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Milestone for Small Economies in Global Trade Talks

Posted in: Press Releases | 06 June 2005 | Release Ref #: 06/2005 | 576

    MILESTONE FOR SMALL ECONOMIES IN GLOBAL TRADE TALKS CHRIST CHURCH, BARBADOS – “The proposal represents a milestone for small economies in global trade talks,” said the Director General of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM), Ambassador Dr. Richard Bernal, reacting to a communication (WT/COMTD/SE/W/13/Rev.1-An Approach to Framing Responses to the Trade-Related Problems of Small Economies) tabled by twenty-two countries at the World Trade Organization (WTO), in late May. Comprising Caribbean, Central/Latin American and Pacific countries, the sponsors of the submission were characterized by Ambassador Bernal as having made possible, for the first time, a common platform amongst these countries centred on the issue of small economies, that holds the potential for a new alliance to emerge. Dr. Bernal noted, “the impact of small economies at the recent General Council meeting was tangible, because they articulated their case in a coordinated campaign.” Underscoring that small economies face unique circumstances in regards to their participation in the multilateral trading system, he concluded: “the immediate task is to get into the “first approximations” a commitment to examine and adopt small economies proposals at the Hong Kong Ministerial; therefore, the General Council and negotiating bodies would first have to examine the proposals. It is critically important that the common platform move into concrete proposals, in the lead up to the Hong Kong Ministerial.” The work of the Committee on Trade and Development–Dedicated Session (CTD-DS) entered into the solutions phase last month, following weeks of informal meetings and consultations. Geneva-based Caribbean trade officials played a lead role in framing responses to the trade-related problems of small economies - see WT/COMTD/SE/W/12. Representing the mid-way point in the third phase, the paper emerged from consultations in the first two phases, as regards characteristics and problems. It does not state precise responses, but remains indicative of the types of solutions that small economies are looking for. WT/COMTD/SE/W/13/Rev.1 presents an indicative list of eleven considerations for responses to trade-related problems. Secondly, it advances ‘elements of responses’ (many of which suggest solutions, through concessions granted in particular WTO negotiating areas) - i.e. a list of non-exhaustive elements proposed as components of a holistic response to the trade-related problems of small, vulnerable economies. WT/COMTD/SE/W/13/Rev.1 proposes a way forward for the process, where work is to be pursued as follows: (i) “Consider this paper as providing a basis for a CTD report to the General Council; (ii) Pursue examination in the CTD of more concrete responses to the trade‑related problems of small, vulnerable economies with a view to also providing more detailed inputs to the relevant negotiating bodies after July 2005 as directed by the General Council; (iii) Continue examination of the responses in the CTD as well as their progress in the negotiating bodies where relevant and inform the General Council accordingly.” The new paper argues that while the characteristics of small economies may not be unique to them alone, the combination and intensity with which they face problems as a result of these characteristics, coupled with their lack of resilience, is particularly challenging for these countries. The communication notes further that based on progress made in the CTD and recommendations from the General Council, “the Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference shall adopt decisions for the meaningful implementation of concrete measures designed to address the problems of small, vulnerable economies and to ensure their fuller integration into the multilateral trading system.” Background The WTO Doha Declaration mandates the WTO General Council examine the problems and challenges faced by small economies, in respect of their participation in world trade, and to make recommendations to the next Ministerial Conference as to what trade-related measures could improve the fuller integration of small, vulnerable economies into the multilateral trading system. A report by the Chairman of the CTD-DS to the General Council on February 15 acknowledged the difficulties posed by the mandate given in Paragraph 35 of the Doha Declaration, regarding the launch of a work programme to examine issues relating to the trade of small, vulnerable economies. The Report also underscored how the issue of not creating a sub-category of WTO Members “continues to frustrate progress,” as regards framing responses to the trade-related issues identified for the fuller integration of small, vulnerable economies into the multilateral trading system. In an effort to advance a possible way forward, Members exchanged views based on three steps, each of which is premised on not naming any group of countries, namely: a) consider the application of characteristics to identify small, vulnerable economies; b) consider the trade-related problems which could reasonably be attributed to those characteristics; and, c) frame responses to trade-related problems. A three-step procedure for the CTD-DS was identified January 25, and formally presented to Members at a meeting February 21. A group of sixteen countries, including six from the Caribbean, co-sponsored a joint paper submitted to the WTO CTD, February 21 - WT/COMTD/SE/W/12, that outlines an indicative list (that is not exhaustive) of specific characteristics and problems facing small and vulnerable economies, without reference to or identification of a grouping of countries. While the paper is an attempt to contribute to renewed efforts to provide impetus to the small economies work programme by a strategic re-evaluation of the methodological and conceptual approach to the work programme by various countries, it also consolidates previous proposals with respect to identifying characteristics. Following agreement by Ministers at the Doha Ministerial, in 2001, to establish a work programme “to frame responses to the trade-related issues identified for the fuller integration of small, vulnerable economies into the multilateral trading system”, the General Council agreed that: (i) the question of small economies would be a standing agenda item of the General Council; (ii) the CTD would hold dedicated sessions on this question and report to the General Council; and, (iii) in the light of the outcome of this work, relevant subsidiary bodies will be asked by the General Council to frame responses on the trade-related issues identified in the CTD. On March 1, 2002, the General Council agreed on a framework and procedures for the work programme on small economies (see WT/L/447).