Blog: December 14, 2005 – Results of Day One of WTO Negotiations in Hong Kong

Blog: December 14, 2005 – Results of Day One of WTO Negotiations in Hong Kong

Daily Blog from the WTO Meetings in Hong Kong
Read the other Global Envision blogs from Hong Kong:
December 12, 2005 – Why Free Trade?
December 13, 2005 – Opening Session
December 13, 2005 – Aid For Trade
December 13, 2005 – Food Fight
December 15, 2005 – The Joy of the Press Conference
December 16, 2005 – The Word of the Day is Deadlock
December 17, 2005 – Wrapping Up in Hong Kong

Including the word "results" in the headline may be a bit bold, considering that there is really nothing to report from today’s WTO meetings. Already, the expectations of this Ministerial have been greatly lowered from the president of the WTO on down. The best hoped-for result is to pave the way for an ambitious Doha round agenda in 2006. Most people seem to want the round finished in 2006 — it's already dragged on long enough, and the participants deserve some relief – both in the form of trade barrier reductions as well as from the developed countries being so sycophantic about focusing on the “development” agenda.

The other reason to get through the Doha development round negotiations before the clock strikes 2007 is because that's when President Bush will lose his so-called fast track trade negotiation authority. In 2002, the U.S. Congress declared that trade agreements negotiated through 2007 can only be approved or rejected by Congress as they stand. That means no amendments are allowed. The full name of this legislation is “U.S. Trade Promotion Authority,” but it is also called “Fast Track Negotiating Authority,” or, here in Hong Kong, simply fast track.
The Group of Twenty:
The G20 (Group of 20, also variously G21, G22 and G20+) is a bloc of developing nations established in August 2003. The group emerged at the 5th Ministerial WTO conference in Cancun. In trade negotiations, the group has pressed for rich countries to end subsidies to their farmers and opposed liberalization of their own agricultural sectors. The members of the G20 are: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Prior to and during the WTO meeting in Cancun, Columbia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru were also members, but withdrew after the Central American Free Trade Agreement negotiations with the United States.


It's a big deal to trade negotiators here. They fear that without fast track, the ability of the U.S. to make broad trade agreements will be severely curtailed. Yesterday I lunched with a member of the U.S. trade team and he mentioned to me that people at WTO headquarters in Geneva worry that, with the current political climate in the United States, it could be up to 10 years before Congress grants fast-track authority to another president.

A Focus on Procedures

Today's consultations were largely about procedures that should allow the real work of the negotiations to begin. The process is akin to the U.S. Presidential debates. Every four years, there are drawn-out negotiations among Democrats and Republicans who hammer out an agreement about the ground rules and what topics the candidates will and will not entertain. Some have pointed out that these consultations seem to be starting from zero, as if some protocols that were previously established did not exist. This seems like an unwieldy way to do business, but the interests here are as dissimilar as they come and people may well need additional rules to keep the discussion civil.

Brazil and India

I learned a great deal about the perspective of the so-called G20 nations at a 5 p.m. press conference with Celso Amorim, the Brazilian Foreign Minister, and Kamal Nath, the Finance Minister of India. The G20 is led by Brazil, India, South Africa and China. Of the two groups of developing countries at these trade talks, this one is more ‘offensive’ in their interests – that is, their interest is in getting access to world markets. The other group of developing countries, the so-called G90, is considered to be more ‘defensive’; these nations are keen on protecting their own markets from imports.
The Group of Ninety:
The G90 or The G90 Group of Countries, consists of the African Caribbean and Pacific Countries (ACP), the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), and the African Union (AU) countries. Only 60 of the 91 countries are WTO members.


This is the first time either the G20 or the G90 has convened at a WTO meeting. Both are regularly consulting with each other in Hong Kong. As a result, they've been able to present coordinated proposals. The G90 umbrella represents four out of every five people in the world, and despite its ungainly size, it proclaimed unity today on all aspects of the Doha round negotiations. Although this body includes the viewpoints of many smaller groupings including Caricom, G90, G20, G33, and the LDCs, they've pledged to negotiate in Hong Kong with one voice.

Another benefit to their coalition is that these nations will try to not let this round pass without addressing issues important to them, such as trade of bananas, sugar and cotton. This is a positive development for the WTO. If all countries feel like they can negotiate successfully at the WTO, then the likelihood of a fair and representative trade agreement is significantly increased. Still, only 60 members of the G90 are members of the WTO, which highlights how far away we are from a truly global economic framework that includes all nations, rich and poor.

At the G20 press conference, Minister Amorim of Brazil proclaimed that developed countries have only given lip service to the development round of trade talks. "Their words change between Hall 6 and Hall 7 within the Convention Center. In one hall, they make a bold promise, and in the next hall they talk of its complexities and why it cannot be discussed in detail.” Unless things change, he says, there may not even be an agreement in Hong Kong on conceptual matters, let alone the actual numbers.
Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the WTO:
The WTO recognizes as least-developed countries (LDCs) those countries which have been designated as such by the United Nations. There are currently 49 least-developed countries on the UN list, 30 of which to date have become WTO members. These are: Angola; Bangladesh; Benin; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo, Democratic Republic of the; Djibouti; Gambia; Guinea; Guinea Bissau; Haiti; Lesotho; Madagascar; Malawi; Maldives; Mali; Mauritania; Mozambique; Myanmar; Niger; Rwanda; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Solomon Islands; Tanzania; Togo; Uganda; Zambia. Nine additional least-developed countries are in the process of accession to the WTO: Bhutan; Cambodia; Cape Verde; Laos; Nepal; Samoa; Sudan; Vanuatu and Yemen. Furthermore, Ethiopia and Sao Tome & Principe are WTO Observers.


