Date: Thu, 20 May 1999 00:44:29 -0500 (CDT)
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: African nations against new issues in WTO
/** reg.carib: 267.0 **/
** Topic: Africa and World Trade Org. **
** Written 8:53 AM May 17, 1999 by firstname.lastname@example.org in cdp:reg.carib **
subject:Africa and World Trade Org
sender: The Guardian <email@example.com>
Subject: Africa & World Trade Organisation
Date: Sat, 15 May 1999 To: firstname.lastname@example.org
African nations against new issues in WTO
By Martin Khor, Third World Network Features
15 May 1999
The following article was published in "The Guardian", newspaper
of the Communist Party of Australia in its issue of Wednesday,
May 5th, 1999. Contact address: 65 Campbell Street, Surry Hills.
Sydney. 2010 Australia. Phone: (612) 9212 6855 Fax: (612) 9281 5795.
Email: <email@example.com> Subscription rates on request.
A new round of negotiations at the World Trade Organisation would
entail an "unsustainable burden" on developing countries, and if
there is such a round it should not include new issues. This was
one of the conclusions of a six-day workshop held in Kampala,
with the participation of over 40 senior trade policy officials
from 21 Eastern and Southern African countries.
A statement approved by participants noted that there is an
emerging consensus among the major trading powers on having a
round of negotiations at the WTO.
yThe participants made specific proposals on the positions that
African governments should take on several "new issues" being
advocated by developed countries.
The participants in their statement enumerated many problems of
implementation [Uraguay Round agreements], which they said should
be the focus of future negotiations (instead of any new issues).
The workshop was held on March 4-9 as part of the Southern and
Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiation Initiative
(SEATINI) project under the auspices of the International South
It was opened by Uganda's Minister of State for Trade, Manzi
Tumubweine. Representatives of the United Nations Conference on
Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the WTO, the UN Development
Programme and other resource persons also attended.
The participants were mainly officials from Trade, Industry and
Commerce Ministries from African countries including Uganda,
Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Africa, Sudan,
Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Egypt, Kenya,
Angola and Burundi and Djibouti, as well as representatives of
non-governmental organisations and civil society.
According to their statement, the participants recognised that
their countries did not participate effectively in previous
rounds of negotiations and at the last two Ministerial
Conferences, resulting in marginalisation of issues of interest
to African countries.
"Therefore, the agreements negotiated thus far largely reflect
the interests of the developed countries."
The statement said African countries face difficulties in the
implementation of the Uruguay Round agreements, which were
exacerbated by developed countries' failure to fulfil their
commitments in a fair and balanced manner, especially those
relating to special and differential treatment.
Participants said that agriculture is of social, cultural,
environmental and political concern as well as economic
importance to developing countries.
"The developed countries are maintaining high levels of domestic
support and export subsidies as well as very high levels of
tariffs on several agricultural products.
"Further negotiations in agriculture should result in immediate
withdrawal of domestic support and export subsidies by developed
countries and significant reduction in their tariffs, thereby
increasing market access for developing countries."
The statement added that food security and the maintenance of
agriculture-based livelihoods are major development goals for
The participants were convinced that developing countries have to
do their best in producing food for their domestic consumption,
and any hindrance in their effort caused by the existing WTO
rules should be removed.
Intellectual property rights
The participants criticised the TRIPs Agreement [intellectual
property rights] which they said contained fundamental imbalances
inimical to developing countries' interests.
"Adverse effects include constraints on domestic technological
development, barriers to technology transfer, monopolistic high
prices (including of medicinal products, seeds and computer
"As far as Africa is concerned, the most serious problem in TRIPs
is that it does not specifically recognise the rights of local
communities to their traditional and indigenous knowledge, and
this may lead to unjustified patenting of their knowledge and of
biological resources by foreign corporations.
"African countries should make proposals to correct this
situation and thus propose revisions to the Agreement that will
support their development and access to appropriate
"African countries are very concerned that Article 27.3 (b) [of
TRIPs] may facilitate the appropriation of local knowledge of the
use of biological resources through patenting of this knowledge
"We urge that the following priorities and proposals be
considered in the review of this Article: the option for
countries to exclude all biological materials or life forms from
patentability; the development by African countries of suitable
sui generis systems of protection for plant varieties, indigenous
knowledge and technologies and community rights in line with
their national developmental priorities, and to ensure that the
TRIPs agreement conforms with the Convention on Biodiversity."
On new issues in general, the statement said African countries
need to clearly define their interests and objectives.
