued by countries that had themselves used this instrument
in the early stage of their industrialisation process. "Having
used the ladder for so long, it is not fair that they should kick
the ladder off to the detriment of our countries".
a similar vein, Ambassador Vijay Makhan, Interim African Union Commissioner,
cautioned that while trade is important Ministers need to beware
of those who sing the praise and play the tune of unbridles trade
liberalisation. He reminded them of the case of the former UK trade
minister, Stephen Byers who, while in government promoted trade
liberalisation as panacea to problems of development, only to confess
once outside government, that his optimism had not been borne out
in practice. Makhan argued that a "conducive international
trading environment is as important, if not more important, than
efforts at national level to make trade an effective instrument
for development". This requires action on the imbalances and
inequities of the international trading system, such as the persistent
deterioration in the terms of trade for primary commodities, tariff
peaks and escalation, the asymmetry in the treatment of capital
and labour in the area of services, as well agricultural subsidies
in developed countries which are daily destroying the livelihood
of African farmers.
to the failures in the Doha agenda to address these problems, Makhan
said that this created a situation where "once again pressure
will be brought to bear on us to compromise on our stand so that
Cancun can be a success. This cannot and should not be allowed to
her part, Adelaide Mkhonza, Assistant Secretary-General of the African,
Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries stated that the glimmer of
hope contained in the Doha development agenda for ACP and other
developing countries to rebalance the rules of the WTO has been
undermined by a stalled process. The missed deadlines are set to
over-load and stretch the agenda to the detriment of countries with
limited resources. The African Union provided a foundation of collective
action of African countries, together with other countries of the
ACP group, for the necessary action to redress these imbalances.
civil society organisations, who for the first time were allowed
to meet under the auspices of the conference and to address the
Ministers, underscored their support for the collective effort of
the Ministers for international trade rules which reflected the
needs and interests of the people of Africa.
their statement, presented on their behalf by Jane Ocaya-Irama of
Uganda, the civil society organisations called on the Ministers
to focus on addressing the inequities of the existing agreements
of the WTO, and reject any attempt to launch negotiations on the
Singapore issues in Cancun. They made detailed recommendations for
redress of imbalances in areas such agriculture, TRIPS, services,
addition they drew attention to the undemocratic, and untransparent
processes of the WTO, and called for the elimination of such abusive
practices such as exclusive informal meeting, mini-ministerials,
and such other untransparent devices as "friends of the chair".
Aware of the pressures by developed countries to derail African
countries from their concerns in the trade negotiations, they pledged
to work with ministers as they strive for rules and agreements which
will serve the interest of African women and men.
very presence of civil society organisations formally at the gathering
of Ministers and the fact that they addressed their concerns directly
to the Ministers was a welcome precedence for AU. But while the
civil society organisations lend support to the Ministers, it was
clear that their demands were stronger, and went far beyond what
the Ministers were able to adopt in their Declarations.
to Thomas Deve of MWENGO from Zimbabwe, this gap between civil society
demands and the Ministers' positions sets a mark for judging how
far the Ministers will go in the coming months to hold up to their
collective positions in the face of pressure. It also outlines the
tasks ahead of civil society groups in Africa and beyond to ensure
that Ministers live up to their commitments to Africa.
Hormeku is with the Third World Network-Africa.
this is the last subject on the panel, it is perhaps one of the
most important subjects given that we have discussed some very serious
implications of investment in the WTO. We have also discussed how
BITs (Bilateral Investment Treaties) are a serious concern and that
a multilateral framework in investment is not going to reduce their
scope or their number. We have also talked about how there is not
even a remote sense of consensus on any aspects of these negotiations
much less an agreement on the clarification exercise. Given this,
why is the decision-making process so crucial to discuss in the
run up to Cancun?
the preparatory process began a month ago, today there is still
no clarity as to what exactly this process entails. Will there be
a declaration? A communiqué? A series of sheets of paper
going to Cancun? Will there be a Ministerial draft text for Cancun
and in what form? This will not be explicit until at least July
24th—the ONLY real General Council meeting scheduled during
the entire preparatory process.
