There is much concern in the civil society about what will be the outcome of WTO ministerial meeting to be held during 9-13 November, 2001. By now it is known that a draft declaration was issued at Geneva in the last week of September. It gives an indication of a new round to start at Doha. The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) demanded a separate package which should include duty-free and quota-free market access for the LDCs products, separate GSP scheme, relaxation of the Rules of Origin, substantially expanded special and differential treatment, trade related capacity building, fast track accession of LDCs in the WTO etc. The LDCs had tried to work out a strategy to obtain some goodwill gesture from the developed countries before the new round is launched. Information obtained from the Ministry of Commerce suggests that a separate paragraph on LDCs in the Draft Ministerial Declaration has already been included on 27th Oct, 2001 which states the following:
We agree that the meaningful integration of the LDCs into the trading system and the global economy will involve efforts by all WTO members. We commit ourselves to the objective of duty-free, quota-free market access for products originating from the LDCs.
We instruct the Secretariat to reflect the priority we attach to LDCs accession in the annual plans for technical assistance.
We endorse the Integrated Framework (IF) for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least Developed Countries as a viable model for LDCs trade development. We urge development partners to significantly increase contributions to the IF Trust Fund and WTO extra budgetary trust funds in favour of the LDCs.
We reaffirm that provisions for Special and Differential treatment are an integral part to the WTO Agreements. We note the concerns expressed regarding their operation in addressing specific constraints faced by developing countries, particularly Least Developed Countries.
With the amendment of the draft, the fourth WTO Ministerial meeting provides a window of opportunity for the LDCs. The LDCs constitute only 0.4% of the world trade. This amendment is a symbolic gesture towards the LDCs and must be appreciated. It has incorporated most of the issues raised by the LDCs.
Bangladesh as the coordinator of the LDCs must make sure that the Developed Countries make these firm commitments and that these are implemented. Bangladesh needs to emphasize on implementation process. The LDCs must not be asked to make further sacrifices to get these implemented. The LDCs must make sure that there are no non-tariff barriers, especially those relating to the rules of origin and standards in environment or labour. If any new issues are included in the WTO Agenda, it should relate to trade and there must be a consensus. Realistic and flexible Rules of Origin to match the industrial capacity of the LDCs argument needs to be supported, particularly for Textile.
Under the US Trade and Development Act 2000, the Sub-Saharan countries and the Caribbean Basin Initiative countries have been granted duty-free access from October 1, 2000. Out of the 48 LDCs, 33 are in the SSA and CBI. At least now one can expect that for the rest of the LDCs the duty-free access for textile and clothing, implementation should be done immediately as the USTDA has discriminated between the LDCs. Bangladesh should go for issue based alliance for implementing duty-free access and quota-free access for clothing with immediate effect. For Bangladesh the success of the Doha Ministerial meeting lies not only on firm commitment on the amendment on LDCs but also on commitment for immediate implementation at least for clothing. Or else our readymade garment industry will perish and the economy will collapse.
So the Bangladesh paper also needs to highlight what rule of origin would be most appropriate for Bangladesh. The eligibility criteria for the SSA and the CBI suggests that in case of duty-free access to USA, Bangladesh may have to a) use USA cotton/USA yarn/USA fabric; b) follow core labour standard; c) have certification of origin from the custom; d) develop a system to combat corruption. The Bangladesh paper needs to take these areas into consideration to gain most from the Doha Ministerial meeting.
The author is a Research Fellow at BIDS, Dhaka.
Source: The Daily Star, November 5, 2001