Ex­pert skep­ti­cal about new trade ‘pack­age’

Lesotho Times - - Business - Retha­bile Pitso

Trade ex­pert Nkareng Let­sie be­lieves de­ci­sions made early this month dur­ing the 10th World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WTO) Min­is­te­rial Con­fer­ence in Kenya would not be of much ben­e­fit to Le­sotho.

The con­fer­ence, held from 15-18 de­cem­ber, cul­mi­nated in the adop­tion of the Nairobi Pack­age, which was a se­ries of six de­ci­sions on agri­cul­ture, cot­ton and is­sues re­lated to Least-de­vel­oped Coun­tries (Ldcs) as well as mul­ti­lat­eral trade. The de­ci­sions in­cluded a com­mit­ment to abol­ish sub­si­dies for farm ex­ports, which WTO di­rec­tor-gen­eral roberto azevêdo hailed as the “most sig­nif­i­cant out­come on agri­cul­ture” in the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s 20-year his­tory.

Other agri­cul­tural de­ci­sions cov­ered pub­lic stock­hold­ing for food se­cu­rity pur­poses, a spe­cial safe­guard mech­a­nism for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, and mea­sures re­lated to cot­ton. De­ci­sions were also made re­gard­ing pref­er­en­tial treat­ment for Ldcs and the cri­te­ria for de­ter­min­ing whether ex­ports from th­ese coun­tries may ben­e­fit from trade con­ces­sions.

How­ever, Mr Let­sie — the Pol­icy anal­y­sis and re­search In­sti­tute of Le­sotho and Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion as­so­ci­a­tion of Le­sotho In­ter­na­tional Trade ex­pert — be­lieves there is lit­tle hope the Nairobi Pack­age would yield any pos­i­tive re­sults for Le­sotho given the WTO’S record of reneg­ing on com­mit­ments made to­wards emerg­ing economies.

The WTO reg­u­lates trade be­tween par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries, pro­vides a frame­work for ne­go­ti­at­ing trade agree­ments, and a dis­pute-res­o­lu­tion process aimed at en­forc­ing par­tic­i­pants’ ad­her­ence to its agree­ments.

“Civil So­ci­ety Or­gan­i­sa­tions (CSOS) value the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion for af­ford­ing both de­vel­oped and least-de­vel­oped coun­tries, a plat­form to ne­go­ti­ate trade-re- lated mat­ters as equals. There is a one-vote pol­icy for each coun­try re­gard­less of how pow­er­ful it might be.

“But de­spite this, we be­lieve de­vel­oped coun­tries are get­ting pri­or­ity over Ldcs, which gives them more ac­cess to trade ben­e­fits than their least-de­vel­oped coun­ter­parts.

“I am mak­ing this ob­ser­va­tion in light of the fact that the WTO has been drag­ging its feet to­wards fi­nal­is­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions un­der the aus­pices of the doha de­vel­op­ment agenda (the dda com­menced in Novem­ber 2001 with the ob­jec­tive of low­er­ing trade bar­ri­ers around the world, and thus fa­cil­i­tate in­creased global trade).

“Mul­ti­lat­eral eco­nomic diplo­macy is fac­ing se­ri­ous set­backs across the board with re­gard to global im­bal­ance, fi­nan­cial ar­chi­tec­ture, en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards and trade.

“In light of the dda round of ne­go­ti­a­tions, what de­vel­op­ing coun­tries like Le­sotho can be proud of are the Bali agree­ments which fo­cused ex­ten­sively on de­vel­op­ing the Ldcs in as far as trade fa­cil­i­ta­tion was con­cerned with re­gard to cus­toms pro­ce­dures,” Mr Let­sie said.

“When the dda was es­tab­lished, it sought to ease trad­ing in agri­cul­ture, and Nama (Nan-agri­cul­ture Mar­ket Ac­cess).

“Th­ese are the main­stays of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries’ economies. The Bali agree­ment frag­mented pro- gress un­der the dda but failed to ad­vance broader lib­er­al­i­sa­tion.

“The agree­ment, on the other hand, put more fo­cus on eas­ing Ldcs trad­ing in non-agri­cul­tural prod­ucts. Both ne­go­ti­a­tions have not been seen to the end with most Ldcs still fail­ing to tap into de­vel­oped coun­tries’ mar­kets be­cause of delink­ing is­sues.

