the past month we have had a typical indication of the wide range of trade
negotiation processes in which the countries of the Greater Caribbean are
March 31 several key deadlines in the WTO process were reached--and missed.
March 31 to April 4, the 3rd Round of negotiations for a US-Central America Free
Trade Agreement (CAFTA) took place in Eel Salvador. And in mid-April the Trade
Negotiating Committee of the FTAA met in Puebla, Mexico to review the final
phase of the negotiations due to be completed at the end of 2004.
missed deadlines in the WTO passed almost without notice. Yet it is the WTO that
sets the framework for regional and sub-regional agreements such as the FTAA and
CAFTA. In September of this year Mexico, the largest ACS country, will host the
5th WTO Ministerial Meeting in the Caribbean resort of Cancun. As host country
and Chair, Mexico also has a strong interest in seeing a successful result.
the 4th WTO Ministerial Meeting in November 2001 commitments were made to
address several issues of concern to developing countries, arising out of the
flawed operation of the Marrakech Agreement, which launched the WTO agreement in
the most important of these were deficiencies in the implementation of special
and differential treatment (S&DT) for developing countries and of Trade Related
Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and Public Health.
time table was agreed at Doha for certain steps to have been completed by March
31, 2003. Agreement was to have been reached on provisions to give concrete
effect to S&DT and TRIPS and Public Health. In services, WTO members were to
have put their initial offers on liberalization on the table. And in the key
area of agriculture, consensus on the modalities of the conduct of negotiations
on market access and the elimination of subsidies was to have been established.
out of Geneva is that all four of these key deadlines have been missed, in spite
of an intense series of meetings aimed at securing agreement.
missed deadlines show how fragile official commitments on trade negotiations can
be, when made with the political aim of announcing consensus from a Ministerial
S&DT, the developed countries have shown little inclination to go beyond
currently existing provisions to give developing countries extended periods of
application and special provisions for the LLDCs (least developed, or poorest,
flies counter to the principle of the “level playing field”, on which the WTO is
based. Developing countries argue that the WTO provisions in this area are vague
and unenforceable-a position that appears to be borne out by experience.
Doha declaration on TRIPS and Public Health left undefined the rights of
developing countries that lack manufacturing capabilities to import generic
medicines to meet public health emergencies, such as HIV/AIDS. The subsequent
negotiations to give effect to this need collided with the powerful lobby of
multinational firms in the pharmaceutical industry. That deadline too, has been
agriculture issue is one in which there are deep divisions between the US, the
EU and Japan. But developing countries such as Brazil and Argentina have a big
stake in the outcome, for they need access to developed country markets.
services, so far only 14 countries have made their initial offers, with only
two-the US and Canada-making them public.
Hence, a successful outcome in Cancun will require a tremendous effort to
address the outstanding issues in the coming months.
1) Professor Norman
Girvan is Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States. The views
expressed are not necessarily the official views of the ACS.
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April 28, 2003