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By: WTO volunteers

Session 1: Panellists call for more sustainable energy use

SESSION TITLE: Sustainable energy use and trade

Policies to promote energy efficiency, reduce fossil fuel subsidies, and the current environmental goods and services negotiations at the WTO will all play an important part in moving us towards more sustainable energy use, participants in Public Forum Session 1 said.

Continued increases in energy demand and government commitments to tackle climate change have intensified the need to find ways to use energy in a sustainable manner while continuing to promote economic development, they said. Panellists agreed that changes in our energy system are urgently needed.

Mr Mark Maslin of University College London presented current trends in energy demand, noting the relevance of sustainable energy use in addressing the 21st century’s biggest challenges — climate change and global poverty. He explained that current projections of future demand for energy use will result in unsustainable greenhouse gas emissions. Growth in energy supply will need to become increasingly low carbon, he said.

Dr Richard Bradley of the International Energy Agency stressed that the energy system needs to be transformed, and quickly. Non-OECD countries now account for 93% of growth in energy demand, and worldwide, current energy policies are not enough to slow energy demand. While massive transformation will have to come through supply side changes, energy efficiency policies could buy countries the much needed time before they can be implemented.

Mr Ron Steenblik of the OECD spoke about the role that reforming fossil fuel subsidies can have in promoting sustainable development. He highlighted some of the key points that came out of the recent Joint Report on the issue by OCED, IEA, World Bank, and OPEC, including the political significance of the G20’s commitment to act on this issue.

He spoke of the environmental benefits that exists, noting that reducing subsidies worldwide would result in a 10% fall in emissions. However, reforms to subsidy policies will have to be accompanied by broader structural reforms to support the poorest in society, who are often on the receiving end of fossil fuel subsidies. Better information on subsidies and their impacts will inform the debate and help leaders to show that reform is good.

Mr Tim Richards and Mr Larry Herman of the World Energy Council spoke of the work their organization has done on the application of WTO rules and disciplines to international energy issues. A task force set up on this issue made recommendations covering: the elimination of environmental goods and services trade barriers, border measures, promotion of energy related investments, and energy services trade.

The presentations were followed by a lively debate on the evolution of energy markets, the effect of regulation on energy demand, fossil fuel subsidies, and the importance of the Doha Round negotiations on environmental goods and services in promoting sustainable energy use and tackling climate change.

With regards to WTO negotiations, all panellists agreed that the more accessible and cost effective technologies are, the easier it will be for countries to adopt them and promote sustainable energy use. When addressing such urgent challenges, the role of the WTO in improving access to these technologies was found to be undeniably beneficial.

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Session 2: WTO agreements can help development and human rights, if conditions are right, Public Forum hears

SESSION TITLE: The right to development — a tool to boost coherence between trade, development and human rights?

WTO member governments are committed to the right to development, through the preambles to WTO agreements, and trade can help, under certain conditions, panellists said.

They were speaking in a session aiming to define the concept of the right to development and how it relates to the multilateral trading system of the WTO. The right to development was found to be a multidimensional concept as includes a number of components.

Dr Nicolaas Schrijver defined the concept of development as a process with a collective aspect at both national and international levels. The right to development was described as a cluster of civil and political rights on one side and economic, social, economic, and cultural rights on the other. The components include: the highest attainable access to health; the right to education; to work; to participate in public life; gender equality.

Dr Schrijver concluded his presentation by identifying the link between the WTO and the right to development, which he found through the provisions set in the WTO’s preamble and how they reflect this fundamental right. If human rights, environment and development are relevant to the WTO, then the right to development is relevant to the WTO and thus the WTO relevant for the right to development.

Mr Md Abdul Hannan stated that the right to development stems from the claim that there is a historical responsibility of the developed world towards the developing one, hence a shift in paradigm in international discourse which occurred in the 1970s. Since then, there has been no operational approach to this right.

The WTO, and the Marrakech agreement more specifically, implicitly recognizes that the developing world needs to be given special and differential treatment. There is a need for equitable economic relations at the international level which is favourable for development. The international community must support and protect the right to development through policies and laws.

Concerning MDG8 (the eighth Millennium Development Goal, on partnership for development), no meaningful interaction amongst global governance institutions has yet occurred, and there is a delivery gap in global partnership, he said.

There is a positive correlation between the right to development and trade though it is difficult to define. The delay in the conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda is leaving millions of people in poverty. The political promises need to be implemented. Issues such as market access and capacity building need to be addressed. “There is a shared responsibility for the shared welfare of the world,” he said.

