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JIS News

With the Sixth World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference, called the Doha Development Round, underway in Hong Kong, China, CARICOM Heads of Government and other interests from small developing states are disgruntled with the apparent relegation of the development aspect of the negotiations.
They are also pointing to power asymmetries skewed in favour of the developed countries and large developing countries in multilateral talks.
“Small developing states such as those in CARICOM need special and differential treatment and so we need a Development Round,” said CARICOM Chairman and Barbados Prime Minister, Owen Arthur in an interview with JIS News on December 12.
“However,” he continues, “we’ve lowered our expectation about Hong Kong because of the uncertainty of agricultural subsidies, and development issues are hardly at the centre”.
Mr. Arthur was in Jamaica to oversee the First Special Meeting of CARICOM’s Council for Financial Planning (COFAP), at which details of the Caribbean Development Fund were hammered out. The Caribbean Development Fund is the organ to facilitate a more equity-based regional integration process, especially for countries, regions or sectors that may be adversely affected by the inevitable integration process.
Supporting the opinion that the current Hong Kong negotiations would not adequately address development issues, if at all, Mr. Arthur told JIS News that developing countries, specifically CARICOM states, also faced inherent setbacks in such multilateral negotiations.
“When it comes to these multilateral meetings, the small developing states have a serious resource allocation problem. The same people that have to deal with immediate and severe domestic difficulties are stretched thin to represent their country and regional blocs at these multilateral meetings,” he noted.
Highlighting the disparity between developed and developing states in the current globalisation era, characterised by trade liberalisation and market deregulation, the Barbadian Prime Minister also noted that developed countries had up to 50 years of preparatory multilateral meetings, which he said was a stark contrast to the short liberalisation time span “dictated” to the developing countries.”We have a fundamental need for transitional mechanisms. If we accept drastic liberalisation, we will not be prepared,” he said.
CARICOM Secretary General, Dr. Edwin Carrington, who was also in the island to present the CARICOM end-of-year review, shared the CARICOM Chairman’s concerns regarding the WTO negotiations.
He also cited inadequate representation at the multilateral level as a major setback for developing states.
“We need a team that is able to defend our interest. For every meeting, the developed states have specific technical teams, whilst we from the developing countries have the same faces for each meeting,” noted Dr. Carrington.
In his frank discussion with JIS News, the Secretary General further noted: “Agriculture is our major industry. We got robbed of our market in banana and more recently sugar, yet the developed countries still subsidise their internal agricultural sector by US$360 billion.”
Although agricultural export still dominates most CARICOM countries’ trade, they only account for less than one per cent of world trade, collectively. As former Senior Ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda to the World Trade Organisation, Sir Ronald Sanders highlighted in his recent lecture, ‘The Caribbean 2005: Hope After Disasters’, the Caribbean supplies less than three per cent of world banana exports.
Whilst Dr. Carrington hinted at the apparent disparity between WTO set rules and national government policies of some developed nation states, other regional personalities more adamantly point at this.
“This Ministerial meeting is an opportunity to immediately and meaningfully take action to correct a situation which is economically untenable and politically unacceptable. Anything less will be a clear signal to those small, vulnerable countries that there is a lack of will to address issues germaine to them,” said Director General of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM), Ambassador Dr. Richard Bernal on the first day of the WTO Hong Kong Ministerial Meeting on Tuesday, December 13.
Ambassador Bernal heads the team of RNM officials now at the WTO talks, which will end on Friday (December 16).
In the same way that the COFAP meeting was intended to address the economic and financial concerns of the smaller CARICOM countries and sectors, the Doha Development Round was engineered to address the concerns of the smaller states participating in WTO talks, following a decision taken by the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar in November 2001.
CARICOM countries and those from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping initially had praised the engineers of the Doha Development Round for setting aside time for development issues. They have since, however, accused WTO Director General, Pascal Lamy of reneging on this.
“However well intentioned the motivation to launch negotiations labelled as development-focused, four years ago, the Round has failed so far to position development at the centre of the multilateral trading system,” said the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Labour from the Commonwealth of Dominica, Charles Savarin, in a press release last week.