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TRADE: ACP Ministers to Present United Front at Doha

Greta Hopkins

BRUSSELS, Nov 8 2001 (IPS) - Trade Ministers from African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of developing countries say they will present a united front at the World Trade Organisation Ministerial meeting in Doha this week to protect their interests.

Their priority goal for the Nov 9-13 talks is to secure a waiver until 2008 for trade preferences with the European Union (EU), as provided for in the Cotonou Agreement of June 2000, which governs EU-ACP trade and aid relations.

“We were led to believe that our request for a waiver would be accepted well before the Doha meeting,” said ACP spokesperson Hegel Goutier, explaining why the ACP had not submitted the request ahead of the 60-day deadline for changes to the agenda required by the WTO.

Ministers from the 56 ACP states belonging to the WTO, meeting in Brussels this week, agreed to ask for the Cotonou waiver request to be put on the Doha agenda as a “matter of urgency”.

Kenyan Trade Minister Nicholas Biwott has been appointed as the sole spokesperson to represent the ACP at Doha.

The ACP wants a wavier for non-reciprocal preferences on their exports to the European Union until 2008 and then a gradual scaling down. At the current state of negotiations they fear they will not get any preferences after 2005.

Observers say the United States is likely to balk at the waiver request, fearing that special treatment for the 77 ACP nations may affect the interests of U.S. banana-producing or exporting companies based in Latin America.

Latin American countries are also expected to complain about the waiver, which they believe could undermine their banana exports to the European Union.

Even Australia has declared that the proposed waiver would be contrary to world trade rules.

In addition to the waiver request, ACP Ministers also will present a joint declaration to their negotiating partners, and request it to be annexed to the WTO conclusions. Their demands include greater technical assistance to implement trade rules and the right to import cheap generic medicines without flouting intellectual property rules.

ACP Trade Ministers met earlier this week with Mike Moore, the Director General of the WTO; Pascal Lamy, the EU Trade Commissioner; and Rubens Ricupero, the Director General of the United Nations development agency UNCTAD.

All three men were keen to emphasise their commitment to the interests of developing countries. “The idea that a new round of negotiations must be a ‘development round’ is now almost universally espoused … It would be a tragedy if the opportunity to consolidate and build on these gains were to be lost,” said Moore.

But for the ACP, the fine words of Lamy and Moore have not been backed up by concrete guarantees.

“There is no clear commitment on their part to take up the issue of the Cotonou waiver or the implementation issues,” said the ACP spokesperson.

The ACP say that the draft WTO Ministerial declaration does not mention whether developing countries will be fully involved in the agreement and implementation of new WTO rules.

ACP Ministers are calling on rich countries to abide by the promises made to poor countries under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the predecessor to the WTO.

The ACP feel that the procedures proposed by Moore for negotiating controversial questions will enable powerful countries to stitch up deals behind closed doors. Moore’s “two committee” system is reminiscent of the “green room” used for horse-trading by small groups of powerful countries during the Uruguay round, they say.

The ACP will present a joint declaration to represent the minimum they hope to achieve at Doha, as they have already made a lot of compromises.

The ACP declaration says that: “The Uruguay Round Agreements are imbalanced and embody deficiencies that have had an adverse impact on trade and development interests of the ACP and other developing countries.”

ACP Secretary-General Jean Robert Goulongana told the Ministers: “we must take advantage of the fact that we make up 56 of the 142 Members of the WTO in order to promote our interests”.

The ACP feel they are much better prepared and united than they were during the last Uruguay round of trade negotiations, when they signed up to many promises that they could not keep. There are even signs the group will try flexing its muscles.

“Nothing can pass at Doha without our accord,” Goutier told IPS shortly before leaving for the trade talks.

EU Trade Chief Lamy has announced that the European Union will consider raising aid destined to help ACP countries participate in and implement world trade agreements from about 30-50 million euros (about 25-45 million U.S. dollars).

But for the ACP, the offer is politically loaded. “Funding promises must not divert us from our principle interests. In any case, this Euro 50 million would come from the 9th European Development Fund, which means it can only be released when the Cotonou Convention is ratified at some distant date in the future,” said the ACP spokesperson.

The ACP also feel that nothing has been promised on the controversial issue of intellectual property rights and health. Moore admitted to the ACP that developing countries would not have an easy time negotiating opt outs from WTO rules on Trade Related Agreement on Intellectual Property Services (TRIPS), as part of their fight against transmissible diseases.

The ACP are dismayed that no concrete measures are currently being proposed to protect countries that wish contravene the TRIPS agreement in order to obtain cheap medicines.

The ACP declaration argues that the benefits of intellectual property regimes should be equitably shared between the owners and users of technology.

“We declare that the implementation of the TRIPS Agreement is part of the wider national and international action to address the grave public health problems afflicting many developing and least developed countries,” says the declaration.

Most ACP countries do not have the capacity to produce their own generic medicines, but they are looking for the right to import cheap products from countries such as Brazil, India or South Africa.

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