Developing countries in the world trade regime
Developing countries in the world trade regime

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Developing countries in the world trade regime

4 The rocky road ahead

4.1 Uniting the developing countries

Several attempts have been made to form a united front of developing countries to negotiate a better deal at the WTO. They have met with little success because there are substantial conflicts of interest between them, for example between agricultural importers and exporters, and between small countries and those larger developing countries that have been able individually to use the lure of opening their markets to get a better deal from developed countries. Conflicts of interest arise too between those inside and outside regional trade agreements or special arrangements that bring preferential access to the markets of particular developed countries. Mexican membership of the North American Free Trade Agreement and duty-free treatment of Caribbean banana exports to the EU are prominent examples. More recently, the EU has allowed free import of ‘Everything but Arms’ from the least developed countries – but that displaces the competing exports from other developing countries.

Nonetheless, developing countries have been vocal in their protests. At the Doha Ministerial meeting, they tabled more than a hundred ‘implementation’ issues: matters concerning the way rules are interpreted and implemented that they wanted discussed as a matter of priority. The Ministerial meeting itself took few decisions, but referred them to various committees with suitable exhortations. The picture that is emerging at the time of writing (early 2003) is that developed countries will agree to substantive concessions relating to the implementation of Uruguay Round agreements only if developing countries make new concessions of their own in the continuing Doha Round negotiations.

The one concrete decision, already referred to above, was the clarification that TRIPS would not prevent governments from taking measures to protect public health. However, this was a declaration rather than a legally binding agreement, and it is not clear what weight it will carry in formal dispute settlement proceedings. Besides, the facility of compulsory licensing for the manufacture of essential drugs (discussed above) will not be of use to the vast majority of developing countries who do not have the necessary manufacturing facilities – and at the time of writing, the USA has blocked an amendment that would allow them to import their requirements from other developing countries.

The developing countries did succeed, for the time being, in regard to two potentially dangerous issues – environmental and labour standards – that pressure groups in the EU and USA had been trying to insert into the WTO framework. Environmental standards were circumscribed and labour standards were kept out, but as pressure for their inclusion remains it is worth examining them further.


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