July, there will only be about 15 working days before September,
meaning before the whole process moves to the capitals. 15 days.
How are governments, especially resource strapped ones, but ALL
governments supposed to practically handle inputs into this process?
How are they to ensure that the proceedings here are not only filtering
to capital ministries, but also receiving feedback from citizens
this process facilitate inclusiveness and transparency especially
since the list of outstanding and unresolved issues is long and
complicated? There are currently a series of important issues at
stake: agriculture, implementation, special and differential treatment,
TRIPS and health, tariff liberalisation in industrial products (which
is another key area for developing countries), services and the
four important decisions on the Singapore Issues. And all of these
negotiations are in a state of deadlock! Nor is this an exhaustive
list; there are a series of other decisions that Ministers are expected
to take in Cancun.
this process more transparent, more predictable, more inclusive
since Seattle? No. How do we judge this? For the following reasons:
The entire process is informal. Apart from the July 24 General Council
meeting, there are two forms of meetings taking place. The first
is the open ended Heads of Delegations (HOD) Meetings (the ambassador
plus one other person from the mission) where no minutes are taken
and where meetings are “open” for all members. The entire
process is informal. The second will be in the form of small group
consultations or "green rooms." If any briefings of the
small group consultations are to take place, they will be done in
the HODs format. This means that there will be no formal records
at all for most of the preparatory process. As the process escalates
and momentum builds towards Cancun, it will become unclear how many
meetings will be taking place simultaneously and it is even less
likely that Ambassadors will be able to attend all "open-ended"
The process is squeezed into a shorter time than the preparatory
process for Doha, though more issues are on the table. Currently,
members are dealing with 17 issue areas (this does not even count
the subsidiary issues in each of these areas). But the process started
much earlier for Doha.
The process is unclear. As mentioned, we do not know what kind of
concrete paper will be produced for the Ministerial, or what role
"friends of the Chair" might play, etc. In this case,
these “friends” are helping the chair move the process
towards Cancun. In other cases, the term “friends” in
the WTO could mean a group of countries interested in the same issue
or supportive of it i.e. “friends of investment.”
The process is entirely "chair-driven." This dangerous
practice of reverse consensus has become habitual in the WTO. By
"reverse consensus," I mean that normally in most UN bodies
and as was supposed to be the norm at the WTO, consensus is achieved
through a series of drafts that put forth a variety of positions
that are then discussed openly (at the UN, they even project the
draft onto a screen in the meeting room whereby members can see
the changes being proposed). Consensus is then attempted collectively.
The reverse consensus process (as I am defining it) at the WTO starts
with a clean text i.e. differences in views are not reflected by
the use of brackets in the text or are limited to very few brackets.
The text is prepared by the Chair based on his or her understanding
of where consensus lies, based on informal consultations and “on
his own responsibility.” This process of reverse consensus
requires enormous political or economic clout to alter language.
Unless you have political clout or you are a member of a large coalition
of countries that propose changes, amending the text is difficult.
WTO director-general, Dr Supachai, last February 2002 at the Intellectual
Property Rights Commission meeting in London pledged that he would
address decision-making issues at the WTO when he became Director
General. But discussions on the issue of transparency and rules
of procedure are also in a state of deadlock. The most recent draft
regarding internal transparency is dated December 2002. Why? because
a number of influential countries refuse to provide clarity on important
demands from developing countries. For example, here are some of
the basic proposals made by the Like Minded Group of developing
countries that need a response:
must be chosen in Geneva through a transparent process and must
not be demandeurs of the issue they are chairing. For example, a
Cairns member would not be eligible to chair the agricultural negotiations.
