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FROM THE MARGINS

Attended by 22 countries, there was a mini-ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization in Tokyo. The fourth ministerial was held in Doha in 2001 and launched the Doha development agenda, while the fifth ministerial is slated for Cancun in September 2003. At Doha, the polarization between the developed and developing countries was evident on three major issues. First, patent protection and access to drugs by countries that lack domestic manufacturing capacity. While there is a consensus that such countries should be allowed to use compulsory licensing provisions to import drugs from developing countries that have such manufacturing capacities, there continues to be a debate on which countries and what diseases should be allowed this option. The United States of America would like such options to be restricted to 49 least developed countries and to diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Developing countries want more flexibility. The trade related intellectual property rights council was supposed to find a solution by December 2002. But the Tokyo meet failed to resolve the impasse. Second, developing countries in Doha wanted implementation issues to be resolved first. Better implementation of the Uruguay-round promises of market access concerns manufactured products and agriculture.

But the stumbling block remains agriculture and protectionism in Japan and the European Union. The chairman of the WTO’s panel on agriculture is Mr Stuart Harbinson, and a Harbinson text on reforming agriculture has been floating around. This pleases no country. Japan and EU think there is too much of liberalization, the US thinks there is too little and developing countries think there is insufficient special and differential treatment for them. For agricultural modalities, there is a deadline of March 2003, and if Tokyo is any indication, that deadline will also be missed. With Mr Arun Shourie, there was some sign of the commerce ministry becoming more flexible on the inclusion of Singapore issues. With Mr Arun Jaitley, the rigidity is back, and India was supported in Tokyo by developing countries like Brazil, Kenya, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Lesotho and Senegal. Third, there is a sense of developing countries being bypassed and marginalized in WTO’s decision-making processes, and despite a director general from a developing country (Thailand), that sense of marginalization remains. This does not augur well for the DDA, scheduled for completion by January 2005. There is time till Cancun. But the moral clearly is that developing country concerns must be addressed and not bypassed.

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