The Financial Express, 10th May 2003

Geneva, May 9:The Cancun agenda should be restricted to not more than five issues to avoid failure of the ministerial meeting scheduled in September, World Trade Organisation (WTO) deputy director general Roderick Abbott has warned. Speaking to FE at a review seminar ‘Investment For Development’ in Geneva, Mr Abbott said although there were about a dozen unresolved issues in the ongoing negotiations, taking them all up at Cancun would lead to over-loading of the agenda. “If the agenda is over-loaded, we would be back to where we started from.”

According to Mr Abbott, the issues which should be given priority at the ministerial include the pending agreement of Trips & Public Health, implementation issues and the Singapore issues. Among the Singapore issues, investment should get the maximum focus followed by trade facilitation. Addressing the seminar organised by the Consumer Unity & Trust Society, Department for International Development and UNCTAD, Mr Abbott said the Doha declaration on investment was being interpreted differently by the developed and developing countries. While the developed countries believed that a decision on launching negotiations had been taken, most developing countries thought otherwise.

Listing out the gains from a multilateral agreement on investments, Mr Abbott said this would lead to a reduced risk perception in developing countries and hence make the investment climate more attractive.

The DDG pointed out that investment agreements were already taking place bilaterally and plurilaterally. “Developing countries have to decide whether they prefer bilaterals or a multilateral agreement with the mechanism of dispute settlement as a safeguard,” he said. Mr Abbott added that bilaterals often marginalised developing countries and hurt their interests and therefore there was a strong reason for going the multilateral way. Giving the other side of the picture, Mr Abbott said those against a multilateral agreement on investment feel that bilaterals were better as they involved only post-establishment commitments and not pre-investment commitments. The Chinese experience of getting a surge of foreign investment despite keeping out of the WTO till recently is also a good example which shows that investments can be attracted even without multilateral agreements.

Mr Abbott said that if a multilateral agreement on investment is culled out, it should take the interests of both sides into account and has to respect local legislations. The DDG added that while a multilateral agreement on investment was desirable, nobody could force developing country members to negotiate or impose an agreement on them.