WTO Ministerial Conference 13-18 December 2005 - Hong
focus by the United Nations Office of the High Representative
for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing
Countries and Small Island Developing States
Caribbean Hopes Fade on More Aid for Trade
By Peter Richards
PORT OF SPAIN, Dec 5 (IPS) - A week before the start of the
World Trade Organisation (WTO) Hong Kong ministerial meeting,
intended to reinvigorate floundering global trade talks, Caribbean
countries say they are already losing confidence in the process.
"There is a feeling that issues germane to these countries
have been sidelined," according to a statement by the Caribbean
Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM), which is coordinating
the region's position at the Dec. 13-18 talks.
It has warned that key issues which the year-end ministerial
was originally set to tackle have been scaled back, calling
into question an ambitious outcome for the Hong Kong meeting
and raising uncertainty over whether it will be able to inject
momentum in the process next year.
Caribbean countries, already peeved at the position of Europe
regarding the sale of bananas and sugar on the European market,
argue that the Hong Kong meeting must address core development
issues if it is to be successful.
They have joined with other Commonwealth heads of state, who
met in Malta recently, in saying that putting development high
on the agenda of the Doha Round is critical.
"Instead of permeating the negotiating agenda, the 'development
dimension' has been in relegation, emblematic of how the round
has been consumed by the interests of rich nations, as opposed
to being centred on those of developing countries," said
Richard Bernal, the CRNM's director general.
At a meeting of the Committee on Trade and Development earlier
this month, Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Namibia, Pakistan,
the Philippines, South Africa and Venezuela tabled a submission
criticising what they described as attempts by developed countries
to "sow division" among poor nations and "reinterpret
the framework and trajectory of the negotiations".
Charging that some wealthy countries were undermining the development
objectives of the Doha Round, the group argued for an ambitious
"aid for trade" package to be launched in Hong Kong.
"On its own responsibility, the WTO Secretariat has in
recent days attempted to highlight the broad parameters of the
development dimension, to identify specific issues of interest
to developing countries and to describe the potential gains
which could accrue to developing countries from the conclusion
of the negotiations," it added.
But the CRNM said despite this recent flurry of activity to
bring the "development dimension" in focus, there
is a deep disconnect between the expectations of rich and poor
nations about the meeting's outcome.
Questions also remain about the nature of the development package
that would ultimately be brought forward in any discussions
on the issue in Hong Kong.
In a statement titled "A Development Package for Hong
Kong -- What the EU is Proposing", the European bloc says
the greatest development gains in the Doha Development Round
will come through new market access in agriculture, industrial
goods and services.
Included in the package are tariff- and quota-free market access
for all exports from the world's Least Developed Countries,
special treatment for developing countries, and guarantees for
access to cheap drugs in WTO intellectual property rights agreements.
In addition, the Europeans are promising a strong "aid
for trade" package similar to measures agreed at the G8
Summit in Scotland earlier this year.
But Caribbean countries are not impressed. They point out that
at a time when the Doha Round is failing them, the WTO system
is pushing Caribbean economies to the brink of collapse.
Caribbean sugar and banana-producing states say they are being
held to ransom by the multilateral trading system, and a recent
WTO ruling in favour of Latin American exporters against the
25-nation African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group, former
European colonies whose banana sectors have for years received
duty-free access in the European market.
Late last month, the EU announced a new import tariff of 206
dollars per tonne for bananas imported mainly from Latin American
suppliers. The new import regime will also include a duty-free
annual import quota of 775,000 tonnes for ACP bananas, starting
on Jan. 1, 2006.
George Bullen, chairman of the ACP grouping, labelled the EU
deal as "draconian", while the Windward Islands Banana
Development Company also expressed disappointment with the new
"We are amazed that the commission has taken it to that
level, knowing the risk," said the company's managing director,
Caribbean banana-producing countries have already warned that
they would not be relegated to a "position of third party
bystanders" as Europe seeks to find a solution to its long-standing
battle to introduce a single import tariff for bananas.
In a statement issued in Brussels following the ninth meeting
of ACP trade ministers, the Caribbean insisted on being "part
of any agreement reached, and wish to serve notice that we too
are willing to fight all the way to Hong Kong and beyond, to
protect our countries from the risk of even more poverty and
Regarding sugar, the Caribbean says it has been "woefully
betrayed" by Europe over proposals to reform its sugar
"The whole issue is unfair," said Guyana's President
Bharrat Jagdeo, who has lead responsibility for agriculture
within the Caribbean Community.
In a statement, Jagdeo said that the ACP states had been "subsidising
the European consumers in exchange for long-term access"
to the European market for their product. "But it seems
as though Europe has forgotten that, and they think we are asking
for charity today."
Caribbean countries say they will lose 100 million dollars
annually as a result of the EU's decision to go ahead with a
36 percent cut in the price of sugar exported to Europe by ACP
The head of the Sugar Association of the Caribbean, Ian Mc
Donald, described the agreement as an "outrage" and
a "betrayal of the Cotonou Partnership, which advances
the notion of safeguarding the benefits of the Sugar Protocol".
Europe argues that the Caribbean should turn its attention
to redefining its trade and economic relationship, and has put
forward an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that would "enhance
competition, albeit in a managed and carefully weighted fashion".
"Hence our intention in the EPA context to first focus
on helping build a single economic and trading space in the
Caribbean and then very gradually liberalise exchanges with
the EU," said Karl Friedrich Falkenberg, deputy director
general for Trade at the European Commission.
However, the executive director of the Barbados-based Caribbean
Policy Development Centre, Christopher Sinckler, says Caribbean
states have not benefited significantly from the process of
"We can empirically show by evidence that liberalisation,
unbridled, too fast, too deep, too widespread, is disastrous
for Caribbean territories," Sinckler told a trade seminar.