He went on to call for a specific date for the elimination of export subsidies. “On the topic of export subsidies, I cannot understand why in an area that is clear in the framework agreement – unambiguously clear, unequivocal, even to people who do not speak much English – that all that is left is to negotiate a date, but we cannot even get a date fixed.”

India's Nath chimed in that it is a bad sign that EU Trade Chief Mandleson announced before the start of negotiations that he had come to Hong Kong with empty pockets. "That is not even enough to go shopping,” Nath complained. He mentioned a proposal put forth today in which the EU offered to cut one set of tariffs by 24% and in return asked Brazil for 75% cuts of the same tariffs. “I am sure there is some calculation mistake, it can’t be that preposterous.” It looks like the bad start may finish on the same note.

Free access for the poorest nations

One big topic here: Will the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) be offered quota-free and duty-free market access? For all the official announcements that today’s meetings resulted in no news, this did seem to be the one issue that made some headway. The word on the street is that most countries are ready to offer the LDCs this much, but that India insisted quota-free and duty-free market access being a part of the broader development agenda. Is this because the LDC proposal does not benefit India or because India wants to push other reforms though on its coattails?

What's interesting is the dual role Brazil and India seem to be playing. They are probably the largest and most economically prosperous of the developing countries, so they can function as a “big brother” to their less-developed siblings. But they're also keen to advance their own interests. As Brazil has said, the LDCs are a critical part of the overall development package, but not the entirety of the development package.

In closing, the Ministers of Brazil and India said that they had not come all the way to Hong Kong to quit, and they expressed some optimism that they'd go home with something. “Let’s not write off Hong Kong on the afternoon of the 14th," said Minister Nath. "Those countries with empty pockets might have something in a bag or a hidden compartment.” Minister Amorim added, “But their spare change will not be enough.”


Outside the Convention Center
Just in from the Mercy Corps Roving Reporter on the Streets of Hong Kong, Laura Guimond

Thousands of colorful and vocal marchers jammed the streets of downtown Hong Kong Tuesday and Wednesday demanding reform or dismantlement of the WTO. Groups from as far away as Mexico joined the protesters, the majority of which were from Asian civil society organizations.


The occasion was peaceful, the marchers friendly and energized by each other's presence. Most were there to call for the end of the WTO; the cry of "Down! Down! WTO!" was by far the most commonly heard. The Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) movement, of which Mercy Corps is a member, was among the more moderate. GCAP, who has representatives here from around the world, including Bangladesh, Costa Rica, South Africa and the UK, called for trade justice above all. The GCAP banner with a photograph of Nelson Mandela and his message for the WTO got great attention from fellow marchers, media and the spectators lining the streets.


On Tuesday, the march ended at the so-called “Protest Zone” that abuts the harbor, with the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre (HKEC), the site of the official WTO meetings, in full view. Suddenly, dozens of protesters from the Korean fisherfolk movement jumped into the water and began swimming toward the HKEC. The lead swimmer waved a Korean flag, as the others -- all in bright orange life jackets -- pumped their fists into the air calling for the end of the WTO.

The passion of the fisherfolk around these issues is so great as to risk health and well being by spending an hour or so in the chilly waters of the Hong Kong harbor, ending with certain capture by the myriad police boats monitoring the protest actions from the sea. Their treatment by the security forces was remarkably respectful. Once the swimmers reached the HKEC area, they were put into the police boats, ferried back to the protest zone, and released back into the crowd with a wave. Nearby, another group of Korean protesters, the farmers, took on the police forces more directly on land, pushing up against the police lines and receiving a push back in return. Despite the overwhelmingly peaceful and positive atmosphere of the day, this one small altercation is what made CNN and BBC news.


Today, I saw the riot police assembling from our perch in the Exhibition Center, but I did not have a chance to go down and see the march. As with the issues being negotiated inside the trade meetings, the protest movement is more complex and nuanced than a snapshot or brief synopsis can ever convey.
























Photo credit Laura Guimond, Mercy Corps Director of External Relations. Laura is pictured here with Kumi Naidoo, CIVICUS Secretary General and chair of the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP).

Blog by Erin Thomas, Managing Editor Global Envision. Erin and Laura are in Hong Kong with other global NGOs advocating for free trade policies that are fair. Please send them any comments or questions and stay tuned for the inside scoop on negotiations.

Read the other Global Envision blogs from Hong Kong:
December 12, 2005 – Why Free Trade?
December 13, 2005 – Opening Session
December 13, 2005 – Aid For Trade
December 13, 2005 – Food Fight
December 15, 2005 – The Joy of the Press Conference
December 16, 2005 – The Word of the Day is Deadlock
December 17, 2005 – Wrapping Up in Hong Kong

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