JIS News

April 30 has been set as the deadline for a conclusion to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) stalled Development Round, which began four years ago in Doha, Qatar. The 149 countries participating in the discussions are expected to finally sign off on a global trade pact, aimed at boosting the world economy by lowering trade barriers and reducing world poverty by focusing more on development oriented trade policies.

While the Development Round in Hong Kong in December 2005 did not collapse and as such is not considered a failure, developing countries receiving few concessions from the Round have argued that they have received an unfair deal. For example, whilst the European Union (EU) agreed to end their farm subsidies, this will not occur until 2013. They have also conceded a 38 per cent cut in import tariffs, compared to the 54 per cent demanded by the G20 group of developing countries.

Ambassador Richard Bernal, Director General of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM), shared with JIS News what he considered would be the outcome of the negotiations leading up to April. “The most optimistic scenario for April would be a completion of the negotiations this time around. A more realistic one would be that it will take longer,” said Dr. Bernal.

The CRNM is one of the participants putting forward the arguments of developing countries in the negotiations. In light of this, Dr. Bernal is urging the private sector from Jamaica and other CARICOM countries to make their concerns known to the CRNM, either through their website www.crnm.org or the full-time Private Sector Laision Officer, Lincoln Price and the Private Sector Advisor, Jimmy Moss Solomon.

Highlighting the importance of private sector input, Dr. Bernal said: “There are no re-negotiations in the WTO. You can’t re-open agreements within this framework. This is why it is important that the region’s business sector gives its input to the CRNM before negotiations start”. He underscored the importance of the private sector resource section of the website and the two representatives – Mr. Price and Mr. Moss Solomon – in Jamaica. All three, he said, were vehicles through which the Jamaican private sector, in particular, could include itself in global discussions.

Although the Director General informed JIS News that hits to the website have been increasing steadily, he said that local private sector input to the CRNM was still insufficient. “We need more feedback from and discourse with the private sector. We are like lawyers for the Caribbean business sector and this why, like lawyers who have to know all necessary circumstances regarding their clients’ case, the CRNM has to be properly informed about the region’s private sector,” he urged.

The WTO discussions are not the only fora in which the CRNM represents the region’s business sector. This year, talks with the EU will also take priority, since 2007 is the deadline for CARICOM countries to negotiate market access with the EU. This negotiation has already begun.

Other issues on the CRNM negotiating agenda for 2006 include the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), enhanced trade with Canada (a bilateral negotiation) and MERCOSUR, the Latin American regional trade bloc, consisting of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Incidentally, MERCOSUR is the fourth largest trade bloc in the world, with a Gross National Product (GNP) of some US$800 billion and a combined population of 190 million people. “The CRNM facilitates not only multilateral discourse as in the case of the WTO but also bilateral negotiations, such as the possible CARICOM/Canada and CARICOM/MERCOSUR ones,” Dr. Bernal informed. He also noted that the agendas for both bilateral and multilateral discussions were the same – looking at trade in goods and services, and intellectual property rights.