Meetings at the ministerial should be announced at least a few hours
ahead so that all interested parties can attend. Late night marathon
meetings should be avoided. It should be clear which country is
proposing any draft proposal that is circulated during the Ministerial.
Delegations have the right to decide who speaks in meetings and
should be allowed at least two representatives. The most important
issue in their proposal was that differences of position must be
clearly reflected in Ministerial texts.
are very basic demands and result from the fact that none of these
basic procedures were followed in Doha. For instance in Doha, there
were all night green room consultations, during which LDCs and the
Africa Group were persuaded to reverse their positions. In the last
plenary session, Barbados (not India) demanded an amendment on paragraphs
referring to negotiations on the Singapore issues, followed by several
other countries. However, they were ignored.
had to settle for a chairman’s text that clarified that negotiations
could not begin unless there was agreement on modalities. After
Doha, the WTO was quick to state on its website that the Chair’s
text was not part of the official Ministerial texts, though the
chair read out his statement before the final gavel.
Doha story is a repeat of the Singapore Ministerial, with added
drama because India was portrayed as the only dissenting voice.
But in Singapore also, the decision to adopt the four Singapore
issues was taken by 30 countries (of the then over 120 members)
in a green room. The Singapore Issues were then put on the WTO agenda
in spite of opposition by many developing countries. The Singapore
text states, “it is clearly understood that future negotiations,
if any, regarding multilateral disciplines in these areas, will
take place only after an explicit consensus.” Doha was a repeat
of Singapore, only now members have included the term ‘modalities,’
Meaning countries have to agree on the terms of negotiations before
accepting to negotiate.
WTO members courageous enough to define “explicit consensus?”
Allow me to define it for you as the following: Unless people state
an approval to negotiate, there is no explicit consensus.
when asked in the WTO what explicit consensus means, it is said,
“it means the same as consensus.” And consensus in the
WTO is “passive consensus,” which means that unless
you object, you agree. This means that if you are not present in
the room, you agree.
momentum builds to Cancun, pressure is building to put the Singapore
Issues on “fast track.” This means that countries must
decide yes or no to negotiate without having agreed to the elements
of the negotiations-- a “yes or no” decision, despite
the fact that the WGTI (Working Group on Trade and Investment) shows
no sign of any agreement in the clarification exercise.
fast track approach is essentially signing a blank check to negotiate.
We need to remember the TRIPS negotiations in the Uruguay Round
where we started with talks about counterfeiting and ended up with
20 year monopoly rights. As a result, today there is deadlock on
the TRIPS and health negotiation and the US Trade Representative
suggests that governments should negotiate with their pharmaceutical
companies to get a solution. Can we afford a similar process on
four complex issues in the WTO?
Indian Prime Minister said on November 10, 2001, while Ministers
met in Doha:
most developing countries, the Uruguay Round had done little for
economic growth, while poverty levels and income gaps have worsened…This
is also why we have argued strongly that implementation issues should
first be resolved before we try to widen the WTO agenda further.
Our public is unwilling to accept another post-dated cheque, when
an earlier one has bounced.”
hopes are pinned on Agriculture. But the US is hiding behind the
EC criticism on CAP reform while it’s own farmbill continues
to allow dumping onto the world market and the EU cap reform will
do nothing but shift support from one box to another. European NGOs
EU’s current proposal would in effect not commit the EU to
do more than it is already doing.” And we all know that there
will be no real change until after 2013.
both the US and the EU continue their quest for market access in
Services, in Industrial products, in Agriculture from developing
countries. In exchange for what? The Singapore Issues?
