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By: WTO volunteers
Session 8: Trade rules don’t affect gender, but
national decisions do, panellists say
SESSION TITLE: Doing it differently: Reshaping the global economy
Multilateral trade rules do not by themselves lead to gender inequities
nor to gender-neutral outcomes, a women-only panel agreed in an opening
session on the second day of the WTO Public Forum.
But, they said, the real impact of trade and trade policies on women
comes through decisions taken at the national level on investment,
resource allocation, legal enabling environments and policies.
They were speaking in a session exploring factors that influence women’s
role in the domestic and international economies. They sought to
identify steps that could contribute to enhancing women’s access to
economic opportunities. The four women speakers represented diverse
viewpoints: the human rights perspective, the private and public
sectors, and the WTO Secretariat.
Panellists began by commenting on the factors that constrain the ability
of women to participate fully as economic agents in the trading system.
Women’s work is often concentrated in the informal sector where they may
be exposed to low wages, long hours and uncertain tenure.
Lack of access to resources constrains the ability of women to enter the
market economy, they said. Inadequate safety nets and support for child
care limits women’s flexibility in terms of time allocation among
economic activities, including housework. Without adequate education and
training women are less competitive in growing sectors of the economy.
Management practices that fail to recognize the diverse needs of men and
women may lead to women being marginalized in the workplace.
Speakers proposed solutions to these issues in many forms: approaches
varying, depending on domestic conditions. A change at the national
level in terms of policies and resource allocation will have the highest
potential for making an impact. Rules and regulations targeted at
changing outcomes for women can be useful and data collection should be
improved to support enhanced evaluation.
From the private sector perspective, management systems that encourage
diverse teams lead to better outcomes, the session heard. In addition
there was a consensus that there was scope for multilateral efforts to
play a role, particularly in raising awareness.
More on this session
Session 9: Experts say crisis heightens need to
tackle inequality, jobs — globally
SESSION TITLE: Coherence and the crisis: Decent work, the WTO and better
The financial crisis means income inequalities must be addressed and
policymakers must formulate coherent global responses to the crisis’s
effect on employment, the Public Forum session on work, the WTO and
Speakers combined theoretical and practical considerations to discuss
how the current crisis has affected labour conditions around the globe.
They agreed that deeper and more comprehensive coordination is needed to
address inequalities that are not covered by present domestic and
In this session five experts discussed the friction and overlapping of
issues trade and labour rights. They spoke from the perspectives of WTO
law, Oxfam’s practice in effecting change in domestic policy-making,
ILO’s institutional focus and ITUC’s coherency efforts.
Moderator Esther Busser from the (International Trade Union
Confederation) ITUC started the session by asking focusing on its
subjects. She insisted that there is a need to consider employment
concerns, human rights, development and trade together in the process of
policy-making, instead of separately analyzing the consequences of
different rules after they have been set.
Ms. Busser asked the panellists if there was space for dialogue between
the International Labour Organization (ILO) and WTO in the context of
their collaborations from recent years, and if promoting decent work
creates or impedes fairer trade and better distributive justice.
ITUC’s James Howard focused on the policies that are needed for
sustainable recovery in the framework of WTO and global policy
coherence. He cited statistics showing that world unemployment is now
the highest in official history, threatening the promotion of decent
work promotion as stimulus packages are phased out. He also emphasized
that even pre-crisis employment realities were quite grim in developing
Mr. Howard criticized the G20’s failure to follow through after
acknowledging that it was their own lack of oversight that led to the
current crisis. World leaders should not be complacent and believe that
the crisis is over, he said.
Sustainable recovery, he said, requires: investment in carbon neutral
economy; increased social spending; increased spending on training;
implementation of the commitment to reform the financial sector on a
global level; implementation of financial transaction tax; and
coherence. Mr. Howard stressed the need to review the hierarchy of hard
law and soft law, where WTO’s rules dilute the implementation of social
and labour standards, and urged mainstreaming of development based on
decent work agenda into the work of the WTO.
ILO’s Robert Kyloh said promoting decent work can bring fairer
trade. Mr Kyloh enumerated three of the underlying sources of labour
inequalities of today —technological change biased towards skilled jobs;
trade liberalization and globalization; and the erosion of institutions.
Mr. Kyloh stressed the need to compensate the losers from globalization
by creating and promoting institutions that deal with widening income
gaps — collective bargaining, minimum wages and trade union rights.
The WTO’s Gabrielle Marceau focused on what the WTO rules say and
what they are silent about and offered some practical suggestions for
integrating labour into the WTO framework. She stressed that the WTO’s
main goal is to avoid protectionism by governments. However, in contrast
with the old GATT, trade liberalization now has to be done in the
context of sustainable development, which includes environmental and
economic, but also social components.
Ms. Marceau said the shift has had a fundamental impact on WTO case law,
where, unlike environmental protection, there are no provisions on the
rights of countries to restrict trade for reasons of social protection.
She stressed that, from a strictly legal perspective, there is space for
governments to provide or use social or labour considerations as
conditions for providing market access, so long as certain criteria are
Ms. Marceau said distributive justice is a central issue for trade and
growth, but pointed out that any action is up to the member governments
and has to start at the domestic level. The preamble of the WTO
Agreement states that the purpose of trade is to improve the situation
of human beings, she recalled.
Oxfam’s Stephen Hale agreed fully with Mr. Kyloh and less so with
Mr. Howard. Building on the panel’s shared view that trade and labour
are linked and about the response to the crisis, he described Oxfam’s
experience in putting the principles into practice. He blamed lack of
regulation and responsibility of the North for the current crisis.
Oxfam’s role is to underline the impact on people in the South caused by
cuts in aid budgets and the fiscal crisis itself.