Dr Joëlle Hivonnet stated that the right to development emerged in the aftermath of decolonization. The right to development is not just an issue for the developing countries but should be addressed collectively through an operational framework.

The EU is examining the right to development very closely because of the inalienable and indivisible nature of human rights. There is a need for coherence in the realization of the right to development due to its multidimensional aspect, Dr Hivonnet said.

The EU requires policy coherence internally (health, social policies) and externally (environment, trade, security). The individual needs to be at the centre of all policies and should be considered as an actor. There are many dimensions in EU policy which are consistent with the right to development.

The EU’s 12 points of action plan to meet the Millennium Development Goals includes two points of relevance to the WTO: the improvement of regional integration in trade to improve employment; and a global governance architecture.

Mr Vicente Paolo Yu said that the right to development is a human right which has been recognized but which still needs operationalzing. The right to development, which has been recognized in the preamble to the WTO Agreement, is about equity. The state of inequity in international relations needs to be addressed through the right to development.

Trade liberalization policy can be good or bad for development depending on the way it is being used. The way trade has been practised over the last 20 year has not always been beneficial to developing countries. Trade should only be considered as a tool for development. We need to focus on increasing the income of the population; heterodox trade policies; develop the productive capacities of all industries; a domestic framework to trade; a strategic approach to development and policy space flexibility for developing countries.

Discussion: Issues raised included the possibility of having the right to development (or some of its components) brought before a WTO panel or the ways to accelerate the establishment of the right to development as an efficient right.

The direction of the correlation between trade and development was also discussed as well as the relevance of the post-development theory which sees the concept of right to development as a way for the developed countries to continue their domination of the developing world. Finally the issue of how the developing powers were going to fit in the 21st century new political and economic relations was also addressed.

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Session 3: Stakeholders seen gaining more access to trade policy

SESSION TITLE: Role of non state actors in the WTO

Despite unanswered questions and hurdles, overall, stakeholders are being included more in trade-policymaking domestically and internationally, and the trend will continue, speakers said.

In this session, representatives of four different groups of non-state actors — businesses, NGOs, parliamentarians and academics — discussed their roles in trade policy-making at the domestic and international levels.

In his role as a moderator, Mr Pradeep S Mehta from CUTS, began the session on a positive note by saying that in many countries the NGOs’ influence on trade policy is stronger now than ever before. He expressed the view that international obligations in general and WTO obligations in particular have impacted and sometimes restricted domestic policy-making space by bringing in issues that are sometimes foreign to people from the global South.

He stressed the need for a better-informed, more inclusive discussion on both domestic and international levels that would include both commonalities and differences.

Speaking from the perspective of the private sector, Mr Pascal Kerneis from the European Services Forum said that if the main trade actors are companies, then the WTO is for businesses. He summarized the history of business mobilization on trade issues going back to the Uruguay Round with the negotiations on trade in services and the involvement of banks and telecommunication companies.

Mr. Kerneis asserted that, contrary to popular belief, the private sector is not good at “shaping” policy and legislation on the domestic level and even worse at the international arena.

He concluded that business interests are not yet properly served by the WTO, even though the WTO provides the multi-lateral trading system fixing global rules that lower tariffs, non-tariff barriers and subsidies, that provide market access and fair treatment of foreign products, which businesses need to trade internationally.

He blamed the failure to conclude the Doha Round after nine years of negotiations and the absence of a distinct mechanism for including business interests in the organization.

Mr Ricardo Melendez-Ortiz, the Chief Executive and founder of ICTSD, who spoke on behalf of NGOs, delivered his perspective of 14 years practical experience of trying to influence the WTO system.

He also turned to the historical perspective of the shift from the GATT, where consumers were the primary stakeholders, to the WTO created a different game that requires consideration of who are the new actors and how to involve them.

He asserted that while it is governments that manage the relationship with other governments, it is a good governance principle of bringing in the voice of the disenfranchised, the striking of balance between private and public interests.

Mr Ortiz added that it is the ICTSD’s role to correct the deep information asymmetries among stakeholders in an effort to ensure that trade policy supports the objectives of sustainable development.

Mr Michael Hindley, a former member of the European Parliament (MEP), discussed the difficulties that parliamentarians face communicating and justified international agreements in the domestic setting. He stressed that even when people think globally, they still vote locally and that also raises questions of legitimacy and accountability of NGOs.

He pointed out that at the EU level, trade is often at the hands of the executive power that is on a “very long leash” and that there is a need to make the decision-making process more accountable.