State Secretary of Trade said yesterday in the opening of the Symposium,
“It took 50 years to negotiate industrial tariffs. Agriculture
has just started. These things take time. This is a real challenge
to us due to our climate conditions and the special role of agriculture.”
question to ask Norway, then, (who is also a proponent of investment):
Is Norway willing to support LDCs, most African countries, Caribbean
countries and many Asian countries who are saying we need more time
to assess development implications of these issues in the WTO arena
? There is a special role for investment in developing countries,
and they should have the right to decide in which fora and at what
pace they should handle investment. We should first deal with the
problems at hand with existing agreements.
final note on technical assistance (TA), since it is often used
as an excuse to introduce the Singapore issues at the WTO and within
the trade departments of member state governments. According to
the WTO Technical Cooperation Audit report handed to member states
on the evaluation of such technical assistance activities for 2002,
“The current evaluation system does not provide evidence of
the sustainability of the results since it stops where the TA ends.
Indeed, sustainability can only be verified through ex-post evaluations
taking place one-two years after the completion of the TA. Such
evaluations may generate valuable information, but cannot be carried
out without additional resources. In any case, there is little point
in measuring the sustainability of individual activities, which
are too short and specialized to have much long-term impact; that
is not even their aim normally.”
documents further admit that the Technical Assistance is quantity
based and not on quality : “The emphasis in the prevailing
approach to TA in the WTO is on quantity. This is perhaps not surprising
given the demand-driven notion. But within this there is a need
to focus also on the quality of the capacity-building. Squeezing
complex issues into 2-3 days when they need five, not providing
an administrative assistant for regional seminars, reinventing presentations
with each resource person who deals with a given subject, and omitting
to make reference to local/regional issues, all detract from quality.”
all of these reasons and the fact that the process leading up to
Cancun is extremely untransparent and problematic, we must oppose
a fast track approach to modalties for the Singapore Issues in Cancun.
It is imperative for democracies everywhere.
Sharma is with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
in Geneva. This paper was presented at a WTO Symposium: "Investment
in the WTO? Myths and Realities", June 17, 2003.
to New Issues”, “No Investment Negotiations at Cancun
”, these are the messages coming from the Non Governmental
groups and Civil Society Movements from countries in both the North
and the South. African governments and those in other developing
countries have also voiced their opposition to ‘new issues’
four Singapore Issues; investment policy, competition policy, transparency
in government procurement and trade facilitation have captured the
most attention as the “new issues”. Technically speaking
all other WTO agenda issues after Marrakech (1994), such as, the
Pre-Doha new issues, (trade& environment, trade & labour
standards and e-commerce) and the Doha new issues (non-agricultural
market access, trade, debt & finance and trade & technology
transfer). Therefore, investment policy is only one of the new issues.
negotiations at Cancun, Mexico in September 2003, if allowed to
succeed will create binding rules within the WTO on investments
globally - a multilateral investment framework (MIF). The concern
of all those that are against negotiations on a MIF are that the
outcome of the negotiations within the WTO, would be unfair and
against the interests of developing countries. Four reasons could
be cited on why developing countries should maintain the position
of “No to Investment Negotiations”. But, before these
are listed it important to note that, once negotiations begin it
is difficult to back-roll the process. Thus, negotiations will most
likely lead to an agreement. Once this agreement is reached and
signed by participating countries it is generally irreversible,
becomes binding on the signatories regardless of the government
of the day, and becomes subject to the disputes settlement and sanctions
procedures within the WTO.
developing countries are not ready for an investment agreement and
they should block the investment issues at Cancun for the following
* There is a need for a full understanding of the development implications
and clarification to the many questions that are being asked.
* Investment is not a trade issue and should not be brought under
the remit of a trade body such as WTO.
* Developing countries have not fully analysed the implications
of a MIF for their economies and for their policy options, e.g.
If National Treatment and MFN principles are applied developing
countries would substantially lose their policy space.
* The demands on most negotiators from the developing countries
in Geneva and in the capitals are overwhelming and they do not understand
the implications of an investment agreement on their countries.
