Global trade talks back on track but real work lies ahead
in the wee hours of August 1, 2004, members of the World Trade Organization (wto) reached an agreement in Geneva. It is only a framework agreement, but sets out principles to guide further negotiations. Positive in places, much hard work remains if the developing world is to secure meaningful gains.
For various actors involved in the process, the agreement varies in significance. wto director-general Supachai Panitchpakdi called it a "truly historic" achievement and a "minor triumph for multilateralism". Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim found it good for trade and social justice. Even European Union (eu) trade commissioner Pascal Lamy, extremely cynical since Cancun, admitted "the multilateral trading system is alive and kicking." us trade representative Robert Zoellick was more diplomatic: he characterised the deal as a crucial step for world trade.
India, however, was extremely self-laudatory (see table: India goes hyperbolic). In an official press release, Indian commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath called the agreement a major victory for India for it fully protects her interests. China's assessment, on the other hand, was more realistic; while the deal was "not bad," China's ambassador said, developing countries were "not fully satisfied." Civil society organisations echoed this sentiment. Oxfam, for instance, acknowledged that developing countries had registered small wins but warned there were no cast-iron commitments and no clear timeline for reform.
cotton: A last-minute deal was struck between the us and four African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali) allowing them to pursue trade-related aspects of their specific concern -- a year ago, the four had protested against us cotton subsidies hurting them in the cotton market -- expeditiously through a sub-committee.
market access for non-agricultural products: The framework agreement is the draft of the text that came up at Cancun, except for one paragraph included at the insistence of the g-90. This group, largely comprising small and vulnerable developing or least-developed nations, has consistently raised the concern that they would have to cut their tariffs too much too soon under a non-linear formula -- contained in the framework -- that requires higher tariffs on each product to be reduced by a higher level. The paragraph inserted is a defensive one. It states that the framework contains "initial elements" for future work on the details, implying negotiations on all elements could start from scratch. At the same time, additional negotiations are required to agree on the "specifics of some (initial) elements". This could mean it is not the elements, but only the "specifics" within "some" elements, that need to be negotiated.
singapore issues: Of the four issues vehemently opposed by many developing countries at Cancun, negotiations have been launched on only easing custom procedures and costs (referred to as trade facilitation), but there are enough caveats to allow developing countries to move at a comfortable pace. The highly contentious issues of rules for foreign investment and competition have been dropped from the agenda for the duration of the Doha Round, as has the question of developing rules on transparency in government procurement.
services and development issues: The agreement merely extends deadlines on resolving development issues. On services, it provides a deadline for new improved offers to be tabled by May 2005 and calls for special attention to sectors and the modes of supply of interest to developing countries.
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