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WTO's Singapore issues caught in a sling
Sidhartha in New Delhi |
July 21, 2003 10:01 IST
The reports of the working groups of the World Trade Organisation on competition policy and transparency in government procurement and the council on trade in goods released last week, point to the differences in opinion of member-nations.
"The reports indicate what we have always maintained -- that developed countries are not aware of the level of obligations they have to undertake when negotiations on these issues are completed," a commerce ministry official said.
While the European Union has been pushing for the inclusion of the Singapore issues -- investment, competition policy, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation -- countries like India have opposed it. The US wants a peer review mechanism for issues like competition policy.
In its report, the council for trade in goods reported the lack of unanimity on trade facilitation with members like India refusing to buy the argument for an agreement on the issue saying the one-size-fits-all approach would not work.
Similarly, the working group on transparency in government procurement said some members were pushing for commencement of negotiations at the Cancun ministerial meet in September since the study phase was over, with the elements of negotiations and differences in positions clear.
In response, countries opposed to the issue were of the opinion that identification of elements by the working group, as reflected in the chairman's informal note, 'did not imply any form of agreement, or tacit understanding, or consensus to include those elements in a future agreement,' the report said.
"The Working Group was not in a pre-negotiation stage but still in an educational and clarification one. In order to have a mandate in Cancun to negotiate, there should be agreement in the working group on the elements of a future transparency agreement and, pursuant to paragraph 26 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration, there had to be an explicit consensus to move on to negotiations," the report pointed out.
Similarly, the working group on competition policy, under the chairmanship of Frédéric Jenny, noted that developing countries were of the opinion that they were not in a position to undertake the obligations, and a harmonisation of competition laws across the board might not be in the interest of trade because each country's policy was determined by its domestic needs and culture.
For India, the Singapore issues are a strict no, particularly investment and competition policy. The opinion is that there is no need to expand the negotiating agenda because developing countries have already taken onerous commitments.
Least developed countries make a beeline to join WTO
At least 10 of the 49 least developed countries classified by the United Nations could be joining the WTO over the next two years, with four of them expected to join the multilateral body this year.
According to a report prepared by WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, Nepal, Cambodia, Samoa and Vanuatu are the countries expected to join in 2003.
Talks are in an advanced stage for the accession of Bhutan, Cape Verde, Lao, Sudan and Yemen. Initial negotiations are on in the case of Ethiopia.
Given the proximity of Nepal and Bhutan to India and also the fact that both are land-locked countries, their accession to the WTO could be good news for New Delhi, trade experts said.
Panitchpakdi said since the Doha ministerial meet in November 2001, significant effort had been made to rope in least developed countries.
One instance is the reduction in the number of formal working party meetings for such countries to an average of three or four instead of six or seven in the case of non-least developed countries.
The flexibility shown by existing WTO members has also helped in the accession of least developed countries, which has been matched by their efforts to provide precise plans to put in place WTO-related legislation and enforcement mechanisms.
Trade experts believe the best course of action for India will be to build a strong constituency in the least developed countries, something it has been trying to do for a number of years.
- The EU has been pushing for the inclusion of Singapore issues.
- For India, the Singapore issues are a strict no, particularly investment and competition policy.
- Singapore issues include investment, competition policy, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation.
- Developed countries are not aware of the obligations they have to undertake when negotiations on these issues are completed, say commerce ministry officials.