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Developing Countries ‘Bite the Bullet’ in Nairobi

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By Devendra Kamarajan | IDN-InDepthNews Analysis

NAIROBI (IDN) - If India and other developing countries, including the 79-nation African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of states had insisted that the World Trade Organization (WTO) Conference – the first on African soil – must reaffirm the focus on development and the ‘Doha Development Agenda’ (DDA), it would have concluded without an outcome document.

However, despite disappointment and strong reservations expressed by India and by representatives of the ACP Group, the conference endorsed the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration (NMD).

“The choices are clear: reaffirm the Doha declaration or condemn it. For Africa, turning away from the Doha work programme and the broader Doha negotiations architecture on African soil is a highly unacceptable proposition. In fact a proposition of this nature devastates trust in the sphere of relations amongst States,” said Lesotho Trade and Industry Minister Joshua Setipa, addressing the conference on behalf of the Africa Group.

“The launch of the DDA fourteen years ago, was a momentous event in this organization’s history, as it was the first time… that a negotiating round was entitled ‘a development round’,” recalled Maxine McClean, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados, and the spokesperson for the ACP Group at the Nairobi conference.

As the four-day Nairobi conference was extended on December 18 by a final non-stop 24-hour negotiation between the major trading powers, the pressure mounted on leaving Nairobi with at least a declaration, if not a comprehensive development agreement.

“A no-outcome conference would send a damaging message for the future of the multilateral trading system, on the 20th anniversary of the WTO and on the first occasion a ministerial is held on the African continent,” said an observer.

The quandary in which representatives of the ACP Group were caught, was highlighted by the Uganda Minister of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, Amelia Kyambadde, who told the conference: “[We] call for an outcome, but not any outcome, and not at any cost. We should not lose this opportunity to deliver for poor countries.”

The ACP Group was determined not to “bury” the Doha Agenda in Nairobi. “At the very least, developing countries insisted that the Nairobi conference allows the opportunity for the Doha Development Agenda to continue, until the remaining issues have been resolved in a balanced way,” noted an observer.

The outcome document emerged after marathon meetings among the United States, the European Union, China, India, and Brazil. The chair for the conference Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for foreign affairs, issued a five page draft ministerial declaration that largely reflected the U.S. demands while brushing aside India’s demands, an Indian official conceded, while preferring anonymity.

The operational paragraphs concerning how members are going to deal with the DDA negotiations are contained vaguely with little legal effect in paragraphs 30 and 31 of the draft final ministerial declaration.

“Divide on future of Doha Round”

The WTO on its website explains the Nairobi outcome with the headline ‘WTO members secure “historic” Nairobi Package for Africa and the world’. While stressing that Ministers reaffirm central role of WTO in global trade talks, it acknowledges that there is “divide on future of Doha Round”.

The WTO says: In their Nairobi Declaration, ministers cited the “pre-eminence of the WTO as the global forum for trade rules setting and governance” and recognized the contribution the rules-based multilateral trading system has made to the strength and stability of the global economy.

“We reaffirm the need to ensure that Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) remain complementary to, not a substitute for, the multilateral trading system,” ministers declared, adding that the WTO’s Committee on Regional Trade Agreements (CRTA) would discuss the systemic implications of RTAs for the multilateral trading system and their relationship with WTO rules.

Ministers acknowledged that members “have different views” on how to address the future of the Doha Round negotiations but noted the “strong commitment of all Members to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues”.

A South Asian trade official commented: “But there are no ‘Doha’ issues,” suggesting that there are only the Doha Development Agenda issues or the Doha Ministerial Declaration of November 2001.

The Nairobi Ministerial Declaration stated: The forthcoming work “shall maintain development at its centre and we reaffirm that provisions for special and differential treatment shall remain integral”.

The NMD also stated that, while negotiators should prioritize work where results have not yet been achieved, “some wish to identify and discuss other issues for negotiation; others do not. Any decision to launch negotiations multilaterally on such issues would need to be agreed by all Members."

WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo acknowledged “persistent and fundamental divisions on our negotiating agenda” and said WTO members “have to face up to this problem.”

“Members must decide – the world must decide – about the future of the Doha Round,” he declared in his address to the closing ceremony. “This impasse is already harming the prospects of all those who rely on trade today – and it will disadvantage all those who would benefit from a reformed, modernized global trading system in future.”

The Nairobi Package contains a series of six Ministerial Decisions on agriculture, cotton and issues related to least-developed countries. These include a commitment to abolish export subsidies for farm exports, which WTO Director-General Azevêdo hailed as the “most significant outcome on agriculture” in the organization’s 20-year history.

The other agricultural decisions cover public stockholding for food security purposes, a special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, and measures related to cotton. Decisions were also made regarding preferential treatment for least developed countries (LDCs) in the area of services and the criteria for determining whether exports from LDCs may benefit from trade preferences.

Against this backdrop, Azevêdo declared: “Two years ago in Bali we did something that the WTO had never done before – we delivered major, multilaterally-negotiated outcomes. This week, here in Nairobi, we saw those same qualities at work. And today, once again, we delivered.”

The WTO's Tenth Ministerial Conference was held in Nairobi from December 15 to 19, 2015. The conference chair Mohamed admitted that ministers “faced challenging moments,” in concluding the Nairobi Package, which required an extra day of intensive negotiations to conclude. “Tough calls had to be made but we did bite the bullet.”

“We have reaffirmed the central role of the WTO in international trade governance,” she added. [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 December 2015]

Photo: ACP delegation headed by ACP Secretary General (third from left) with Multilateral Trade Expert Morgan Githinji, Head of the ACP Geneva Office Marwa Kisiri, Assistant SG in charge of Trade and Sustainable Economic Development Viwanou Gnassounou. | Credit: ACP

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