The viewpoint of the proponents of an investment agreement
industrialised and the major developed countries are the advocates
of a WTO investment agreement. At a recent meeting on 10-11 June,
of the WTO’s Working Group on Trade and Investment (WGTI),
the principal message from the major developed countries was that
negotiations should be launched on investment at Cancun. Arguments
for this message were as follows;
A WTO agreement on investment could complement the existing networks
of bilateral investment agreements and other bilateral and regional
It cannot be denied that a relationship exists among investment
agreements, investment flows, trade flows and trade rules. These
relationships would benefit from clear rules at the multilateral
The US perceives a failure to negotiate an investment agreement
as a missed opportunity by the WTO, to shape the international environment
The EC’s emphasis on transparency requires an efficient forum
such as WTO, for the weak developing countries to protect themselves
against the strong.
Although rules on corporate responsibility are necessary to frame
the power of transnational corporations, the WTO is not the venue
for such rules.
Too much policy space to countries could give rise to negative effects
such as corruption e.g. where countries are allowed to allow some
investments but not others.
Double standards of the major developed countries
of the most critical analyses of the two faced maneuvers by the
developed countries was made by Professor Ha-Joon Chang (in his
book Kicking Away The Ladder). Adopting an historical approach,
Chang finds that the economic evolution of the now-developed countries
differed dramatically from the procedures that they now recommend
to poorer nations. He describes this as an attempt by the developed
nations to “kick away the ladder” that they used to
climb to the top, thus preventing the developing countries from
adopting the same policies and institutions that took them to the
industrialised countries and the major developed countries managed,
regulated and controlled foreign investment, regarding the entry
and conditions of entry, transfer of funds etc. throughout the industrial
revolution and various development eras. Yet, the proponents of
multilateral investment frameworks insist on principles of non-discrimination
(Most Favoured Nation and National Treatment), rights of investors
to free transfer of funds and compensation for “expropriation”
etc. If developing countries are denied space to nurture their young
industries and major sectors through subsidies and other favours,
then the only other growth strategy for the developing countries
is to let the TNCs take over. And yet again when the issue of corporate
responsibility of TNCs is raised, suddenly the WTO is not the right
venue for that issue. Thus as the EC argues, it would seem that
it is alright to agree on investors rights at the WTO, but not of
the social and environmental rights.
the Sixth SEATINI Trade Negotiators’ Workshop held in Arusha
on 2-5 April 2003, the following recommendations were made.
* African countries (and indeed the developing countries) should
play an active role in the remaining meetings of the working group
(held on 10-11June in Geneva) and strongly voice their concerns
on the issues listed for clarification. (In Geneva several developing
countries maintained that there were many issues that were still
unresolved and that they did not agree that negotiations should
* The African countries should insist that any investment framework
(whether in or outside the WTO) should have a fair balance between
the rights and obligations of investors and host countries, and
between the rights and obligations of host and home governments.
In this respect, the proposal put forward by a group of developing
countries (including some African countries), on investors’
obligations, should be supported.
NGOs from both the North and the South, have issued joint statements
calling for the explicit rejection of the launch of negotiations
on investment and other Singapore issues at the WTO Fifth Ministerial
Conference in Cancun.
Takawira is a programme officer with SEATINI.
less than 10 weeks to go before the Fifth Ministerial meeting of
the WTO, several preparatory meetings have been held in Africa (and
other regions) and several more are planned before Cancun. These
so far have ranged from regional and sub-regional meetings to less
formal brainstorming sessions, including several organized by the
non-governmental community. This Bulletin has reported on many of
these including a preparatory meeting organised by SEATINI for African
trade officials, meetings of COMESA, the Trade Ministers of the
Least Developed Countries in Dhaka and more recently, the African
Trade Ministers meeting in Mauritius (see the article by Tetteh
Hormeku in this issue of the Bulletin). In parallel with these meetings
is the on-going process in Geneva, both formal and informal, centered
in the General Council, the Trade Negotiations Committee as well
as various Committees and Working Groups established to deal with
the Doha Work Programme.
close reading of these two processes--in the regions and capitals
on the one hand and in Geneva on the other, suggests a near complete
disconnect between the two. While the former is designed to contribute
towards more informed and balanced outcome at Cancun, the latter
is proceeding on a totally separate track, oblivious of the concerns
and pre-occupations of the overwhelming majority of the WTOs membership.
