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About the Project

The Project titled "WTO Doha Round & South Asia: Linking Civil Society with Trade Negotiations" aims to establish linkage between the civil society organisations and research institutions while conducting advocacy with the governments. The project will be implemented in five South Asian countries, viz., Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in a partnership mode. The period of the project is 15 months starting from 1st January 2005 and completing on 31st March 2006.

It will focus on the following five key elements of the July Framework Agreement:

  • Agriculture
  • Non-agricultural market access
  • Development dimensions
  • Services
  • Trade Facilitation

While four element has annexes in the July package, the fifth element development dimension, which includes special & differential treatment, capacity building, technical and financial assistance is a cross-cutting issue. This Agreement provides the basis on which the Doha Round of negotiations will progress. While negotiating positions of South Asian countries will be analysed, they will be juxtaposed with the concerns and perceptions of diverse stakeholders. On each issue, the position of a particular country and civil society (including business bodies, trade unions, women groups, particularly those working on gender and trade linkages) perceptions will be placed with those of other countries, so as to come out with a common position on a particular issue between the South Asian countries. 

Furthermore, the positions of some other key players (like Brazil, European Union, US, the Africa Group, the LDC Group) will be placed vis-ŕ-vis the positions of South Asian countries, so that these countries can arrive at better negotiating positions during the Doha Round of negotiations.

I. Background & Context

Member countries of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are engaged in negotiations under the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), adopted at the fourth Ministerial Conference of the WTO held in Doha, Qatar in November 2001.

The fifth Ministerial Conference of the WTO held in Cancún, Mexico in September 2003 was intended to adopt a work-in-progress (of the Doha Round) report. However, the Cancún Ministerial was aborted due to differences between WTO Members on several key issues, such as agriculture.

While there is no question mark on the Doha Round of negotiations, following the Cancún debacle the process (of negotiations) slowed down. However, keeping the virtues of ‘multilateralism’ in mind, WTO members decided to provide the necessary momentum to the Doha Round by adopting a Decision on the Doha Work Programme on 1st August 2004. This is known as the Framework Agreement. 

The Framework Agreement has the following five key elements:

  • Agriculture
  • Non-agricultural market access
  • Development dimensions
  • Services
  • Trade facilitation

This Agreement provides the basis on which the Doha Round of negotiations will progress. For example, a detailed framework for establishing modalities in agriculture negotiations was adopted.

As per the Framework Agreement, the Doha Round of negotiations will come to an end by December 2005, when the sixth Ministerial Conference of the WTO will take place in Hong Kong, China. However, given the realpolitik of negotiations, it is expected that the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference will adopt a work-in-progress report (the one that the Cancún Ministerial was suppose to do) and the Doha Round will continue at least till 2007 (when the seventh Ministerial Conference of the WTO will take place). Other than contentious issues on ‘agriculture’, it is being perceived that ‘services’ negotiations will take much more time than expected, while countries are expected to buy more time to negotiate ‘trade facilitation’. 

The outcome of the Doha Round will have significant implications on international trade and national development. This is more so for developing countries, as international trade is increasingly linked with livelihoods and associated national development (poverty reduction) strategies. Thus, it is an imperative for South Asian countries to approach the WTO Doha Round of negotiations in a manner that would help the poor and, in particular, insulate (appropriate social safety nets) those sections of the population who would get negatively affected as a result of trade liberalisation.  

South Asian countries are taking several steps in this direction, including looking at trade issues from human development angle. However, much more is needed. One significant lacuna is that negotiating positions are being taken without much consultation with a wider set of stakeholders representing diverse views. Thus, there is a democratic deficit in the process of trade negotiations.

It is true that South Asian governments are consulting business bodies and taking inputs from research institutions, but there is less consultation with those sections of the civil society (non-governmental organisastions, trade unions, women groups), which are working at the grassroots and are in a better position to articulate livelihood concerns, particularly in a disaggregated manner (e.g. a trade policy measure may have overall positive impact on a society, but it may have negative impact on particular sections of a society and then the challenge is to devise appropriate measures to tackle such negative impact). There is also lack of coordination between civil society organisations, business bodies and research institutions.

In this context, this is to mention that during 2001-04 Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS Centre for International Trade, Economics & Environment – CUTS-CITEE) implemented a project titled “South Asian Civil Society Network on International Trade Issues” (SACSNITI). A unique feature of this project is to establish linkage between the civil society organisations and research institutions while conducting advocacy with the governments and at the inter-governmental organisations. Officials from trade ministries of different South Asian countries took active interest in this project. It has also helped in establishing links between the civil society and the research community, but much more is required.

CUTS-CITEE proposes to take forward such activities in a more cogent and coherent manner by taking into account learning from the above-stated project and other activities it has implemented over a period of more than a decade.

The project "WTO Doha Round and South Asia: Linking Civil Society with Trade Negotiations" will focus on five issues as stated in the July Framework. While negotiating positions of South Asian countries will be analysed, they will be juxtaposed with the concerns and perceptions of diverse stakeholders. On each issue, the position of a particular country and civil society (including business bodies, trade unions, women groups, particularly those working on gender and trade linkages) perceptions will be placed with those of other countries, so as to with a common position on a particular issue among the South Asian countries.

