CUTS IN MEDIA-September 2006

 


“Stocktaking of WTO Negotiations: Concerns of Developing Countries”
SAARC News, September 26, 2006
'Economic Partnership agreements (EPAs) will be good for developing countries in the long run'
Business Post, Zambia, September 19, 2006
Ecolabels? You must be joking
September 15, 2006, Business Standard, New Delhi, India
'RTI amendment will defeat purpose of Act'
Indian Express, September 14, 2006

Consumer groups want CAS across the country
September 06, 2006, Financial Express, New Delhi, India

Archives


“Stocktaking of WTO Negotiations: Concerns of Developing Countries”

September 26, 2006
SAARC News
 

The SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) organised a session at the Annual WTO Public Forum on September 26, 2006 in Geneva. The Annual WTO Public Forum 2006 was held from September 25-27, 2006 at the WTO headquarters in Geneva. The objective of the Forum was to stimulate discussions among stakeholders and participants about significant WTO issues. The theme for this year’s Forum, “What WTO for the XXIst Century?" will focus on WTO and its significance in the 21st century.     

The SCCI session entitled “Stocktaking on WTO Negotiations: Concerns of Developing Countries” highlighted and raised issues of developing countries, particularly South Asia, at an international forum.
The WTO has proved to be a powerful means for countries to promote economic growth and development. Trade liberalisation under multilateral negotiations is essential because it provides an opportunity for countries to gain visible benefits from their exports and from opening up of domestic and
international markets. However, over the past few years, the progress of WTO has been unstable.

The speakers of the SCCI session at the WTO Public Forum. (from left to right): Martin Khor, Director, Third World Network, Malaysia, Rashid S. Kaukab, Head, Strategic Policy, Planning and Coordination, South Centre, Geneva, Dr. Manzoor Ahmad, Pakistan Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the WTO, Geneva, Dasho Ugen Tsechup Dorji, President SCCI and Pradeep S. Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International, India .

Recently, the Doha talks have been postponed over which the South Asian business community is disappointed. This session addressed the concerns of both developing and least developing countries (LDCs) with special interest of the private sector regarding the WTO negotiations. It tackled issues that must be addressed to successfully conclude the Doha Round of negotiations without suppressing the interest of the developing countries. Moreover, the session highlighted the need to design the global trading system with the widest participation of all WTO members and communities that would be affected by the outcomes, particularly the poorest and most marginalised.
The SCCI President, Dasho Ugen Tsechup Dorji addressed the session and stated that the South Asian countries have a strong desire to bring the WTO negotiations back on track. “The future of the global trading system must be designed with the widest participation of all WTO members and communities that would be affected by the outcomes, particularly the poorest and most marginalised. Furthermore, the conflicting interest of the developed and developing countries needs to be reconciled and fair compromise needs to be worked out if the overall aim is to promote global development”, he said.
The session stressed the desire of South Asian countries to bring the WTO negotiations back on track. It provided useful insights about what should be done to move forward with the negotiations and reconcile the differences and conflicting interests of the developed and developing countries to promote a multilateral trading system and overall global development.

Economic Partnership agreements (EPAs) will be good for developing countries in the long run.

September 19, 2006, Business Post
Zambia, Africa

Economic Partnership agreements (EPAs) will be good for developing countries in the long run, the European Commission in Zambia assured, but civil society organizations says this may not be the case unless poor countries increase their negotiating capacity.

With fears surrounding EPAs abound, the local civil society movement has called for strengthening of Zambia’s negotiating capacity to adequately deal with he fears.

Zambia is currently negotiating an EPA with the EU as port of the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) configuration, with the COMESA Secretariat having been mandated by ESA states to coordinate the regions negotiations. The ESA group agreed to break down the EPA negotiations into six clusters of development issues; market access; agriculture; fisheries trade in services; and trade related areas.

At a recent consultative workshop on EPAs organised by Civil Society Trade Network of Zambia (CSTNZ) and the Consumer Unity and Trust Society- Africa Resource Centre (CUTS-ARC) it was agreed that despite several fears. EPAs are anticipated to serve as a key element for increased trade between Europe and Africa.

CUTS-ARC researcher Vladmir Chilinya said Zambia, being party to the EPA negotiation is expected to benefit from increased exports and welfare due to lower imported prices.

He, however, said the proposed trade liberalization under EPAs has been criticized as not being suitable for reducing poverty in Zambia.
“In addition to revenue loss nost industries in Zambia are still in the infant stage, therefore not able to complete with European products. This will result into unbalanced gains; however government was urged to adequately consult with various stakeholders in different parts of the country,” Chiliniya.

