December 18, 2005, Hong Kong, Press Release

As the WTO Hong Kong Ministerial draws to a close, what do Least Developed Countries, LDCs, have to show from five days of intense negotiations? “For LDCs the outlook from the Ministerial will describe stuttering progress, although far behind that promised at the beginning of the conference, and the sense that many of their remaining concerns have been left to the less emotionally charged setting of Geneva” says leading research and advocacy organisation CUTS International.

The long deliberations on cotton have stimulated some progress on dealing with the concerns expressed by the West African cotton producers. The US has agreed to eliminate cotton export subsidies by 2006 and has offered LDCs duty and quota free market access for their cotton exports. However, little has been done to move forward the elimination of domestic cotton subsidies, which are the dominant concern of developing countries on cotton and other agricultural products.

On the new aid for trade package, the developed countries have stated their willingness to improve their contributions. However, there seem to have little vision in the test as to where this money will come from, how it will be spent and who exactly will receive it. The ministerial text mandates the Director General of the WTO to set up a task force to flesh out these details and report to the WTO General Council by July 2006 on their progress.

In relation to the timetable for phasing out the agricultural export subsidies that contribute to the dumping of cheap imports in developing countries, discussions on this have dominated the final two days of the ministerial. Agreement has finally been reached on them being phased out by 2013, following the EU’s opposition to the 2010 deadline agreed on by virtually all other WTO members.

Negotiations on duty and quota free access for LDCs have taken a roller coaster of a ride. Utilising the differences among the developing countries on this murky issue, the position of the developed countries hardened during the final hours of the ministerial. As a result the final text offers countries who find it difficult to do so the opportunity to exclude 3% of tariff lines, which it is expected will allow the developed countries to exclude some of the competitive sectors, such as textiles and clothing, leather products, etc which are of primary concerns of some of the LDCs.

The threat by Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to walk out of the Ministerial if their concerns on preference erosion were not taken into account was tactically quashed by a vague commitment in the final text for the negotiating groups to assess these problems in Geneva with solutions.

The struggle for Doha to deliver on its development commitments and provide LDCs with a meaningful package of support through various complementary measures such as preferential market access, aid, etc now moves on to Geneva with much work still to be done.