Singapore Issues: No Negotiations, Say 70 Developing Countries

Original Publication Date: 
10 September, 2003
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Singapore Issues: No Negotiations, say 70 developing countries

Cancun, 11 Sept (Martin Khor)

Ministers representing seventy developing countries have issued a statement that there is no explicit consensus on commencing negotiations on modalities on the Singapore Issues.

They will transmit their views to the facilitator for the new issues (who is the Canadian Minister Pierre Pettigrew) together with proposed language for continuing the clarification process, to be incorporated into the final Ministerial text.

The countries are Bangladesh (on behalf of the LDC Group), Botswana, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Jamaica (on behalfd of the Carribean Community), Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, Tanzania, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Ministers and representatives of these countriesmet on 10 September to discuss the four Singapore issues (investment, competition, transparency in government procurement, trade facilitation).

They issued a media statement as follows: “ We express concerns about the impact of multilateral rules on these new issues on our domestic policies and are yet to fully understand the implications of having WTO rules on these issues. The issues are technical and complex anjd some of hem are quite unrelated to trade.

“Many developing countries do not have the capacity to implement obligations arisinjg out of commitments such multilateral rules will entail, and there are also doubts on the benefits of WTO frameworks on the new issues. As such there is no explicit consensus on the commencement of negotiations on modalities.

“We agree to transmit these views to the facilitator for the new issues, together with a proposed language for the continuation of the clarification process to be incorporated into the Final Text emanating from the Fifth Ministerial.”

The group held a press conference on 11 September afternoon, at which Ministers from Malaysia, India, Zambia, Indonesia, Philippines, Nigeria, Venezuela, Tanzania and Zimbabwe were present on the podium.

Malaysian International Trade and Industry Minister, Mrs Rafidah Aziz, said that more than 70 countries (which included the LDC Group and the Carribean regional grouping) had the same views expressed by the Ministers at their meeting.

She stressed that “in Cancun thee cannot be any launch of negotiations, and the issues should be referred back to Geneva for the clarification process before we can decide in future one way or other.”

To a question whether the group could accept a “third option” of having soft agreements, Rafidah said “No, we don’t agree to launching any negotiations, thee is no explcit consensus and there is need for further clarification of these issues.”

To a further question whether the group would entertain any discussion on a third option, if they obtained something on other issues such as agriculture, she said: “Not at all. This is not about trade offs and concessions. Not at all. What is expected of agriculture and other issues should come about. About these four issues, there should not be a launch of negotiations.”

To a question whether she expected progress in other areas, Rafidah said: “There is no linkage for us. Some countries may like to link these issues to agriculture. But we feel each of these issues should be decided on its own merits. No one should say, if thee are no new issues, there will not be a solution in agriculture. That’s all wrong.”

Rafidah added that many countries believe we shouldn’t have universal rules on investment. Some want their nationals to have preferences. There is an argument that the prvate sector wants clear rules. Yes, but thee is no need for them to be multilateral rules. It is wring to have universal rules that are similar when conditions are different in different countries. There is no “right time” to have universal rules as the conditions will always be different.

To a question that the facilitator, the Canadian Minister, has stated he wants to have negotiations launched, Rafidah said: “You need explicit consensus for that. A minority want to launch and a majority are on a waiting list to speak (at the plenary) saying no to this launch. Don’t go on an exercise of futility. Focus instead on areas such as agriculture, NAMA, services, and not on the new issues.”

To a question on the African countries’ position, the Zambian Trade Minister said: “The Ministers in the African Union have said they don’t want a launch of negotiations onm these issues. More work is required. We also don’t want linkage between these issues and other issues. Moreover, an explicit consensus is needed to launch negotiations, not an implied consensus.”

To other questions on whether there can be linkage, Rafidah added: “Agriculture has been debated in the trade system since 1987. Yet there is no solution. Why should this issue now be made to link to new issues? If any country looks at it from this standpoint, to link progress in agriculture with what they can get from new issues, that country is very selfish. It doesn’t want the Round to be completed.”

She reiterated that “There is no trade off involved. This is not the time or place to launch negotiations.”

On the possibility of unbundling the issues, she said all the four issues merit being deferred, and all the four should not have negotiations launched now. Cancun was not about success or failure but producing a text to guide future work. If everyone wants to focus on agriculture, NAMNA and services, then that is all we should do. If there is no consensus on Singapore issues, then negotiations should not be in the Declaration. That’s not a failure. We just say that clarification is the way to go, not negotiations.”

She added that many countries are telling the facilitator they do not want to launch negotiations. Even if one country says, do not launch negotiations, then that’s it, it cannot be launched.

To a question on the EU argument that multilateral rules are needed to attract investments, she said this was not so. If conditions are right, investors would still go to those countries. For example, many foreign companies were flocking to China even before it joined the WTO.

To a question what would happen if the EU and US try to change the position of these countries, she said: “They can’t do that. All these years they’ve told us yes, and we told them no.”

“We have become much wiser. In the Uruguay Round only a few countries knew what it was about. Now we have learnt our lessons. No more will we sigt in the corridors and be given sweeteners.”

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