Chiliniya said concerns were raised over the continued the lack of negotiating capacity to effectively which negatively affects Zambia’s negotiating ability.
“It was therefore recommended that government negotiating tam be strengthened and widened to include multi-representation from various stakeholders,” said Chiliniya.

But Francesca Di Mauro, head of Economic and Trade-related Cooperation at the Delegation of European Commission in Zambia, allayed fears regarding EPAs.

She said the flooding of EU products that was being feared would only take place in African countries had to open up the borders to the EU as of January 1, 2008.

“This is not the case, only the EU will have to offer zero rates on most products on that date, while the ACPs will benefit from long transition periods. This means that ACPs will and can keep their protection for many years in a number of sectors, including for the ‘infants’ sectors, sensitive products, and they can also use safeguards provision as needed”.

She said trade liberlisation would be a gradual approach with ACPs first opening among themselves, and then eventually with the EU.

“In the long-term, we should not forget that lower prices for imported goods be they from neighbouring countries or from the EU, are beneficial for consumers, but also for producers who need to import equipment and machinery to develop their domestic industries,” she said.

Di Mauro stressed that liberalisation is a process that highlights which sectors are competitive in the world markets, with a growing potential.
She said, in the process, other sectors would find themselves less competitive and would have to restructure.

“In this process of reallocation of resources it will be important that governments foresee social safety nets to minimise the impact on the most affected sectors, until the labour force slowly moves into the growing exporting sectors,” she advised.

New fears have emerged regarding EPAs that they may be negotiated outside the WTO domain as multilateral negotiations are protracted.
Lillian Bwalya, an external trade economist in the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry, said the continuous shifting of WTO deadlines could cause serious implications with regard to assimilating WTO agreements into EPAs.

“The danger is that we will end up negotiating issues that we will not have agreed upon at the multilateral level,” Bwalya said at a recent post Honk-Kong national workshop on WTO.
Bwalya said the outcomes of EPAs would only be best if they resonated with what is agreed on the multilateral level, which currently seems unlikely.
African countries and the EU have up to December 2007 to conclude EPAs but it seems unlikely that speedy movement will made on the part of the WTO to conclude the current Doha Round to douse these fears.
The Doha Round of WTO talks was suspended in July after some five years of negotiations , as major countries left the negotiating table after failing to reach a common agreement. It is not clear when they will resume.

If WTO talks had been completed on their initial deadline of end-2004, African countries would have had three years on hand to assimilate some of the multilateral trade agreements into EPAs negotiations.

“The WTO timeline keeps shifting but the EPA deadline still stands and wwe are found grappling with how we can synchronise the two,” Bwalya said.

But Di Mauro said these fears were “unfounded”.She said EPAs would be within globally acceptable rules.
Di Mauro said previous special preferential treatments granted by the EU to African, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) states was done on a waiver basis from WTO members. As normally preferences should be the same for all developing countries and not just the ACPs.
Di Mauro said the waiver was granted at a high cost in terms of concessions within the WTO and that during the negotiations of the Cotonou Agreement in 2000, both the ACPs and the EC had agreed together to go rather for a fully WTO-compatible EPA agreement..

“The compatibility derives from the fact that EPAs will, in the long-term, be a reciprocal agreement. That is, a Free Trade Area between the EU and the ACPs. However since the WTO requires that ‘substantially all’ trade between the EU and the ACPs is liberalised, this leaves some room for the ACPs to protect certain priority sensitive sectors, or invoking safeguard measures if necessary, hence allowing some asymmetry in the Agreements,” Di Mauro said.
Di Mauro saif there are many Regional Trade Agreements in the world that are negotiated bilaterally and outside the multilateral arena.

Ecolabels? You must be joking

September 15, 2006, Business Standard
New Delhi, India

The scheme is an orphan. The ministry of environment has failed miserably in taking positive action.

One of the biggest changes in the last decade is the high degree of awareness amongst urban schoolchildren of environmental issues. But will these same children, when they begin to wield authority in the workplace, continue to be as aware?

The question assumes importance in the light of a new report* by CUTS, an advocacy group based in Jaipur, on ecolabelling in India. Ecolabelling has been a shining failure here, it says, and examines the reasons why. It also suggests what needs to be done.

There are three types of ecolabelling. Type I is the best because it is certified by an independent agency. Type II is a self-declaration of green virtue, and Type III is a mere listing of the product’s virtues without any form of endorsement.

The purpose of ecolabels is to help the consumer decide if he wants to buy the product. In Europe, ecolabels are a virtual must and, indeed, serve as a non-governmental, non-tariff barrier. No label, no sale.

“The first ecolabelled products were launched in Germany in the late 1970s and since then it has become one of the more high profile market-based tools for achieving environmental objectives,” says the report.