He also stressed that every international agreement has to be explained to the people that suffer the consequences by building a social agenda between the political elites and the affected parties on the domestic, supra-national (EU) and international (WTO) levels.

Mr Ujal Singh Bhatia, until recently the Indian ambassador to the WTO, gave his views on the consultative process with non-state actors in India and at the WTO.

He started by recalling the experience of India within its own borders and stressed the need for such a process for the government to formulate trade policy representative of all interests. Mr Bhatia stated that, as some WTO issues affect state jurisdiction, it is vital for state governments to be consulted on the domestic level.

He asserted that the Indian consultative process is a successful one and that complaints on the India-EU free trade agreement negotiations have been incorporated.

Mr Bhatia then elaborated on a case-study on the involvement of non-state actors in the international policy-making sphere by citing the fisheries subsidies case. He insisted that few NGOs from developing countries have the resources to push their points internationally. He agreed with Mr Hindley on the need to “shorten the leash” of trade representatives, but disagreed with Mr Kerneis that WTO is for businesses, inasmuch as the decisions taken at the WTO affect many more parties than just the private sector.

Finally, Professor Abul Barkat from the University of Dhaka in Banghladesh reflected on the need to improve relationship modalities between non-state actors and the WTO. He raised the issues of their identity, influence and knowledge of WTO matters.

Professor Barkat presented some statistics of NGOs and civil society organizations in Bangladesh, but pointed out that their level of activity is very low and limited to discursive powers due to their lack of coordination and knowledge.

In the ensuing question-and-answer session, the participants asked about the legitimacy and accountability of NGOs, the need for a swift resolution to the Doha Round, the lack of social agenda at the global level and the role of emerging economies in shaping trade-policy making.  

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Session 4: Speakers call for rules of origin to be reformed

SESSION TITLE: Global production chains — Transformation of international trade in the 21st century: The need for predictable and impartial rules of origin

Badly-needed harmonization of rules of origin would boost trade in intermediate products, benefiting rich and poor countries alike, panellists said.

This session focused on the rationale for the harmonization of rules of origin across all countries.

Both the US and the EU, which are (with China) the worlds’ biggest importers, have been making significant efforts in this direction, despite the difficulties created by opposing political interests. Progress, even if slow, has been made also within the WTO, panellists said.

Mr Maruping, from the mission of Lesotho, stressed the importance of the rules of origin (especially where trade preferences are concerned) for least developed countries (LDCs). They should be transparent and simple, and should facilitate market access to imports from poor countries. This means that compliance costs should be minimized, in order to increase their export capacity and facilitate technology transfer. He concluded by admitting that advanced economies are putting some effort in that, but that much has still to be done.

Mr Paulo Estivallet of the Mission of Brazil pointed out the interdependence between rules of origin and other WTO agreements. He said finalizing the World Customs Organization’s Harmonization Work Programme (HWP) on non-preferential rules of origin would benefit least developed countries. He also mentioned the reticence of large countries to finalize the work programme as they will have to start implementing it, a demanding task in terms of work and cost.

Mr Andreas Julin of the EU gave an overview of the EU’s rules of origin and their efforts for changing to simpler rules of origin that will be applicable from 1 January 2010. He stressed the importance of creating “development friendly” rules of origin that will help least developed countries to enter global supply chains more easily.

Mrs Octavia Cerchez of the Mission of Romania said the lack of harmonization allows countries to use various rules of origin. There is an important need to establish predictable and common multilateral rules of origin. She also pointed out the possibility of members to work, in parallel with the negotiations for the Harmonization Work Programme, on simplified and development-friendly rules of origin.

Mr Richard Newfarmer of the World Bank concluded by presenting an analysis on the importance of rules of origin. He noted that those products that remained to be discussed in the Harmonization Work Programme, mostly machinery and textiles, are those that could most benefit members. He stressed the negative correlation between the Restrictiveness Index and trade volumes. He finally noted that exporters should have more flexibility by being able to choose between satisfying either a 10% value added requirement or the Change of Tariff Heading rule.

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Session 5: Experts debate whether intellectual property protection helps trade or blocks competition

SESSION TITLE: From trade-related aspects of intellectual property (IP), to IP-related aspects of trade? Locating the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement in today’s global trade system

A well-attended late-afternoon Public Forum session heard experts debate latest developments in intellectual property and trade, including what developing countries are now seeking.

The session explored how economic tools could shed light on the interplay between trade and intellectual property protection. All panellists agreed that the IP content of trade had grown but that more research was needed specially in the digital age context.

