Tuesday, November 20, 2007

International trading regime is much more than the WTO

Ms. Luisa Bernal, Coordinator, Trade for Development Programme, South Centre recently gave a presentation on possible elements of a development oriented trading regime and on NAMA at the Conference on Trade and Development organized by the Forum on Environment and Development in Oslo on 16 and 17 November 2007.

The topic of the meeting was the international trading regime and its implications for developing countries. The presentation made by Ms. Bernal stressed the following points:

  • The international trading regime is much more than the WTO given the exponential increase of bilateral and regional agreements. The scope and depth of commitments made in these agreements go beyond the WTO
  • The WTO rules represent however the framework for any bilateral and regional agreement
  • The current multilateral disciplines were developed during the Uruguay Round in a period when the Washington consensus was unquestioned
  • During the Uruguay round, the Special and Differential treatment was seriously undermined.
  • The agenda expanded to cover issues usually outside the purview of trade rules: investment related measures, services, intellectual property, etc.
  • The Round failed to deliver on issues of interest to developing countries (e.g. agriculture, textile and clothing)
  • The Doha Round was seen by developing countries as an opportunity to address the imbalances of the Uruguay Round. There was an inbuilt prioritization of issues in the agenda with agriculture, SDT and implementation issues to be addressed before NAMA and other new issues. However, the agenda has been gradually narrowed down putting on the side many aspects of interest to developing countries. There is a strong focus on market access, particularly in developing countries.

The assessments made about the potential impact of the Doha round on developing countries, based on the proposed modalities, show that the expected benefits for developing countries are very small and unevenly distributed. The poorest countries such as LDCs and Sub-Sahara Africa are expected to realize net losses as a result of the round. The Doha round is deepening the existing framework rather than creating an alternative approach to liberalization.