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The WTO meeting in Nairobi left Uganda and other least developed countries high and dry as Ismail Musa Ladu writes.
Uganda’s Trade minister Amelia Kyambadde is a firm and yet persuasive negotiator.
And her technical team of negotiators is equally knowledgeable and skillful, boasting of a wealth of experience in trade negotiations for years.
Despite those amiable traits, all of which are crucial for such a high-level negotiation bargain, Uganda, just like her counterparts - the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), returned home without real tangible concessions or something concrete to be proud of.
Briefing the media recently about the outcome of 10th World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference, which took place at the close of 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya, Kyambadde said not so much was achieved from the top decision organ meeting held for the first time on African soil.
When Daily Monitor asked her to rate the gains achieved, she said: “It is about 40 per cent. I don’t think we were happy. Most of us (mostly LDCs) were not happy with many things. But one thing for sure, even though you want to be fair, I can’t see the ratings exceeding 40 per cent.”
What was at stake for Uganda in the negotiations?
According to Kyambadde, also the head of Uganda’s delegation, successful conclusion of the Doha Round of negotiations before introduction of any new negotiation issues was a priority which was not achieved as Uganda and other LDCs could not stop the wealthy nations—the most developed nations (MDCs), from having their way.
The Doha Round negotiation was launched in November 2001 in Doha, Qatar, at the WTO’s fourth ministerial conference. It focuses on the concerns of developing countries which rotate around agricultural reforms, particularly reductions/eliminations in subsidies, issues of non-agricultural market access, special treatment of poor countries and matters of trade facilitation, among others.
However, there was no clear way forward regarding the Doha Round as some members insisted on concluding the Doha Round first before considering any new issues while others insisted on introducing new things.
“Therefore, the ministerial conference instructed members to find ways to advance the negotiations,” Kyambadde said, before adding, “We shall continue working with other WTO members to find consensus on this and other issues such as elimination of trade distorting domestic support (agricultural subsidies) where consensus could not be reached during the ministerial conference.”
In an interview last week, trade and negotiation analyst Martin Munu, said: “The WTO has once again failed to serve the development needs of poor countries like Uganda.”
He continued: “The Nairobi declaration does not reaffirm the Doha Development Agenda, which in spite of its flaws, at least seeks to address the needs of LDCs and developing countries. It will, therefore, be difficult for our negotiators in Geneva to get better agreements. The US got what it wanted by opening doors for the introduction of new (Singapore) issues which include investment, public procurement and competition in the negotiation agenda because the declaration recognises that some members want these issues introduced.”
He argued that the new issues introduced present a worse outcome to the economies of poor countries as a multilateral agreement on them would undermine industrial sector development, constrain the growth of local capacity and undermine job-creation efforts.
According to Munu, since the Nairobi conference did not address the unfair global trading system, rich countries are likely to continue setting the standards in global trade even without a multilateral agreement.
He said it is important for the WTO to reject unfair power dynamics that work against the poor at the satisfaction of multinational corporations.
Importantly perhaps, he noted that Africa needs to do more on regional integration, genuinely address non-tariff barriers (NTBs) and promote connectivity, competitiveness so that the economies can benefit from increasing share of global trade.
What was achieved at the 10th ministerial conference in Nairobi?
Information from the Ministry of Trade indicates that a decision was reached for elimination of all export subsidies. This is good because some of the country’s products were being affected by subsidised products from developed and developing countries.
“The decision will go a long way in reversing the negative effects that subsidised exports were having on our products,” Kyambadde said.
Public stockholding for food security
On public stockholding for food security, the ministerial conference decided that the interim solution on food security be used until a permanent solution is found. This allows countries such as Uganda to have recourse of the public stockholding for food security, should such a need arise.
Concerning cotton, a decision was reached on elimination of export subsidies, provision of duty and quota-free market access and increasing market access opportunities for cotton in cases where developing countries are not in position to grant Duty-Free Quota-Free (DFQF) market access. Consensus is still being built on issues of elimination of domestic support in the cotton sector.
Preferential rules of origin for LDCs
A decision, which will facilitate opportunities, for Least-Developed Countries’ export of goods to both developed and developing countries under preferential trade arrangements was adopted.
The decision includes clear criteria for determining when a product qualifies as “a product originating from an LDC like Uganda.”
It further calls upon preference-granting members to consider simplifying documentary and procedural requirements related to origin.
A decision was also made on easing the implementation of the LDC services waiver.
The duration of the services waiver was extended to 2030. The waiver allows services and service suppliers from LDCs, including Uganda, to export to developed and developing countries under preferential treatment that is not granted to other (non-LDC) WTO members.
On the agreement on trade-related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and Public Health, it emerged that an extension was obtained for pharmaceutical products until 2033—a 17-year extension. This will help pharmaceutical industries such as CIPLA and Quality Chemicals to continue producing generic drugs such as ARVs, and anti-malarial drugs.
What next for Uganda after the Nairobi WTO meeting?
Government’s next step involves creating initiatives to maximise the new opportunities by creating awareness about them.
A position paper of the ministry of Trade said government will expedite the implementation of the National Services Trade Policy to take advantage of the services waiver to increase services exports.
A simplified manual for the private sector to take advantage of the notifications made to WTO, under the waiver, is also being developed.
Government will continue to demand that the WTO delivers on issues where concrete results were not achieved in Nairobi, including the successful conclusion of the Doha Round with its development mandate.
Government, through the Cotton Development Organisation, will undertake initiatives to take advantage of the new provisions for cotton, including technical assistance and capacity building.