Furthermore, the positions of some other key players (like Brazil, European Union, US, the Africa Group, the LDC Group) will be placed vis-ŕ-vis the positions of South Asian countries, so that these countries can arrive at better negotiating positions during the Doha Round of negotiations. South Asian countries are individually and collectively associated with the positions of many of these countries and groups.

As far as current negotiating positions and issues at stake for South Asian countries are concerned, these countries have welcomed the July Package with guarded optimism. Here it is necessary to mention differences in negotiating capacities of South Asian countries. For example, India took a leading role in arriving at the July Package. It was a member of the so-called Five Interested Parties (the others being Australia, Brazil, EU and US). On the other hand, Bangladesh is considered as a spokesman of least developed countries. The negotiating positions of Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are issue-specific.

An interesting fact is that the negotiating positions of all these countries are by and large compatible with their national trade policy, which is good as in the past many of these countries faced with the problems of policy incoherence. On certain issues, negotiating positions are more common than differentiated, like that on agriculture. Whereas on issues such as intellectual property rights, India’s position is slightly different from other countries of the region, in particular the least developed countries. Thus, there are common as well as differentiated positions on different issues. However, there is no doubt that South Asian countries share common concerns on development dimensions of international trade.

Given this situation, a comprehensive way for countries to arrive at better negotiating positions is to involve civil society organizations in the process of negotiations. Experience gathered from negotiations during the Uruguay Round and subsequently after the formation of the WTO tells that countries, which have involved civil society organizations in developing their negotiating positions, have performed better. This is because civil society organizations are in a position to provide crucial data and information about the impact/implication of a possible policy measure.

At the same time, it is also true that most of the South Asian countries have started taking into account civil society inputs while formulating their negotiating positions at the WTO. At least, the process has started and some key civil society organizations (like CUTS in India, SAWTEE in Nepal) are involved. However, this has to be more broad-based.

 

II. Objectives

The project has the following inter-related objectives:

  • Facilitate cross-fertilisation of experiences and lessons learnt on international trade and national development between South Asian Countries and to establish linkage between the civil society organisations and research institutions in order to enhance the consultation process while developing  appropriate policy responses.
  • Strengthen the capacity of the South Asian countries on new emerging issues
  • Establish a platform to facilitate in preparing a common position for South Asian countries during the Doha Round for the benefit of the poor, with a special focus on women, with inputs from the ground/grassroots.
  • Engage different stakeholders (NGOs, trade bodies, industry bodies, trade unions, WTO experts, women group, etc) and present their concerns on each of the issues covered in July Framework Agreement.
  • Addressing livelihood concerns while developing negotiating positions, thus influencing the process of making the Doha Round of trade negotiations a truly development round.
  • Rectifying democratic deficits in economic governance in South Asian countries, so that the process of policy-making becomes more people-oriented as opposed to current top-down approach. 

 

III. Methodology

Each research partner will write a paper comprising of:

  • Literature review

  • Quantitative and qualitative analysis based on secondry data and

  • Qualitative field research involving perception mapping of relevant stakeholders from business, government and civil society

The designated organisations will conduct research on each issues covered in a particular topic of the July Framework agreement on the basis of the terms of reference on each of these topics. The terms of reference are limited to those aspects covered in the WTO Framework Agreement of 1st August 2004. Terms of reference includes the following (non-exhaustive list of) issues:

Agriculture

  • Domestic support
  • Export competition
  • Market access
  • Special and sensitive products
  • Special safeguard mechanisms
  • Concerns of least developed countries and net food importing developing countries
  • Sectoral initiatives

Non-agricultural market access

  • Product coverage and implementation schedule of tariff reductions
  • Tariff escalation and tariff peaks
  • Non-tariff barriers
  • Erosion of preferences for least developed countries

Services

  • Analysis of requests and offers and looking beyond mode 4
  • Linkages between liberalization commitments and national policy space

Development dimensions

  • Special and differential treatments
  • Implementation issues
  • Concerns of least developed countries

Trade facilitation

  • Clarifications on GATT Articles V, VIII and X
  • Identification of trade facilitation needs and priorities
  • Costs and benefits of trade facilitation measures
  • Special & differential treatments

Besides analysing the negotiating position of a country on each issues of the July Framework agreement, the research will take into consideration concerns and perceptions of different stakeholders (NGOs, trade bodies, ndustry bodies, trade unions, WTO experts, women group, etc). Thus, the basic paper will be prepared through a combination of analytical and field research, and human development issues (livelihood concerns, gender implications) will be highlighted through case studies.

Once a basic paper is ready, it will be circulated to the research partners of other countries and they will be required to put their country’s position and perceptions of different stakeholders vis-ŕ-vis a particular topic, including at least one case study.

IV. National Consultations

One-day national consultations will be organised in five countries. The objective of these is to provide a dialogue and discussion forum to relevant actors on issues relating to the Doha Round of negotiations. Trade policy officials, representatives of trade promotion bodies, research institutions, WTO experts, NGOs, trade unions, women groups, industry bodies and media persons will be invited to take part in these consultations. Research partners will work in close cooperation with NGO partners in organizing these meetings.

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