Wed, Nov 21, 2001 - Page 8 News List

North-south conflict hampers WTO

By Jeff Wu 吳芳銘

The 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle failed due both to external challenges, such as anti-globalization protests, and internal challenges, such as conflict between the US and EU and differences between industrialized countries in the northern hemisphere and developing countries in the south. The failure doomed efforts to launch a new round of global trade negotiations. At the recent WTO meeting in Doha, Qatar, however, the very same conflicts between the north and the south and between the pro and anti-globalization forces existed.

The issues proposed for discussion in the new trade round reveal six major sticking points. The first is agricultural protectionism. Major disagreements regarding agricultural subsidies and market access exist not only between the US and Europe but also between industrialized and developing countries. The EU's reduction of agricultural subsidies failed to satisfy the US. Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina and other countries have demanded that the US, EU and Japanese agricultural subsidies be terminated. Developing countries have also demanded that both the US and the EU open their agricultural markets completely.

The second difference is environmental issues. Countries in the southern hemisphere are bewildered by Western countries' insistence on including environmental standards in the WTO agenda.

The third difference is market access. Developing countries have asked that industrialized countries abide by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and further open their markets to developing nations. The industrialized countries, however, find it difficult to keep this promise as the global economic situation continues to deteriorate. This has angered developing countries.

The fourth difference is conflicts between WTO regulations and member state's national laws. The organization's agreements require that member economies amend conflicting national laws to accord with WTO regulations.

The fifth difference is pharmaceutical and intellectual property right (IPR) issues. Under Article 65 of the WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement, developing countries are not required to enact domestic IPR laws until 2005. Industrialized countries, however, want the legislation as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the US-India dispute over pharmaceutical products reflects the pressure facing developing countries during the transition period. Developing countries hope that clearer explanations regarding the WTO regulations can be made. Some African nations, moreover, have asked for a reduction in the prices of AIDS therapies and other patented pharmaceutical products. But Western countries have, on the whole, have turned a deaf ear to such requests.

The sixth difference is anti-dumping issues. The hardline US stance on the opening of its textiles market and its refusal to negotiate on anti-dumping issues have caused conflicts with developing nations. They have requested the US and other industrialized countries completely open their textiles and clothing markets.

They have also requested that a variety of anti-dumping measures protecting the domestic markets of industrialized countries be canceled. Japan and the EU have also teamed up with developing countries to attack the US anti-dumping measures, demanding negotiations on the issue in the multilateral trade round under the WTO. But the US said at the Seattle meeting that the anti-dumping issue was not negotiable.

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