World Trade Negotiations under WTO at Doha
By Dr. J. B. Kelegama
(Yesterday's part: http://www.island.lk/2001/12/18
(Continued from yesterday)
The 77-nation African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of former European colonies won a waiver from WTO ruleswhich state all trading partners must be treated equallyso that they can take advantage of special privileges such tariff preferences negotiated with the KU.
Some Issues Sidetracked
Some of the major problems facing the developing countries appear to have been ignored, postponed or put on hold at Doha. One is the unequal distribution of benefits from trade liberalization where the rich countries have gained much more than the developing countries in promoting exports and increasing wealth and prosperity while many poor countries have been marginalized. The desire of the developing countries to make this new round a Development Round to address the legitimate concerns of developing countries, to integrate trade rules with development support programmes so as to ensure that they benefit and not suffer from global trade and investment expansion, does not appear to have been realized. The other is the anomalies and deficiencies created by the imbalances in the Uruguay Round where the poor countries, being ill equipped and poorly prepared, were made to concede far more than they received. The developing countries have argued repeatedly that these imbalances need to be corrected but the developed countries have stated that this can be done only through new round of trade negotiations. Apparently, this issue had not been discussed in Doha. Another issue is that the WTO has operated as an exclusive club of rich members who decide on the global trade issues and impose their decisions on the developing countries. These are compounded by the inability of many developing countries to understand and implement the WTO agreements for lack of competent personnel, absence of officers in Geneva and financial difficulties. There is no evidence that this had been discussed.
Sri Lanka Downplays WTO Talks
The crucial global trade negotiations under the World Trade Organization (WTO) at Doha, Qatar, attended by Trade Ministers of about 142 countries, who are members of the WTO, have been downplayed by the Sri Lankan authorities, who had not even considered it important enough to send a Ministerial delegation, as has been the practice in all previous negotiations. The Minister of Trade and Industrial Development had scoffed at the global talks by stating "This meeting is a nonstarter. There is little or no impact that small countries like Sri Lanka can make on meetings like this. All other trade blocs have made their (powerful) responses except SAARC which Sri Lanka belongs to". He said while he was not attending the Qatar meeting, due to the current election campaign here, Sri Lanka would be represented by officials. It is reported that Sri Lanka in fact was represented at the talks at a very junior level by two Deputy Directors of Commerce.
In contrast to Sri Lanka, other developing countries took the global trade talks more seriously. The Tanzanian Trade Minister, for example, had said that the poor countries need the WTO much more than the US and the European Union and would do his best to ensure the conference as a success. He emphasized "We cant do without a strong WTO". In fact, most developing countries had sent their Trade Ministers to the talks: India for instance, was represented by its Minister of Trade Murasoli Maran. The conference was considered so important that there were about 3800 people attending it: Japan had sent the largest delegation of 159, followed by France 75, Canada 62, Indonesia 60, United States 51 and India 48. There were also 388 representatives of non-government organizations and 808 media persons.
The developing countries need to stand together to fight for their rights and to protect their interests especially against attempts by the developed countries to coerce them into agreeing with their agenda. Sri Lankan ministerial delegations at the previous trade negotiations, had made Sri Lankas voice heard and had contributed in various ways to forge the unity of developing countries and to draft the major resolutions and decisions. This is perhaps the first time that Sri Lanka had not been able to play a role in global trade talks. If the Minister of Trade was busy with the election campaign, surely the government could have appointed a Special Trade Negotiator from those senior persons who have had much experience in international trade negotiations in GATT, WTO and UNCTAD. Some countries had done so.
Sri Lanka cannot afford to downplay global trade talks. Exports are equal to one-third of our GDP and the countrys prosperity depends to a great extent on exports. Thus, export markets, particularly in developed countries are of crucial importance to us. With the US recession and war against terrorism, the demand for our exports is declining and that is a major reason why we should endeavour to widen our markets through global trade negotiations. We have a duty to add our voice to the demand of developing countries to gain better access to the developed country markets through removal/reduction of protectionist tariff and non-tariff barriers, subsidies, technical standards, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, anti-dumping measures and other restrictions. It has been estimated by the chief economist of the World Bank that trade barriers imposed by developed countries cause a loss of over $ 400 billion every yearwhich is almost twice the amount developed countries give as aid to developing countries.
Agricultural exports of Sri Lanka as well as of other developing countries face not only stiff tariffs and quotas but also subsidies amounting to $ 1 billion a day in developed countries. Developing countries have met with only limited success in relaxing these barriers. Sri Lanka, like other countries, is also adversely affected by TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement which endangers our biodiversity and traditional knowledge of farmers and prevent us from importing cheaper drugs from sources other than patent holding multinational corporations.
The Minister of Trade, Mr. Ronnie De Mel was perhaps unaware when he commented on the subject, that SAARC had in fact achieved a common and unified position on the trade talks and issued a comprehensive joint statement in August. This statement, stated, inter alia all was noted with serious concern that the Uruguay Round of Agreements and their implementation have further accentuated the inequalities and disparities between the developed and developing countries. It was strongly felt that addressing this growing developing deficit should receive primacy in all future world programmes in WTO since the key to sustained global economic growth lies in unlocking the growth potential of developing countries. For this, the industrialization of the developing countries in areas where they posses comparative advantage should be facilitated by providing them increased market access opportunities by the developed countries by eliminating their trade distorting subsidies, non-tariff barriers and unreasonable protectionist measures". These are issues on which Sri Lanka could have made some contribution on behalf of the developing countries of South Asia.
It is unfortunate that the authorities did not even consult persons who worked in
international organizations connected with trade and those who have experience in trade
negotiations of GATT, WTO and UNCTAD on this important subject. Sri Lanka has several
persons who are competent and qualified to advise on international trade issues but they
are generally not made use of by the appropriate authorities.
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