Info Service on Trade and WTO Issues (Aug08/06)
Africans played pivotal role at turning point of WTO talks
of the media publicity has focused on the role of the
However, on the two key issues on which the talks took an important turn, the African Group and the other groupings of developing countries -- the G33, ACP, LDCs and SVEs (small vulnerable economies) -- played a significant and even pivotal role.
of these was the special safeguard mechanism. The inability of the G7
to settle on this issue was the immediate cause of the breakdown of
the talks. The other issue was cotton, over which no discussion was
held because it was an item lower down the agenda than the SSM. There
is widespread belief that it was to avoid this issue that the
both these issues, the majority of developing countries took a strong
developed countries, particularly the
mainstream media played up this portrayal by the
There was also the leadership provided on the SSM issue by the G33 and its coordinator, the Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu.
turning point came, however, when the African Group, together with the
coordinators of the ACP, LDC and SVE groups, took the decisive step
to come together with the G33 (whose leading members include
The coordinators of the groupings held a meeting on Sunday 27 July afternoon to discuss their positions and decided to issue a joint statement placing their views on why they found the SSM portion of the 25 July draft of Pascal Lamy, the WTO Director General, inadequate and not acceptable, and placing their own positions on various aspects of the SSM, including the trigger, the remedy especially with regard to the raising of tariffs above the pre-Doha rates, and the need to include FTA imports in the use of the SSM.
Kamal Nath entered the WTO building on 27 July night for a Green Room
meeting, he announced to the waiting media that a hundred developing
countries were behind having an effective SSM, and not just
then on, it was not possible for the
the cotton issue, the African Group continued to take the lead to back
the core group in the cotton initiative, the Cotton 4 led by
Kenya's deputy prime minister Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, near the start of the Geneva talks, said at a press conference that "millions of poor people in Africa are dependent on cotton production but the huge subsidies in developed countries have continued to depress world prices, thereby driving farmers out of production with no other sources of income. We therefore look forward to an effective and long term solution on cotton."
the cotton issue set aside while other issues claimed the agenda, the
many Africa Ministers who came to
The African countries, led on this issue by the Burkina Faso Trade Minister, Mr. Mamadou Sanou, were furious with the turn of events. "We have been patient but we now feel betrayed, cotton was never even discussed," he told the formal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting on 30 July, after the talks had collapsed.
And at an African Group press conference on the same day, Sanou expressed great disappointment and distress that the cotton issue had been relegated to the sidelines to be discussed at the last moment, and that moment never even came.
"Now after 10 days we have not discussed the issue we were invited here to discuss. The invitation (from Lamy) said it wanted me to come to negotiate on cotton. You will agree it is very discouraging. The impact is very grave on our cotton farmers. Because of the subsidies to US and EU cotton growers, our farmers are in a very negative position, suffering severe deficits, there is a risk the whole system will collapse in our countries. The cotton system is threatened with extinction in the short term. We are faced with imminent threat and we cannot control our anger when we see the situation in our countries.
"We are disappointed the big countries that ask us to liberalise our trade and economy, that those same countries are afraid to trade with us on a level playing field, on a fair basis."
The African Group press conference, at which the Minister spoke, was held on 30 July, in the morning after the talks had collapsed, and just before the TNC meeting.
Deputy Prime Minister of
the G7 process progressed, we patiently waited for a positive outcome...
However, as you have witnessed yesterday the G7 consultative process
did not achieve progress. Taking into consideration the two week we
have been here in
"It should be known that most of the key issues of interest to the African continent were not even discussed, especially the issue of cotton...
"Considering that this was a Development Round, we wish to state categorically that we African Ministers came here with a lot of optimism and are disappointed with the lack of progress during the last few days that has resulted in this situation. As stated in this room last week, leadership comes with responsibility. It is rather unfortunate that this does not seem to have been the case.
call upon the membership to consider resumption as soon as is feasible
and continue with the negotiations.
A key part of the food crisis, distortions caused by subsidies, will remain to haunt us, he said. He added that Aid for Trade should continue to be pursued. The enhanced integrated framework (EIF) is lagging behind and should be quickly launched. "We waited too long. It appears a mere pie in the sky."
To a question how soon will the talks resume, given elections in some countries, Kenyatta said "as much as we urge a resumption of talks as soon as possible, we recognise there are events like elections in many countries in the next months which will take priority.
we would like to see a mini Ministerial in the next months, that might
be difficult to achieve. But we need to remain focused. This Round should
not be derailed by internal politics. We are talking of a fair-trade
system that recognises
effects of the failure on our cotton farmers will be bad. We discussed
reduction of overall trade distorting domestic support (OTDS) here.
The OTDS makes cotton farming unproductive in
Asked to elaborate what the US is prepared to do with the Cotton-4, and would it be for US to reduce subsidies and would it ask for anything from the C4, Lebesa said that on cotton it is different to negotiate multilaterally or bilaterally. Bilateral talks may give some benefits to the C4, but in longer term a WTO agreed rule on how the subsidy issue on cotton would be handled is better.
The Minister of Burkina Faso, Mamdou Sanou, who chairs the Cotton-4 group, expressed great disappointment at the results of these talks. "At the first TNC meeting (on 21 July) we expressed our concerns. We did not want the cotton issue to be relegated to the sidelines and be considered at the very last minute.
"We always insisted at the Green Room meetings that cotton be considered. We were promised this... But now after 10 days we have not discussed the issue we were invited here to discuss. The invitation said it wanted me to come to negotiate on cotton. You will agree it is very discouraging.
"The impact (of the failure of the talks) is very grave on our cotton farmers. Because of the subsidies to US and EU cotton growers, our farmers are in a very negative position, suffering severe deficits. There is a risk the whole (cotton) system will collapse in our countries.
"The cotton issue is very urgent as the cotton system is threatened with extinction in the short term. This can only make worse the depth of our disappointment. We are faced with imminent threat and we cannot control our anger when we see the situation in our countries. We are disappointed the big countries that ask us to liberalise our trade and economy, and that those same countries are afraid to trade with us on a level playing field, on a fair basis."
to provide details on the
A journalist commented that some countries pushing for the SSM said they were doing this for millions for farmers in developing countries. Do the African countries accept the arguments are in their interests or do they see you it differently?
The Kenyan deputy premier said that the SSM is part of the modalities and the issue is how we protect vulnerable economies and sectors from import surges.
"We find it amazing that it is impossible to accept and understand how a trade negotiation can collapse because of remedies that are supposed to be activated in exceptional circumstances. It is not central to growth of trade or to the development aspects of trade, only a mechanisms and remedy to be used for exceptional circumstances." +