There are ominous signs that the current Geneva process will replicate
the pre-Doha preparations, which summarily ignored the views of
African, and LDCs Ministers articulated in Abuja and Zanzibar before
the Doha Ministerial meeting.
The impasse in Geneva on each and every issue of interest to Africa
and the LDCs since the launch of the Doha negotiations largely reflects
the undemocratic manner in which the Doha agenda was adopted. It
also reveals the preferences of the developed countries to pursue
their own agenda, notably in starting negotiations on the four Singapore
issues, legitimising and further cementing the imbalances in agriculture,
services, TRIPS and accelerating the pace of market opening in developing
be sure, the preparatory meetings in Africa have provided an important
opportunity for Ministers to “ take stock of progress in the
negotiations, provide any necessary political guidance, and take
decisions as necessary”. In as much as the post—Doha
negotiations have been largely driven by Geneva–based delegations,
the involvement of Ministers and of the civil society in the preparatory
processes may help restore some balance to the negotiations.
However, given the fact that most of the Geneva-based negotiations
do not have adequate and balanced record of discussions so far and
which accurately reflect their positions, African Ministers in Cancun
will face additional challenges. They will be called upon to exercise
a major leap of faith in accepting the Chairmen/WTO secretariat’s
version of developments both on the substance and on the procedures
that have guided the Geneva negotiations so far.
indications are that the Chairmen of the General Council and of
the Trade Negotiations Committee will, between them and with the
blessings of the Quad countries, define the basis for decisions
to be taken at Cancun on a take it or leave it basis. As Shefali
Sharma points out in her analysis of the negotiating process in
Geneva, a ‘reverse consensus’ practice will most likely
apply, meaning that any amendment/s to the ‘clean’ text/s
submitted by the Chairmen will have to command consensus. This device
suggests that the views expressed by African and LDCs Ministers
will in all likelihood be ignored with impunity, as they were in
Tetteh Homeku’s report on the outcome of the Mauritius meeting
this month, it is clear that the African Ministers have reaffirmed
their long standing opposition to starting negotiations on the four
Singapore issues, noting that “WTO members do not have a common
understanding on how the Singapore issues should be dealt with procedurally
and substantively”. This has not, however, prevented the EU,
Japan, the US and Canada, among others, from setting the ambitious
target of starting negotiations on these issues, post-Cancun. Japan,
for example, is reported to have proposed a fast track approach
to deal with the Singapore issues, asserting that the clarification
and study process is over and WTO members should now take decisions
for the launch of the negotiations. By proposing ‘procedural
modalities’-a device already adopted by the EU in its earlier
submission, it is planning to circumvent the deadlock that exists
on each of the Singapore issues. For example, although deep divisions
were evident at the final meeting of the Working Group dealing with
the question of Transparency in Government Procurement (one of the
Singapore issues), and at which no agreement could be reached, the
EU went on record to suggest that “Members are on the verge
of a decision on modalities for these negotiations”. In response,
India suggested, “we are far from that”.
Consultations that are expected before the submission of a final
report of the work so far will probably be undertaken within small
groups and at which the vast majority of developing countries are
unlikely to be involved. The outcome of these consultations in Geneva
and at the unrepresentative and widely condemned mini-Ministerials
(such as the one recently convened by Egypt) will set the stage
for a secretariat / Chairman driven report for Cancun endorsing
a unilateral approach on Singapore issues.
was agreed in Doha that decisions to launch negotiations on Singapore
issues would have to be taken on the basis of an explicit consensus.
