|Doha Round stalemate deepens|
|Written by Kwesi. W. Obeng, GENEVA, Switzerland|
|Thursday, 10 December 2009 17:12|
The Africa Group at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has called for urgent and ‘successful’ conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda of trade negotiations by the end of 2010. The final deal, says the group, must ensure that the central pillar of Doha, which is development, reflects the needs, desires, demands and aspirations of developing countries especially in Africa.
The Africa Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of nations and over 100 countries which make up the informal Group of Developing Countries in a similar vein have emphasized the urgent need to conclude the stalled Doha Round in line with its development mandate launched in 2001.
At the World Trade Organisation (WTO) 7th ministerial conference in Geneva, Switzerland, all three developing country groups pointed out in separate press briefings, press statements and interviews that anything short of this will disproportionately and detrimentally affect the fortunes of poor countries and worsen the plight of about 70 per cent of the world’s population. Two-thirds of the world’s population presently lives in the developing world. This is even projected to go up by 2020.
Developing countries, particularly in Africa and South Asia, have been disproportionately hit by the worst impacts of the current financial and economic crisis which takes its origin from the United States’ unwieldy financial industry.
The United States is particularly regarded by most countries as the main stumbling block to concluding a Doha Round that has a significant development component to it. African countries and many other developing countries from the Philippines to Ecuador in Latin America were already reeling under the global food and energy crises.
All developing country groups including G-33 and G-110 said that anything short of a transparent, fair, equitable completion of the Doha Round that eliminates the currently skewed multilateral trading mechanism will spell the doom of poor countries as well as sink confidence in the WTO and more generally the multilateral trade regime.
The Africa Group said the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) remains the only opportunity, at least in the near term, to improve multilateral rules on international trade.
While some work has been done in a the area of modalities, that is the formula and the treatment of unbound lines, large swathes of the Doha Round specifically agriculture which is the mainstay of developing country economies remains untouched as developed countries dig their heels, protect and expand subsidies to their agricultural sectors while tightening already stringent rules to prevent developing countries from exporting to rich economies of the West and Japan.
The Africa Group said it was interested in a speedy conclusion of the Doha Round as well as a constructive engagement of poor countries by developed nations.
Coordinator of the Africa Group, Ambassador Hisham Badr said the Group strongly objects to any changes to, re-interpretation or deviations from, the existing agreed mandates and principles in the negotiations.
The group also underlined the need for a strong, open and fair, rules-based multilateral trading system to combat protectionism and help promote recovery, growth and development. The Africa Group also reiterated the importance it attachees to the WTO as the main tool of the global trade mechanism.
In response to a question whether African countries indeed believe the Doha Round would be completed by close of 2010 with development at the core given the deep-seated interests of rich countries and blocs (notably the United States, the European Union and some members of the Cairns Group of countries) Ambassador Badr said Africa and its allies in the developing world are hopeful that if the principles of ‘multilateralism, inclusiveness, transparency, predictability, non-discrimination and equity’ are brought to bear on the negotiations then the Round could be brought to a successful conclusion to allow African countries to benefit from globalization.
The informal group of developing countries and the ACP group also insisted that these same principles remain pretty much the only way to ensure trade openness, economic growth and integration which in effect could spur a more effective and efficient participation of developing countries, big and small, in the multilateral trading system and more specifically in the WTO.
Ministers from developing countries also reaffirmed their support and solidarity to accessions of all developing countries, and stressed that acceding countries should not be asked to undertake commitments that go beyond their level of development and current WTO rules.
Dr. Matern Limbunga Ambassador of Tanzania in Geneva and head of the ACP group and the Egyptian envoy, Badr, said Africa, like all other groups, do not like what was presently on the table but African countries were ready to negotiate ‘because what is on the table is a compromise by all parties’.
Ambassador Badr and his colleagues from Zambia and Tanzania who addressed the African media said Africa’s focus and emphasis now is what the continent can gain and not what ‘Africa was willing to give up’ for up for a successful deal on the Doha Round.
Pascal Lamy, WTO Director-General said trade is an important tool to enable developing countries to effectively win the fight against poverty. Lamy said the 7th ministerial conference, that there was political will from all regions of the world. But he also pointed out that this political affirmation was hardly enough to close the Doha Round. He identified a number of steps needed in the coming months such as technical papers on agriculture, NAMA and SSM, if the 2010 deadline countries have set themselves is to be achieved.
Civil society organizations especially from Africa and South Asia attending the 7th ministerial called for a suspension of the Doha Round negotiations, pointing out that it was absolutely critical for all governments particularly in developing world to evaluate how consist measures tabled or being implemented across the world in response to the debilitating global financial and economic downturn.
Indeed in reaction to the global financial and subsequent economic crisis, leading economies including the United States and individual countries in the European Union have expanded their protectionist policies while pushing for further opening of the economies of poor countries.
The African Trade Network (ATN) at a meeting at the 7th WTO ministerialreiterated its call on African countries and the developing world generally, to reject ‘the various texts which have emerged as the basis for further negotiations in the Doha Round, in particular the so-called Chairman’s texts of December 2008 on NAMA and agriculture, as well as the different elements for Services negotiations’.
It is not only developing countries and CSOs/NGOs that slammed developed countries for re-introducing or widening protectionist policies in the wake of the global crisis. UNCTAD Secretary-general Supachai Panitchpakdi, in an address to the 7th WTO ministerial was blunt when he said ‘all trade distorting subsidies must be eliminated as soon as possible,’ adding that the world need’s a speedy conclusion of the Doha Round with a strong development component.
UNCTAD boss said, ‘it is deeply troubling that, in response to the crisis, a number of countries have resorted to protectionist measures. Such actions disproportionately harm the development efforts of poorer countries, risk embedding a corrosive culture of protectionism, and, as history shows, likely to shrink global trade and injure all stakeholders. Such protectionist pressures need to be resisted, whichever lens they are viewed through: local, national or global. In the same vein, all forms of trade-distorting subsidies need to be eliminated as soon as possible.’
The Doha Development Round was launched eight years ago to rebalance decades of unfair rules in agriculture as well as address the needs of developing countries. On the contrary, the negotiations have become a market access Round, in which developing nations are expected to give up disproportionately more in exchange for ‘empty promises’ of the general benefits of liberalization.
The 7th WTO ministerial, termed ‘a non-negotiating conference’ offered ministers and the various countries an opportunity to assess the state of play of the Doha Round and the way forward.
While no formal negotiations went, it was however apparent from both public statements and private discussions by officials that the gap between the developed countries especially the United States and the EU on one hand and emerging economies and developing countries on the other is deep and wide.
It is against this backdrop that some African and emerging country diplomats in private conversations hinted that the 2010 conclusion of Doha Round is not only over ambitious but also simply unrealistic.
The 7th ministerial conference in Geneva came nearly four years after the 6th session was held in Hong Kong.
© Report by Kwesi. W. Obeng in Geneva, Switzerland.
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