WTO: Declaration of Solidarity Lays Down Gauntlet
Declaration of Solidarity Lays Down the Gauntlet
BULLETIN #6 FROM HONG KONG 16th December 2005
By Dr Jane Kelsey
In an unprecedented show of solidarity among poorer countries of the world, Ministers from every group of governments from the global South (the ‘developing’ and ‘least developed’ countries) have united to present a coherent and coordinated face to the richer WTO members. With less than two days to go in the sixth ministerial conference, the gauntlet has been well and truly thrown down. It is hard to see how a consensus outcome can emerge from here.
Sitting side by side on the press hall podium were the Group of 20 agricultural exporters represented by Brazil and India; the Group of 33 net food importing countries represented by Indonesia; the African Group represented by Egypt; the African Caribbean and Pacific Group represented by Mauritius; the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) represented by Zambia; and the Small Economies Group represented by Jamaica.
Brazil’s Foreign Minister Amorim described it as a ‘historic moment, because for the first time we are not facing a North South confrontation on a rhetorical basis. We are looking for common positions that recognise and respect our common positions and are trying to reconcile them.’
There was a sense of déjà vu for those who attended the landmark first press conference of the Group of 20 developing countries in Cancun, which set the scene for the standoff with the richer countries on agriculture and formed a central theme of that failed ministerial. But this coalition is on a much broader scale. As India’s Minister Kamal Nath observed, ‘what did not happen in Cancun or earlier is this bonding between diverse sized countries, driven by a desire to no longer preside over iniquities in world trade.’
Amorim’s challenge to the richer countries was direct and explicit. ‘This initiative started many months ago, conscious of the fact and in the belief that perpetuating the iniquities of world trade will continue in Hong Kong if we are not able to coordinate our positions together. The economic architecture in world is changing, the developed world must recognize this.’
Their core strategy is to test the development rhetoric of the Doha round. ‘We decided to have a joint statement to show the world that we are united around one basic platform, to ensure the development nature of this round. Every time on every single issue people keep forgetting this is a development round; it becomes only a market access or a something else round. This is the message we need so we can move forward, not in the direction of a few handful of countries but in the direction of 120 countries that represents four fifths of humanity. That is the message that will eventually set the tone for the next couple of months, and this message from Hong Kong will distinguish between whether this is just a round or the Doha Development round’.
Zambia’s Minister, speaking on behalf of the LDCs, was even more direct: ‘We are not interested in the disingenuous use of language, we want to know how you are going to address issues and when. If you can’t do that, then we want to know what part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?’
The strength of the group lay in its recognition of differences and the need to sort those out for themselves, rather than having self-serving solutions imposed by developed countries. These differences are wide ranging across agriculture, tariff reductions and duty free entry for LDCs, services, cotton, bananas, trade preferences, special and differential treatment, and recognition of the situation of small vulnerable economies.
As for demands from the US and EU that Brazil and other developing countries must make concessions before they are prepared to respond, Amorim reiterated: ‘This is a development round. It should not be for us to offer enticements for the US and EU to come up with what they should do anyway. If they do that, we are prepared to do our part, provided they take into account special and differential treatment and proportionality.’
There was a similarly sharp response when the Zambian minister Dipak Patel was asked about the problems the US, Europe and Japan have in providing total access to exports from the LDCs, a reference to US objections over textiles, EU over agricultural products and Japan’s over rice. Patel countered that the world’s poorest countries accounted for less than 1% of world trade.
‘It is inconceivable that people would demonstrate in the streets of Europe that it was unconscionable for their governments to help the poorest people of the world. This is a political problem, not a domestic problem. We know that most of the subsidies go to the corporate producers, these countries are prepared to give a minimal amount to the poor countries and millions to the cash starved multinationals of Europe.’
The initiative is essentially political. A new unified voice from the global South has the potential to change the dynamics that drive not only the WTO, but the entire global economy. On the other hand, it could prove to be a symbolic moment that is impossible to sustain even during this ministerial meeting if the divergent interests of its members are put to the test. That seems imminent, as t\battle lines become drawn over the services negotiations where India has ‘offensive’ interests it wants to pursue, while the ACP and most of the LDCs are challenging the very basis of those negotiations.