Geneva 26 May 2004

The second day at the WTO Public Symposium “Multilateralism at a crossroads” clearly displayed the growing importance and clout of the civil society in international trade issues so much so that high profile diplomats from developing and developed countries were more than happy to participate in NGO deliberations.

A workshop organised by the Third World Network “Development perspectives on the current WTO negotiations” included panelists like K.M.Chandrashekhar, Ambassador of India to the WTO and Luis Felipe Seixas Correa, Ambassador of Brazil to WTO as well as Martin Khor of the TWN.

Ambassador Chandrashekhar asserted in his presentation that there is no causal link between trade, growth and poverty and countries should be cautious of such claims made by liberalists in all fora. S&DT treatment for LDCs by developing countries took the centre stage at the TWN session.

Responding to the latest debate on differentiation, Chandrashekhar clarified that it is improper to create a distinction between developing countries and LDCs within the WTO framework because the developed countries themselves have introduced programmes such as AGOA and EBA outside the WTO framework.

Further, he said that developing countries were planning to accommodate the interests of LDCs via special treatment under other plurilateral arrangements. Ambassador Correa added that the forthcoming G20 draft on agriculture for the July Framework agreement will accommodate the interests of LDCs.

An interesting session “Environmental Requirements and Market Access” saw Laurence Graft, of the European Commission spoke about how EC is trying to assist developing countries to promote better environmental standards by providing financial and technical assistance. She also said that the EC is trying to promote cooperation and partnership and increase transparency within EC environmental legislation.

Countering the EC representative, Ms Shashi Sareen, Director of the Indian Export Council said that overall measures adopted by developed countries for promoting transparency in the environment legislation seemed fine on the surface, but under that, things were very different and difficult. Developing countries are not even consulted as regards new environmental schemes. Certification costs are prohibitive, while certification by domestic certifying agencies are not accepted. Standards are also set at high levels than that acceptable under international standards.

In another event on “Corporate Social Responsibility issues and WTO” organised by the Geneva Social Observatory, the issue of an international voluntary code for social, environmental and ethical standards emerged. Further, Hugh Pullen from DG Trade, European Commission noted that CSR codes are finding a place in regional agreements for voluntary adoption, but there is no serious attempt to promote CSR.

A panel discussion organised by CUTS Centre for International Trade, Economics and Environment (CUTS-CITEE) on “South-South Cooperation” introduced South- South cooperation as a new silent revolution. “At present 43 percent of South trade is with developing countries, which accounts for about 11 percent of global trade. And this number is growing at a rate of around 10 percent per year, which is double the growth rate of global trade” said Lakhmi Puri, Director of UNCTAD.

Ms Puri emphasised that South-South trade, in particular, and technological and economic cooperation, in general, gets a role to play in the development path of Southern countries in a more globalised world. The points were reiterated by all other panellists as well as participants, pointing to the need for more South-South technical assistance and capacity building for really meaningful cooperation between developing countries which will benefit them all.

“Trilateral cooperation can be an efficient and great way forward, with financial support from the North, to deliver technical assistance from the South to the South”, said CUTS Secretary General, Pradeep Mehta, underscoring the point made by Nagesh Kumar from the Research and Information System for Non-aligned and Other Developing Countries, India. “We already have experience of getting financial support from the British, Swiss, Swedish and other northern donors, who are supporting CUTS projects for delivering technical assistance to other developing countries. In these projects, CUTS gathers a group of southern experts to do the job”.

“There is a case, and a need, for a multilateral competition framework (MCF) to be hosted by a joint forum of WTO and UNCTAD ”, was the opinion, which came out at a meeting organised by the CUTS Centre for Competition, Investment & Economic Regulation (C-CIER). The Panel Discussion which aimed at examining the desirability and possible structure of an MCF, held on 26th May, the second day of the open debate hosted by the WTO at Geneva, Switzerland.

All the speakers as well as participants showed support to the necessity of having such a framework if developing countries’ interests are to be protected against cross-border anti-competitive practices increasingly prevalent in this globalisation era. “Traditional approach has to be given up, while a more constructive collective bargaining power is indispensable. Together, we will make a better deal”, observed many participants.