BERLIN | BRUSSELS (IDN) – The Tenth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), to be held in Kenya’s capital Nairobi from December 15-18 will not only be “a milestone in terms of the future of the organization”, but also a challenge to the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States.
According to ACP Secretary General Dr. Patrick Gomes, “The ACP Group must work vigorously for the WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi to be a success. Part of the ACP strategy for the Ministerial is to safeguard continuation of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) post-Nairobi. The ACP Group is in support of a Ministerial declaration in Nairobi which will give guidance to future work.”
The Nairobi conference would be a challenge for more than one reason: 61 out of the 79 countries of the ACP Group are members of the WTO, with seven more countries in accession. Together they make up a third of the total membership of 161.
The ACP Group of States reflects an array of diversity: least developed countries (LDCs), small island developing states (SIDS), small vulnerable economies (SVEs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs), preference dependent economies, net food importing developing countries (NFIDCs), low income countries (LICs), middle income countries, highly indebted poor countries (HIPC), heavily indebted middle income countries (HIMICs), limited commodity exporting countries, and countries in war, post-conflict, and post-natural disaster situations.
ACP trade ministers expressly referred to this diversity in a declaration adopted at their special meeting in Brussels on October 20-21. The declaration emphasizes “the need for priority attention to be accorded to Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in order to facilitate their full integration into the multilateral trading system”.
The Brussels gathering was purported “to review preparations” for the first WTO ministerial conference in Africa, since the organization was created in Marrakesh two decades ago – and the first in an ACP country – to “provide political guidance” to the member states.
ACP ministers decided to meet as a group in Nairobi on December 14, on the eve of the Ministerial Conference, “to take stock of the situation and agree on a final position”. It was decided that the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade from Barbados, Senator Maxine McClean, would act as ACP spokesperson in Nairobi.
Referring to the special character of the Conference, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo told ACP trade ministers on October 21: “This underlines the importance of delivering outcomes for development. But it will also be a milestone in terms of the future of the organization. What we deliver in Nairobi and the path that we follow after Nairobi will be crucial in determining the future role of this organization as a forum for trade negotiations.”
Azevêdo described “the state of play in negotiations, the difficulties in advancing the core Doha Development Agenda (DDA) issues, and some of the potential negotiated outcomes which might be achieved in Nairobi”.
The WTO Director-General added: “Whatever we deliver in Nairobi, clearly it would not be viable, or credible, to announce it as a satisfactory conclusion of the DDA. So how do we take forward the outstanding issues after Nairobi?”
He added: “There is a clear divergence among the membership on this point. It seems to me that all members agree that the DDA core issues must remain on the negotiating agenda, such as agriculture, market access, and services. I think there is consensus on that. However there is no agreement on how these negotiations should take place: whether under the present Doha framework, or whether under some new architecture.”
The WTO chief declared, “a huge amount is at stake in the coming weeks – in terms of the potential Nairobi deliverables, and in terms of what success, or failure, would mean for the future of the WTO.” He urged ACP trade ministers “to recognize what is at stake”, and expressed the hope that they would “engage very closely in all of this work in the coming weeks”.
ACP trade ministers, on their part, said they were committed to a successful outcome at the Nairobi conference, “calling on WTO member countries to affirm their commitment to the Doha Development Agenda, in particular on the core areas in the negotiations that are important to developing countries”.
The 15 development decisions proposed by ACP ministers include ministerial affirmation on: flexibilities for LDCs and SVEs in agriculture and non-agriculture goods; agreed flexibilities for developing countries in service negotiations; and different tariff reduction targets to be defined for developed countries, developing countries, and SVEs in accordance with the principles of special differentiated treatment and less than full reciprocity. “LDCs shall be exempt from making tariff reductions,” says the declaration.
ACP Ministers also called for concrete and binding decisions on cotton, as well as in the areas put forward by LDCs, and specific proposals submitted by the G90 countries.
The declaration refers to “Binding decisions in accordance with Doha Declaration paragraph 44, on the twenty-five DDA special and differential treatment agreement specific proposals submitted by the G90”.
In their declaration, ACP Ministers insist that decisions be taken through a transparent and inclusive process, working towards agreement on a development package that takes into account the concerns and interests of all ACP States.
They further call for the affirmation of the development objectives of the DDA in all aspects of negotiating outcomes, including the principle of special and differential treatment and less than full reciprocity. [IDN-InDepthNews – 22 October 2015]
Photo: WTO DG addressing ACP Trade Ministers in Brussels on October 21, 2015