The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Equal rules, unequal players
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I thank you, Mr Chairman, and your government for hosting this fifth ministerial conference and for the excellent arrangements and hospitality. India has very warm and friendly ties with both Nepal and Cambodia. Nepal is also our close neighbour. We applaud the accession of these two least developed countries to the World Trade Organization.

We welcome the recent decision of the general council that would make it easier for poorer countries to import cheaper generic drugs if they are unable to manufacture the medicines themselves. But we have a responsibility to ensure that the system we have put in place works to meet legitimate humanitarian needs without being held hostage to procedures.

The developing countries participate in the multilateral trading system in the hope that this would lead to their economic development and not because trade liberalization is an end in itself. The system has to meet this expectation. Effective measures are needed to make trade work as an engine of growth and human development. Given the differences in levels of is imperative to ensure that equal rules do not apply to unequal players. With very few exceptions, today’s developed countries, in the past, practised and benefited from the same protection they now seek to deny to developing countries...

The multilateral trading system has to acknowledge that developing countries cannot afford to travel at the same speed as developed countries to achieve gains. Therefore, obligations to be undertaken by the developing countries should not arise out of coercion. Rather, they should have a feeling that these obligations are in their interest and that they are in a position to accept and implement them.

Over the years we have seen gradual increase in lack of internal transparency as well as reduced participation of developing countries in the decision-making process in the WTO. We should not let the developing countries perceive the decision-making process of the multilateral trading system to be discriminatory, opaque and unresponsive to their needs. We look forward to this ministerial conference moving towards a more inclusive decision-making process. There is also a need for prescribing clear and fair guidelines for conducting the preparatory process for ministerial conferences. We need to deliberate on these issues and take appropriate decisions so that specific guidelines can be finalized before the next session of the ministerial conference. The proposals made by a large number of members including India could serve as the basis for such discussions.

Although the Doha work programme was heavily overloaded and included a few issues that are not trade related, we saw some elements in it for a new beginning towards addressing issues of particular interest to developing countries. But as we see it now, we are engulfed in a sense of deep disappointment that the development dimension envisaged under the Doha work programme has been given short shrift. In our view the draft Cancun ministerial text is grossly inadequate on implementation issues and would severely affect the interests of developing countries in agriculture, industrial tariffs and Singapore issues. We cannot escape the conclusion that it does not accommodate the legitimate aspirations of developing countries and instead, seeks to project and advance the views of certain developed countries.

The progress achieved on implementation issues belies the understanding that ministerial commitments once taken will be honoured. Negotiations on outstanding implementation issues were agreed to be “an integral part of the Work Programme” and were required to be addressed “as a matter of priority”. Yet, all the time-lines set at Doha for their resolution have been breached. On certain issues even the mandate itself has been questioned. To make matters worse, the draft ministerial text accords low priority to these issues. It does not envisage any time-frame for taking decisions for resolving outstanding issues.

This is in sharp contrast to the issues of interest to developed countries for which time-lines have been provided for taking decisions. If we do not restore the priority accorded to the outstanding implementation issues, the developing countries would be forced to conclude that the “development” element in the Doha Development Agenda is only rhetoric...It is also a matter of disappointment that the draft decision on special and differential treatment provisions before us has left many issues unresolved.

This is despite a clear decision from the ministers that all S&D provisions should be made precise, operational and effective and non-mandatory provisions converted into mandatory ones within a specified time-frame.

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