Speakers also said the multiplication of multilateral and bilateral forums on intellectual property could lead to inconsistent rules being created.

While some stressed there was a positive correlation between intellectual property protection and trade flows (with threshold effects) other panellists insisted on the anticompetitive effects of intellectual property rights.

The concrete examples of geographical indications and biodiversity, the cultural and political dimensions of the protection as well as the existence of developing countries demandeurs were noted.

Suggestions to extend the protection to traditional knowledge and genetic resources, as well as to negotiate on the scope of unprotected “generic terms” rather than the protection of geographical indications were made.

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Session 6: Views differ on services liberalization and regulation

SESSION TITLE: How do the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) rules relate to countries’ post-crisis financial regulatory policies?

A lively session late on the first day of the Public Forum saw participants debate whether liberalization is the same as deregulation, and whether liberalization should continue under the WTO Doha Round negotiations.

The session focused on the link between current General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) rules and disciplines and the financial measures countries proposed or took during the economic and financial crisis.

Panellists differed on whether GATS provisions facilitate or limit countries’ policy space. Particular areas of dispute were GATS’ rules on domestic regulation and its prudential carve-out, and whether liberalization equals deregulation.

The debate was inconclusive on the question of whether services liberalization should simply continue under the Doha negotiations or whether the priority is to analyze the role and impact of current rules and liberalization under the GATS.

In discussing the role and functions of GATS rules and disciplines at times of crisis, one panellist (the WTO’s
Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh) highlighted that GATS is about liberalization, not deregulation. The rules partially subtract the right to regulate as in any internationally binding agreement, but don’t limit countries policy space, he said.

An example is the prudential carve-out, which overwrites other GATS commitments, but with a built-in safeguard against abuse. There never was a problem with the carve-out.

According to another panellist (Public Citizen’s
Lori Wallach) the GATS has the potential of conflicting with more restrictive financial policies and questioned if the GATS stood in the way of policy needs or flexibilities during the crisis. She foresaw possible violations of GATS disciplines, quoting a variety of prohibited actions under the current rules.

She questioned ongoing negotiations on domestic regulation as unwise at a time of uncertain financial and economic recovery, which received some support from the floor. The Doha Round should not be allowed to do further harm, she said.

A representative from the South (UN financial reform expert
Pedro Paez) argued for more policy space and flexibility for developing countries and argued for staying as far away from Washington consensus as possible. He spoke about the “financialization” of transnationals. He also quoted the IMF which identified 267 financial crises over the last 35 years. Crises are therefore structural, not exceptional, and the result of neoliberal policies.

The final speaker (researcher
Ellen Gould of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) argued that the Canadian experience during the financial crisis has been abused by advocates of WTO liberalization on how to regulate.

Canada’s financial markets are actually highly protected and almost fully controlled and dominated by Canadian banks, she said. In other words, a non-liberalized financial market is the best protection during a crisis. GATS liberalization is therefore considered as a threat.

discussion afterwards repeated some of these arguments without adding anything new to an already old debate. Activists fear the regulatory GATS arm whereas the defenders of regulation and disciplines see it as further protection and safeguard against economic downturn and financial mayhem.

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Session 7: Developing countries struggling to deal with new carbon standards, session hears

SESSION TITLE: Beyond border carbon adjustment measures: Standards, labelling and the issue of emission allowances

Measuring, pricing and standards for carbon dioxide emissions are needed to deal with climate change, but they also raise costs for developing countries, speakers said.

The post Copenhagen trend is going towards measuring carbon dioxide emissions, they said.

One method is to set up norms. Most of them are created by national bodies or the private sector.

Because of the lack of carbon pricing in the world economy, corporations have taken this matter into their own hands.

This is a concern for developing countries as there are cost issues involved, speakers said

The lack of mutual recognition is also a problem, for developing countries.

Standards are like a common language shared by different countries. They can do a lot to mitigate climate change. But developing countries need to be involved in setting up these standards. It is important to reflect their interests properly.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
is currently working on an international standard to measure carbon footprints, to be released in 2012.

The Swedish government has launched capacity-building activities for developing countries in that regard. For example, it helped Namibia to establish a test and metrology plant.

Africa does not contribute to climate change (only 1-5%), therefore Africa should not be involved in mitigation efforts, the session heard.

In the absence of an international agreement on climate change, ad hoc solutions, country by country, are emerging.

Free allocation of emission quotas could be seen as subsidies according to WTO rules. They could also constitute disguised protectionism, speakers said.

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