Multilateral Trading System
To analyze the developments, trends, impacts and challenges of multilateral trade policy development, negotiations and proposal of alternatives that serve African countries’ trade interests.
The Uruguay Round (UR) of the multilateral trade negotiations (MTNs), the latest, and most ambitious of a series of such negotiations, was formally concluded with the signing on April 15, 1994, at Marrakech, Morocco, of the Final Act, which embodies all the multilateral and plurilateral agreements of the round. The first round, held in Geneva in 1947, resulted in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
The UR agreements extended multilateral rules and disciplines to trade in services, trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, and investment measures. They also brought trade in agriculture and textiles back into the GATT. The Final Act included the decision to establish a formal organization called the World Trade Organization (WTO) “to provide the common institutional framework for the conduct of trade relations among its members in matters related to the (Uruguay Round) agreements” (GATT 1994: 6).
Port of Mombasa (Kenya) courtesy of The East African
An important aspect of the post Uruguay Round analysis is the quantitative impact of the reduction of trade barriers on the volume of trade and on welfare in the short and long run. But an equally, if not more important, though not quantifiable, impact of the UR is its potential effect on the rules of the game, so to speak, in restraining both powerful actors who may be tempted to take advantage of the weak and weak countries that may want to “free ride” on the commitment of the powerful to the system. The developed countries are admittedly powerful and developing countries weak in this sense.
The purpose of this programme is not simply to assess the success and failures of the post-UR multilateral trading system per se but also to pursue a much broader theme, namely the interaction between developing countries – especially in Africa – and the MTS and to place the UR in that context. We view this broader theme to be extremely pertinent, since the developing countries have had an ambivalent attitude to the WTO, and their attitude toward integrating their economies with the global trading system has evolved from one of hostility to active promotion.
In their decision-making, the contracting parties of the GATT [and later WTO] have al-most always adopted a consensus procedure in spite of the fact that Article XXV of the GATT required only a simple majority of votes cast for a decision with each contracting party having one vote. Thus in principle, developing countries could have had a significant influence in the MTS decisions. Nonetheless, they tended to view the GATT and WTO as promoting the interests of developed countries. Indeed, the first United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 1964, subsequently institutionalized as a “permanent organ” of the General Assembly of the United Nations, provided a forum in which developing countries tried to evolve and articulate a common position on matters relating to trade.
The first WTO Ministerial held in Singapore in 1996, established permanent working groups on four issues: transparency in government procurement, trade facilitation (customs issues),trade and investment, and trade and.
These became known as the “Singapore Issues.” Attempts have been made to push these issues at successive ministerial by the rich countries, and opposed by most developing countries. Since no agreement was reached, the developed nations pushed that any new trade negotiations must include these issues.
The negotiations were intended to start at the Third Ministerial Conference in Seattle, USA in 1999, and be called the Millennium Round but, due to several different events including protests by the African Delegations and activists, it was decided that negotiations would not start again until the next ministerial conference in 2001 in Doha, Qatar.
From the foregoing, there is need to:
- Raise awareness of stakeholders at local, national and regional level on the existing and emerging developments, opportunities and challenges within the multilateral trade agreements’ negotiation processes in the WTO and other forums for their proactive engagement.
- Strengthen the capacity of the stakeholders at national and regional level to effectively participate in and influence the WTO negotiation and dispute settlement processes.
- Monitor and analyze multilateral trade agreements and highlight their implications on people’s livelihoods.