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WTO-SPECIAL: Historic Union in Hong Kong

Ramesh Jaura

HONG KONG, Dec 16 2005 (IPS) - In a historic move, 110 developing country members of the 149-nation World Trade Organisation (WTO) have joined hands to make the Doha Development Round a reality – as a development round. The round was launched in the Qatari capital four years ago.

But the move that brings together heterogeneous groupings of developing countries with diverse interests such as the G20, G33, the least developed countries (LDCs) and the small economies does not wish to be seen as opening up a new front in the “North-South confrontation”, says Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim.

Brazil and India have emerged as leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) comprising 21 member countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, the Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Uruguay, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. The G20 led the way to bring in the rest.

The 110 countries have joined hands to end the “perpetuation of inequities in global trade” and to ensure that development remains at the centre of the ongoing Doha Development Round, says India’s commerce minister Kamal Nath.

With this in view, a ministerial meeting was held this week between all the developing country groups for the first time at the WTO.

According to a joint statement issued Friday, the ministers “exchanged views and decided to better coordinate their efforts in order to develop a common approach to issues of common interest.”

The groups recalled the pledge made four years ago at Doha to place the interests and needs of developing countries, especially the LDCs, at the heart of the round.

“They reiterated their shared interest in the development dimension of the round and their expectations for a comprehensive development outcome. They recalled that agriculture is central to development,” the joint statement says.

There was also agreement among the groups that the round must result in removal of distortions that inhibit export growth in developing countries, and on policies that ensure their sustainable socio-economic development.

The newly formed group of 110 (G110) also called upon the developed nations – particularly the European Union (EU) and the United States – to support their socio- economic development.

In particular, the group said, the developed countries should agree to the “complete elimination of export support measures by 2010 while addressing concretely the specific needs of LDCs and newly industrialising developing countries.”

The G110 also “affirmed the need for substantial reductions of trade-distorting domestic support.”

The joint statement says: “The groups recognise the importance of substantial improvements in market access for products of export interest from developing countries in developed country markets.”

It adds: “They also recognise the need to address the concerns of preference receiving countries.”

The G110 expressed support to LDC demands for duty free and quota free market access and said it recognises “the need for a concrete outcome in Hong Kong on this issue.”

Taking up a specific issue, ministers from the 110 countries stressed the need for “a firm commitment to be made at Hong Kong to address the issue of cotton ambitiously, expeditiously and specifically.”

Observers doubted, however, that the sixth WTO ministerial conference would end Sunday with any concrete decisions.

“We will have some common paper that will list the issues discussed, propose continuation of discussions in Geneva and at other places so that the Doha Development Round may be finalised, as scheduled, by the end of 2006,” a developing country delegate told IPS.

The G110 got flanking support from Anwarul K. Chowdhury, the UN envoy for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. The support was significant, even though the WTO is not a United Nations body.

Addressing media representatives Dec. 14, Chowdhury said the global trade talks should not lose sight of the fact that the outcome of the negotiations is likely to have far- reaching effects on the lives of millions of people in the LDCs.

The UN envoy pointed out that the 50 LDCs – 34 of which are in Africa – hold about 12.5 percent of world population, but their contribution to world trade hovers around just half a percent.

From the total world merchandise trade of 8.9 trillion dollars in 2004 (a trillion is a thousand billion), the share of LDCs was a meagre 0.64 percent. The situation is worse for trade in services – 0.44 percent in 2004 down from 0.49 percent in 1990.

Chowdhury pointed out that the group of LDCs was united in their demands for a binding commitment on duty free and quota free market access for all products from their countries on a secure, long-term and predictable basis.

“It is estimated that this alone, if implemented by the WTO, could generate welfare gains up to 8 billion dollars and export gains of up to 6.4 billion dollars,” he said.

Chowdhury supported the proposal of African cotton producers who have demanded immediate elimination of export subsidies on cotton.

A World Bank study has shown that removing subsidies would expand cotton exports from sub-Saharan Africa by 75 percent. The developing countries’ share of global cotton exports would rise from the current 56 percent to 85 percent by 2015.

 
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