Governments need to be prepared to prevent the emergence of new
multilateral rules and obligations that may unduly restrict
nationally determined policy objectives.
On trade and environment, the statement said that "African
countries are against the use of trade measures, especially
unilateral measures, for narrow protectionist purposes.
"We are also against attempts to prevent multilaterally agreed
environment measures that deal with genuine environmental
problems such as the trade in hazardous wastes and products, and
measures to promote biosafety, through the fallacious claim that
such legitimate measures are against WTO rules.
"Further, developed countries must meet their commitments on
financial aid and technology transfer to African countries to
enable more environmentally sound development, including for
On the investment issue, the statement said the failure of the
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)'s
Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) negotiations has led
to greater pressures from major developed countries to initiate
negotiations for an investment agreement in the WTO.
"We view such initiatives with grave concern since an MAI-type
agreement would severely restrict African countries' ability to
regulate investment towards development objectives.
"The WTO working group on trade and investment should continue
its study process, since the relations between trade and
investment policies and processes are very complex.
"It would be premature, burdensome and even a danger to African
countries should there be a decision in 1999 to start
negotiations towards an agreement. We therefore believe that
proposals to change the study process into a negotiating process
should not be accepted.
"Meanwhile African governments should deeply study the most
appropriate national policies for maximising the benefits and
minimising the risks and costs of various categories of foreign
investment and capital flows.
"Such studies should help clarify the issues in the relationship
between trade, investment and development and thus our position
in the Working Group."
On competition policy, the participants said it should remain
principally an issue of domestic domain so that governments can
tailor and use it in a way that is in line with their national
objective on development and fair trade practices.
"It should be recognised that a balanced policy would aim at
curbing anti-competitive conditions whilst also dealing with the
danger of large firms taking too much market share at the expense
of the local sector.
"It is also recognised that there is a need to deal with anti-
competitive practices in international trade, such as restrictive
trade practices, transfer pricing and abuse of anti-dumping
provisions. "... the group should continue to study the issues."
On government procurement, the statement said the working group's
mandate is to study elements of transparency in procurement
processes, and African countries should insist that the group
continue its work on this limited topic.
"There should be no attempt to expand the scope of the group's
mandate beyond transparency. African governments should continue
to have the authority to decide on their procurement priorities
and processes, and there should be no negotiations for
multilateral disciplines in this area."
On electronic commerce, the participants pointed to serious
adverse consequences of duty-free status for products transmitted
electronically, including loss of revenue for African governments
and the setting of a dangerous precedent in which a mode of
delivery becomes ground for tariff-free status.
"The tariff-free status of products delivered electronically
should remain within a temporary time-frame as the issues
involved have not been fully understood and require further
On industrial tariffs, the statement said African countries are
concerned that many industrial products of their export interest
are still subject to tariff peaks, tariff escalation and tariff
dispersion in developed countries.
"However the proposal to include tariff reductions in future
negotiations is premature; it may lead to requests for reductions
in the industrial tariffs of developing countries.
"There is a real danger that if tariffs are reduced in sectors
where local firms are not yet sufficiently competitive, these
firms will be closed, resulting in further deindustrialisation in
"Any new attempts to link social issues to the WTO and its
dispute settlement system should be resisted."
The statement also noted that Africa faces severe trade and
economic problems, including external debt, drastic decline in
commodity prices, currency and financial instability, all of
which affect their export earnings and balance-of-payments
"These issues are not being considered in the WTO, and the WTO
system should incorporate these key issues into its discussions
with the view to eventually have them in its rules so as to aid
the growth and development of African countries."
In a section on "strategies", the statement said that African
countries should prepare national papers on the problems they
face in implementing the Uruguay Round agreements and submit
these to the WTO negotiation organs by July 1999.
It added that there is a need for African countries to coordinate
their positions at national and regional levels, and all
stakeholders must be involved, including African representatives
Noting that the capacity of African governments to participate in
the WTO system is inadequate, the statement said this was due to
the lack of resources of African countries as well as several
aspects of decision-making systems and processes in the WTO. The
participants therefore propose that:
African governments give higher priority and allocate more
resources to facilitate effective and informed African
participation in multilateral trade negotiations;
The international community take measures to assist African
countries in this matter;
The decision-making processes and systems in the WTO should be
improved to enable more transparent, more balanced participation
by the smaller and poor countries.
Martin Khor is Director of the Third World Network. This
article has been abridged.
The Guardian 65 Campbell Street, Surry Hills. 2010
Australia. Email: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Website: http://www.peg.apc.org/~guardian " JC