TODAY’S MAIL , Philippines, August 9, 2004
By Joseph Purugganan
Officials from the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Agriculture have expressed their elation over the outcome of the recent General Council (that in effect became a ministerial meeting) of the World Trade Organization in Geneva. The basis for their overwhelming joy?
Their belief that the framework agreement that came out of the meeting reflects the main demands of the Philippines in the negotiations; and that, consequently, the negotiations for the conclusion of the so-called Doha Round will be beneficial to the Philippines.
Interestingly, the last time the heads of these two departments expressed this much happiness in relation to talks in the WTO was in September 2003, right after the historic (second) collapse of the WTO negotiations in Cancun, Mexico. Both Secretary Cito Lorenzo and Secretary Manuel Roxas II then called the collapse a positive development for the Philippines. Roxas echoed the sentiment expressed by many developing countries: “No deal is better than a bad deal.”
So what’s the deal with the WTO framework?
To understand the source of DTI and DA’s jubilation, I read the General Council Decision dated July 31, 2004, outlining the framework for the WTO negotiations. I looked at Annex A outlining the framework for establishing modalities in agriculture and found nothing that should make us happy. The framework on agriculture, instead of decreasing the trade-distorting subsidies given by trade superpowers — the United States and the European Union — to their agriculture sectors, gives a clear go-signal for these two superpowers to dodge their responsibility by expanding and strengthening further the Blue Box Category of minimally trade-distorting subsidies in the WTO.
To add insult to grave injury, the framework provides for greater flexibilities for the Members with large percentage of Blue Box subsidies (i.e. the US and the EU) to ensure that they are not called upon to make a wholly disproportionate cut.
Sure, there was mention of Special and Different Treatment, Special Products and Sensitive Products in the text. But the items and provision regarding these crucial demands from developing countries remain unclear and many are subject to further negotiations. So while the text is crystal clear when it comes to protecting the interest of the developed countries, it remains so conveniently vague when it comes to accommodating the demands of the developing countries.
The language does not go any further than saying that all of these concerns from developing countries will be noted in the negotiations. That is to say, what developing countries got out of the framework on S&D and SP are no more than empty promises.If the SP provision in the framework remain vague, then I am afraid DA Assistant Secretary Serrano’s statement on the government’s move to include rice under SP category in the WTO and SP as an alternative to seeking an extension of the quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice imports are not only misplaced but dangerous.
Clearly, the flawed framework and our negotiators blind adherence to it may prove to be detrimental to our national economy. Joseph Purugganan
Focus on the Global South
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