special about this ministerial?
This ministerial will
launch major new negotiations to further liberalize international trade and to review some
current trade rules. It will also set in motion a work programme to look at other
The WTOs current
agreements were the result of the 1986-94 Uruguay Round of negotiations. Although the
outcome meant a major reform of world trade rules and a substantial reduction in trade
barriers, many participants wanted to see further improvements in the trading system.
In particular, the
agreements on services (the General Agreement on Trade in Services, GATS) and on
agriculture state that new negotiations will resume by the beginning of 2000. These two
subjects are definitely going to be in the new negotiations.
In addition, many WTO
members have proposed including other issues in the negotiations.
kicked off at the Second Ministerial Conference in Geneva, in May 1998. They gathered pace
in September 1998 in the General Council. Proposals for items to be negotiated were first
tabled in March 1999. In September 1999, the General Council started to put the various
ideas together in a draft declaration to be issued in Seattle. In other words, the
declaration will include among other things the agenda for the negotiations.
By mid-September, more
than 150 proposals had been tabled. The list of documents shows they cover tariffs,
anti-dumping, subsidies, safeguards, investment measures, trade facilitation, electronic
commerce, competition policy, fisheries, transparency in government procurement, technical
assistance, capacity-building and other development issues, intellectual property
protection, and many other subjects in addition to agriculture and services.
Many of the proposals
are not specifically for the negotiations, but for programmes of work on other important
issues. Most of these have emerged as issues of concern for many countries over the last
four years when the Uruguay Round results took effect or were implemented.
Which of these
subjects (apart from agriculture and services) will be included in the negotiations, and
which in the work programme, is something that WTO members have been working out in their
discussions in the General Council in Geneva.
There are also
proposals for the Seattle meeting to produce a special deal to help least-developed
countries gain easier access to richer countries markets, and to develop further
work on technical assistance to least-developed countries under an integrated framework
set up by the WTO and a number of other organizations in 1997.
will only be the beginning
Its important to
be clear that the Seattle Ministerial Conference will only be the beginning of the
negotiations, just as the seven-year Uruguay Round was launched at a ministerial meeting
in Punta del Este in 1986 and the six-year Tokyo Round was launched in Tokyo in 1973.
After the launch in
Seattle, the actual negotiations and work programmes will take place in Geneva, where the
WTO is located. Many countries have suggested a deadline of three years for these new
talks. The decision will be made by ministers in Seattle. Ministers will be aware that
past experience has shown it is not always easy to complete large, complicated
negotiations within the specified time.
the launch be the only result of the Seattle meeting?
Its possible that some agreement will be reached on less difficult proposals. These
could still be important for world trade. But its also clear that the major issues
are going to take several years to negotiate.
At the same time, a
number of countries have said they want the Seattle meeting to look carefully at how the
Uruguay Round results are being implemented. This is also an area where a wide range of
countries have expressed a lot of interest.
for example, want to examine how the agreements on anti-dumping measures, subsidies and
textiles and clothing have been implemented.