When the G-20 holds

World trade negotiations are bound to be more multilateral

Published: Tuesday 31 August 2004

-- A NEW phenomenon has unfolded in the World Trade Organization. The world trade body no longer remains the exclusive playing-ground of the US and the European Union (EU). The G-20 group comprising Brazil, China, India and others remains the driving force. At the same time, many other developing countries are beginning to feel left out. And that could prove to be a new challenge for these large developing nations.

The framework agreement on agriculture that emerged out of Geneva (see: 'Multilateral fillip') was based on a consensus initially reached between Australia, Brazil, India, the EU and the US (called the FIPs, or five interested parties). It was then further discussed and endorsed by 20 countries, FIPs included, and then placed before the others. More powerful G-20 members had already endorsed the treaty, so many smaller ones didn't oppose. Both Brazil and India claimed that they represented the G-20 at FIPs discussions and that they frequently consulted other members. But, did they represent the interests of all developing countries? Could they have done so? Should they be doing so?

Brazil, India and the G-20 do represent developing countries' interests. They may not be able to take on board all of the concerns of the entire developing world. If they tried, it might render them ineffective. Their strength lies in their ability to put pressure on the EU, the US and other developed nations to eliminate their trade-distorting policies, such as subsidisation and high tariffs on sensitive and processed goods, issues of common interest to the developing world. The G-20 has been successful so far; any attempt to belittle their efforts would only weaken their ability to secure even minor gains.

In no way does this mean that the specific concerns of smaller developing countries are not be addressed. Mechanisms to ensure this must be devised. Also, Brazil and India must engage with the other groups more frequently. They cannot and should not bear the mantle of the entire developing world. What would definitely help is if the EU and the US give up their perverse divisive tactics and enable these countries to organise and engage more constructively in the process. But this is wishful thinking; didn't the G-20 emerge in the first place to combat precisely such tactics? And aren't they the only alternative we have?

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