WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO

11 April 2002

Moore welcomes Oxfam report but cites omissions and errors

GENEVA — Director General Mike Moore today welcomed a report from Oxfam International which calls on developed countries to make greater efforts to open their markets to products from poor nations and to increase the financial aid provided to the developing world.

But Mr. Moore said the report “Rigged Rules and Double Standards: Trade, Globalization, and the Fight Against Poverty” failed to mention that the WTO has undertaken a variety of measures to assist developing countries and contained a number of misleading statements about WTO rules.

“I welcome Oxfam's report. It is healthy and useful and I hope officials of our 144 Member Governments read it. Oxfam has been invited to speak at our public symposium on the Doha Development Agenda from 29 April — 1 May and I hope its representative will forcefully make his case at that time.

“Many of the points raised in the report including the need for land redistribution, greater development funding, infrastructure development and guidelines for Multinational Corporations are outside the mandate of the WTO. Our core business is trade liberalization.

“On this issue, Oxfam has built some sound arguments. Oxfam's criticism of rich country barriers to imports from poor nations, for instance, is entirely correct. The way to bring those barriers down is through negotiations already underway in the DDA. A round of trade negotiations is also the best and only substantial way to change the rules. Many of the measures called for in the report — reduction in farm subsidies, the elimination of tariff peaks, the elimination of duties and quotas on products from the least developed countries — are in fact on the table as part of the DDA negotiations. It is unfortunate that Oxfam gave short shrift to the launch of these negotiations.

“The attacks in the report on the WTO's rules on Trade-related Intellectual Property and its impact on public health are rather odd, given that last November Ministers in Doha stated unequivocally that the TRIPs agreement “does not and should not prevent Members from taking measures to protect public health”. Ministers made clear that the agreement should be interpreted in a manner which promotes “access to medicines for all”.

“Oxfam suggests that the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services somehow will require developing countries to privatize public services, including water supply. This is simply untrue. The GATS agreement does not require the privatization or deregulation of any service. In fact, the agreement excludes from its coverage all services provided in the exercise of government authority. As for water supply, the number of commitments made by member governments on water distribution is zero.

“When Oxfam states that there are far too many people in the world who are living in abject poverty, they are right. They are also right when they say that trade has been an important tool in lifting people out of this poverty. It's important to recall that since 1900, average life expectancy has risen from 30 years to 67 years, that since 1970 the percentage of people in the developing world who are starving has fallen from 35% to 18%, and that today about 80% of the people in the developing world have access to clean drinking water, compared with only 30% in 1970.

“Of course more needs to done, but these statistics show significant improvement and trade has contributed to these gains in welfare.

“I agree as well that good governance by governments in the developing world is essential to any programme of poverty alleviation. This is one reason why WTO member governments agreed to do further work on the so-called new issues of competition, trade facilitation, transparency in government procurement and investment.

“I support Oxfam's assessment that development institutions and industrial nations need to make greater efforts to increase the capacity of developing countries to participate in the global trading system. But I was surprised that Oxfam's officials seemingly ignored the fact that the WTO has substantially increased the funding available for technical assistance and has created a Training Institute which will enable us to provide training for twice as many developing country officials every year. Moreover, the report ignores the efforts that we have made with our partners at the World Bank, UNCTAD, the International Trade Centre, the UN Development Programme and the International Monetary Fund in better co-ordinating our technical assistance efforts and in mainstreaming trade as a component in development programmes.

“Oxfam talks of the need to “democratise” the WTO, but ignores the fact that all critical decisions taken here are made on the basis of consensus of all member governments. Moreover, our dispute settlement mechanism allows the smallest players the chance to defend its interests against even the mightiest trading powers. It's true, of course, that those countries with greater resources have an advantage in the negotiations which is why our programmes for capacity building are so important.

“Oxfam rightly points to the problems faced by those member governments who cannot afford offices in Geneva. This is a problem I have sought to address from my first day in office and significant progress has been made to bring these governments more fully into the multilateral trading system. The WTO has, over the past three years, linked each of the 24 WTO non-resident member governments and all of the 11 non-resident observer governments to Geneva through our reference center programme. Under this programme, the WTO has provided, hardware, software and training to allow officials with these governments to instantly access the documentation they require. Moreover, Secretariat officials provide regular briefings for these governments to keep them abreast of events.

“On 22 April, officials from all 35 non-residents will come to the WTO to participate in our Geneva Week programme, which serves to better integrate these countries into our system. Geneva Week has now been mainstreamed and will be held twice annually and funded through the regular budget. The April programme has been scheduled to coincide with the first meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee so that these officials can participate in the first session of this group which is responsible for the overall co-ordination of the negotiations”.