India, never a shirker when it comes to virtue, adopted ecolabelling as being a “good” thing in 1991, even before it was endorsed in 1992 by the UN. And that done, it went back to sleep.

The administrative responsibility is vested in the ministry of environment and forests. It sets the standards. The label is a matka.

“However, even after 15 years in existence, only 12 manufacturers of products like paper, pulp, leather and wood particleboard have received the Ecomark licence.” Bad? Well, there’s more to come. “Furthermore, these same licensees hardly use the Ecomark symbol as none of them find any benefit in it.”

CUTS decided to find out why the scheme has failed so spectacularly in India. It circulated a questionnaire and conducted follow-up discussions with a large number of companies. Other data collection techniques were also used in respect of the different government agencies.

The report also says that “another reason for derailment was that some business lobbies worked hard to disrupt it: the detergent industry being a case in point.” But this, the report suggests, is the lesser problem. The biggest problem is government apathy.

“The BIS treats the Ecomark Scheme like a stepchild. Communication between different branches/ministries of the government has been very poor at times, responsibilities have got diffused and the entire management has been weak.”

Net result: the scheme has no parentage and is an orphan. The ministry of environment, which excels in negative actions, has failed miserably in taking positive action. One can only guess at the reasons but in the Indian context, I am sure everyone will guess correctly.

So what needs to be done? The report has made the following recommendations.

The existing three-tier system has been too bureaucratic. So a new, independent board should be set up.

The number of products should be prioritised and product categories to be chosen on measurable parameters.

The scheme needs to be made more forward looking to account for things like electronics.

Since ecolabels are used as non-tariff barriers, domestic as well as international requirements need to be balanced while forming criteria. The government should press for equivalence and mutual recognition of the schemes of different countries at the WTO.
One shortcoming of the report, however, is that it fails to point out that apart from being incompetent, the government is also the biggest degrader of the environment, if only because it is also the biggest producer of pollutants.

*Why is India’s Ecomark scheme unsuccessful?, by P S Mehta cuts@cuts.org

'RTI amendment will defeat purpose of Act'

September 14, 2006, Indian Express
New Delhi, India
 

AMID the public discontent over the Right to Information Amendment Bill, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah says: "I cannot presume to know whether the amendment bill will be passed. Nor 0am I so arrogant to believe that the government will accept my advice on the matter." The Right to Information Act, which was to reverse the 1923 Official Secrets Act which protects government secrets from the public, is set to be amended in the winter session of Parliament. Habibullah was one of the delegates to the Interactive Session on the Right to Information Amendment Bill, organized by CUTS International at the India International Centre today. Magsaysay Award winner and CEO  of Parivartan, Arvind Kejriwal, was also present. Kejriwal, who thanked Habibullah for having spoken out against amending the Act, said people mistakenly believed that only  file notings will be removed under the amendment. He says not just file notings but also information on a particular project would be withheld unless the authorities take a final decision. "This exclusion of the public from decision-making defeats the purpose of the Act.

The public can now only conduct post-mortems of various "decisions,"Kejriwal said. The amendment would also lead to the exclusion of any information regarding examination systems and evaluations as well as personal information regarding promotions, appointments or dismissals. The public information officer will also have the right to withhold information on 'substantiative' file notings. "The vague wording of the amendment could mean that any demand for information can be denied," Kejriwal says. "The government's rationale behind the amendment is to accommodate the free flow of opinion among government employees on various projects. However this is not true. Most bureaucrats in fact state that the Right to Information (Act) would save them from being pressurised by corrupt politicians or seniors," the CEO of Parivartan added. Habibullah and Kejriwal agreed that the mindset of the public and bureaucrats has to change, with the latter saying that the landmark Act could give millions of Indians hope if it is left untouched. "If the amendment bill is not passed this winter session and more citizens use it, in a few years no government will be able to touch it," the Magsaysay Award winner said.
 

Consumer groups want CAS across the country

September 06, 2006, Financial Express
New Delhi, India

Consumer groups have demanded that CAS be implemented beyond the four metros where it is scheduled to be out. CAS is currently only in Chennai. However, following a Delhi High Court order in July, CAS will have to be implemented in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata by this year-end.

“The roll-out of CAS in the notified areas of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata should be followed by other regions and cities,” representatives of consumer groups like National Consumer Helpline (NCH), Voice and CUTS have demanded.

“Implementation of CAS in select cities is a welcome step. Ultimately, the entire country should be covered under CAS,” a CUTS official said.

SK Virmani of NCH, said, “The Rs 5 ceiling is high and we want this to further come down to Re 1.” NCH also demanded that advertising on pay channels should be banned.

—PTI

CONTACT US
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Email: cuts@cuts.org

Copyright 2005 Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), All rights reserved.
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