The Chairman of the Doha meeting had gone on to suggest that “for
a decision to be taken at the Fifth session of the Ministerial Conference,
my understanding is that, at that session, a decision would indeed
need to be taken by explicit consensus, before negotiations on trade
and investment and trade and competition policy, transparency in
government procurement, and trade facilitation could proceed”.
He went on to state that that “ this would give each member
the right to take a position on modalities that would prevent negotiations
from proceeding after the fifth session of the Ministerial Conference
until that member is prepared to join an explicit consensus.”
foregoing notwithstanding, EU and Japan now insist that the Fifth
ministerial meeting is now ready to take a decision on modalities
and that the new issues are parts of a single undertaking. This
approach suggests that no progress will be possible on any of the
issues of concern to developing countries, in the absence of concessions
by them to agree to launch negotiations on the Singapore issues.
are developing countries to respond to this? Given the clear message
that the African and the LDCs Ministers have conveyed on these issue,
will they be able to withstand pressures at Cancun to agree, under
the fabricated ruse of a consensus in Geneva on modalities, to a
‘compromise’? This remains to be seen but the omens
are not propitious.
statements by a number of developed country spokesmen at the Informal
Heads of Delegations meeting in Geneva suggest that African and
other developing countries will be asked to make concessions on
Singapore issues in ‘exchange’ for the ‘compromises’
and ‘concessions’ by developed countries in the areas
of agriculture, TRIPS and public health and on implementation. In
particular, the representative of New Zealand has suggested that
progress at Cancun on agriculture will be facilitated if developing
countries were to be more flexible on the Singapore issues. Aside
from the fact that there is no basis for a trade off between agriculture
(which is part of the WTOs corpus of legally binding obligations)
and Singapore issues (which do not have a status in the WTO other
than in the non-binding study and clarification mode), Singapore
issues do not as yet command any consensus regarding their inclusion
in the Doha negotiations without an explicit consensus, a matter
to be decided upon at the Cancun Ministerial meeting.
foregoing suggests that most Ministers will arrive in Cancun none
the wiser for all the briefings, brainstorming, capacity-building
and sensitising meetings that they may have been exposed to over
the last several months. This is especially true of small countries
with limited presence in Geneva. Against this, what are their options
in Cancun? If they are able to draw lessons from the coup de grace
delivered in Doha, they may succeed in giving greater credibility
to their Ministerial decisions, strengthen the resolve of other
developing countries and help start the process of making WTO more
accountable and development-friendly.
First, they must reject all attempts in Geneva to transmit the so-called
Chairmen’s text/s to Cancun without the texts fully reflecting
their views expressed including those at their recent meetings,
in Dhaka and Mauritius. At Cancun, they must be prepared to reject
all manoeuvres to involve unrepresentative ‘Friends of Chairman’,
‘Facilitators’ and other similar devices to circumvent
the majority of WTOs membership in the decision –making process.
Secondly, they must co-ordinate their views and positions more closely
with like-minded developing countries on issues of common concern,
notably as regards progress on implementation and Special and differential
measures, on a fundamental reform of agriculture, on TRIPS and Public
Health, on a standstill on further market opening and on further
commitments on services.
Thirdly, they must insist on adequate time for regional meetings.
These meetings should form the basis for decisions: any effort to
circumvent the African and the LDCs Group or involve a selected
few from their ranks in green room type of consultations must be
rejected. Indeed, they must make clear that any agreement coming
out of such a process is not acceptable to the Groups.
Fourthly, any attempt to impose a single undertaking devise must
be rejected: single undertaking refers to the start and end of the
negotiations and even then, it applies only on the basis of satisfactory
conduct and balanced outcome of the negotiations. This can be fully
determined only at the end of the negotiations, in 2004.
Fifthly, they must not be sidetracked by promises of technical assistance
and capacity building.
Finally, they must be prepared to walk away from the negotiations,
as in Seattle, if the processes replicate Doha and Geneva and if
the outcome does not meet and address their development concerns.
Patel coordinates the SEATINI Geneva Office.