“For ex­am­ple, the link that was not es­tab­lished be­tween agri­cul­ture and trade fa­cil­i­ta­tion, ev­i­denced from the av­er­age of Oecd (Or­gan­i­sa­tion for eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and de­vel­op­ment) tar­iffs on im­ports from de­vel­op­ing coun­tries which is higher than that ex­ist­ing among de­vel­oped coun­tries.

“Ir­re­spec­tive of those chal­lenges, the WTO has still not made ef­forts to con­struct poli­cies that would en­able ease of trade to that ef­fect.”

Mr Let­sie pointed out that the con­cerns he was rais­ing were shared by most Civil So­ci­ety Or­gan­i­sa­tions (CSO) which sub­mit­ted them to the WTO, through a pe­ti­tion, ahead of the Nairobi con­fer­ence.

The CSOS were sim­ply urg­ing mem­bers to pri­ori­tise the trade con­cerns of LDCS, he added.

On 9 de­cem­ber, 453 CSOS, among them trade unions, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, farm­ers, de­vel­op­ment ad­vo­cates, and pub­lic in­ter­est groups from over 150 coun­tries, pe­ti­tioned the world trade body to ex­press “ex­treme alarm about the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion of trade ne­go­ti­a­tions in the WTO”.

In Le­sotho, the pe­ti­tion was signed by or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion as­so­ci­a­tion, ru­ral Self Help de­vel­op­ment, Pol­icy an­a­lysts and re­search In­sti­tute of Le­sotho, Pa­triot Vi­sion and ac­tion, and the Le­sotho Coun­cil of Non-govern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Mr Let­sie said the pe­ti­tion fur­ther sought to urge the WTO to forge ac­tion­able plans dur­ing the Nairobi con­fer­ence with par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to­wards achiev­ing the United Na­tions’ Sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment Goals (SDGS).

On 25 Septem­ber this year, the global com­mu­nity adopted a set of 17 goals aimed at end­ing poverty, pro­tect­ing the planet, and en­sur­ing pros­per­ity for all as part of a new sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment agenda.

Each goal had spe­cific tar­gets to be achieved over the next 15 years. SDGS were a con­tin­u­a­tion of Mil­len­nium de­vel­op­ment Goals (Mdgs) es­tab­lished fol­low­ing the Mil­len­nium Sum­mit of the United Na­tions in 2000.

Un­der the Mdgs, mem­ber-coun­tries and in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions com­mit­ted to erad­i­cate ex­treme poverty and hunger; achieve uni­ver­sal pri­mary education ; pro­mote gen­der equal­ity; re­duce child mor­tal­ity; im­prove ma­ter­nal health; com­bat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other dis­eases; en­sure en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity and de­velop a global part­ner­ship for de­vel­op­ment by 2015. How­ever, with most coun­tries yet to achieve all the tar­geted goals, the Sdgs were agreed upon by UN mem­ber-coun­tries and key stake­hold­ers.

“The com­mon chal­lenge we are fac­ing as Ldcs re­gards the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Sgds which pro­vide for uni­ver­sal ac­cess to pub­lic health, education, eradication of poverty and food in­se­cu­rity.

The last two are in­ter­twined with the agri­cul­tural in­dus­try, for in­stance, the very sec­tors where we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing trade chal­lenges stem­ming from lack of sup­port­ive trade poli­cies.

“Those CSOS were ba­si­cally call­ing for more in­vest­ment in agri­cul­ture and food pro­duc­tion to­wards the suc­cess of Sdgs in their re­spec­tive coun­tries.

“again, at the mo­ment, the pub­lic health sec­tor is af­fected by strin­gent in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights, which deny de­vel­op­ing coun­tries ac­cess to much-needed drugs patented in de­vel­oped coun­tries.

“Ldcs do not have ac­cess to the pro­duc­tion or dis­tri­bu­tion of generic drugs be­cause of pa­tents owned by a sin­gle coun­try.

“al­though ac­cess to generic prod­ucts is sup­ported by Trade re­lated aspects of In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty rights (TRIPS) agree­ments, poor coun­tries do not have the ca­pac­ity, in­di­vid­u­ally, for com­pul­sory li­cens­ing.”

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