He called for a people-centred approach and a global governance system
that recognizes the connection between trade, human rights and
employment. He criticised the lack of adequate commitment by political
leaders to consider those links and to deal with the systemic causes of
Questions from the floor prompted a discussion on how political
and legal means could and should be mobilized to address labour
inequalities and the different perspectives on the impact of
globalization. Mr Hale said that in addition to vested interests,
institutional inertia is behind the lack of policy reform. Summing up,
Ms Busser added states’ political commitment to the list of issues.
More on this session
Session 10: Panellists defend protection for
weak African economies
SESSION TITLE: Africa’s benefits and challenges to regional and
This session’s theme was the possibilities Africa has to improve its
trade performance in more integrated economic environment. Although
multilateral and regional agreements are important for the export sector
growth, some particular conditions for weaker economies to protect
themselves have to be allowed, speakers said.
Mr Rustonjee said the most cited causes for Africa’s poor trade
performance in the last decades were: low market access, scant
differentiation and lack of value added creation in production.
Mr Maroping stressed that the real challenge for the continent is
to weaken the constraints to the supply side by promoting the UNIDO
triple C approach. complementarity, coordination and coherence.
Intra-African trade, according to the ambassador, should raise in the
future otherwise investments in the continent would continue to be
mainly related to extraction.
Accordingly, Mr Rudaheranwa claimed that concrete trade
improvements could not be reached without substantial economic growth.
Thus, long lasting investments, differently from resource seeking ones,
could only be enhanced by improvements in physical infrastructures.
The discussion on the role of regional agreements and protection
became more heated and was followed by floor contributions. It emerged
from several interventions that some forms of protection are still
needed for industrial development.
Ms Kwa said economic partnership agreements are a possible threat
to the growing intra-African trade. The speaker added that the
international community should be more concerned about EU agricultural
subsidies’ impact on African least developed countrie’ competitiveness.
The whole session heard repeated comments that imports are a
large share of African trade, which discourages domestic production.
Speakers agreed on the priority need for domestic integration that
should be achieved through a targeted support for smallholders in the
creation of stronger business clusters.
More on this session
Session 11: ‘Non-state actors’ prefer the
regional stage, session hears.
SESSION TITLE: Governments, non state actors and trade policy making:
Negotiating preferentially or multilaterally?
This session’s discussion was spurred by a study of what drives
non-state actors in their choice of forum, which in turn influences
governments’ choice of negotiating preferentially or multilaterally. The
conclusions showed that overall non-state actors (NSA) prefer to
interact at the regional level rather than trying to influence the WTO
The panellists illustrated the data on NSAs’ forum choice collected in
Chile, Colombia, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, South Africa and
Thailand. The results of this study showed some striking similarities.
Amongst the main findings, it was noted that for some of these countries
the forum choice is often not an issue. However, when the issue is
raised their preference to influence the result of regional and/or
preferential trade agreements. This preference can be explained by the
perception that the WTO is too remote, too big and hence its processes
cannot be easily influenced by local NSAs. Although most civil society
organizations (CSOs) recognize that the benefits from preferential trade
agreements (PTAs) might be less rewarding than those of the multilateral
process, they still prefer to focus their resources on lobbying the
outcomes of preferential and regional trade arrangements whose scope is
narrower and whose process is closer to home. The preference for PTAs
over WTO agreements is often merely out of pragmatism rather that
A further analysis of the forum choice of Geneva-based NSAs demonstrated
that although these actors recognize the importance of multilateralism
in creating a rules-based system, protecting the interests of developing
countries and the possibility of influencing a higher number of players
in Geneva, this preference is often not reflected in the positions of
their affiliates elsewhere.
The lessons for the WTO is that it needs to encourage a debate about its
core functions besides its role as a forum for negotiations. It also
needs to carry the point across that the multilateral rule-making
process is able to generate public goods.
The open debate was very much driven by CSO representatives who pointed
out that the results of the study might be influenced by the freeze in
the Doha negotiations. This might have shifted civil society’s attention
from the multilateral process to the more dynamic PTA environment.
Another issue raised was the importance of lobbying regional groups in
the WTO. The panellists responded that these groupings often have
limited role in pushing issues on the WTO agenda, due to their poor
coordination and the different trade strategies of their members. The
most effective groups are the common-interest groups, but the scope of
their action is limited to few issues.
More on this session
Session 12: Food security requires more than a
Doha agriculture deal, panellists say
SESSION TITLE: Policy coherence between trade, global food security and
poverty reduction goals
This session’s objective was to shed some
light on the use of trade distorting measures in agriculture and their
effects on commodity prices, food stocks and thus food security for many
developing countries. It was suggested that if the WTO does include some
provisions to restrict the use of protectionist measures by developed
countries, such as those contained in the Agriculture Agreement, more
should be done ensure food security for all. Greater policy coherence at
the domestic and amongst institutions at the international level should
also be addressed .
Josef Schmidhuber raised the
question of the compatibility of WTO’s framework with the transition
from “The Old Normal” to the “New Normal”. That is, from a situation of
mass support to the agriculture sector, creating surplus, market
volatility and low prices (background of the launch of the Doha Round)
to a high price environment for commodities with permanent shortages and
food insecurity. Most of the poor are net food buyers in value terms,
there is thus a parallel increase in under nutrition with the increase
in commodity prices. Export restrictions and import subsidies are
responsible for increasing prices which in turn has a direct impact on
food security as commodities become unaffordable for many people living
in developing countries. Higher commodity prices also harm those who
should benefit from them due to the lack of adequate infrastructure to
share these benefits and boost production. If the WTO has provisions to
regulate export regulations, as contained in Article 23 of the
Agricutlure Agreement, these disciplines have only had little impact.
Josef Schmidhuber concluded his presentation by stating that poor
farmers could benefit from free trade if the aid and investment policy
space is filled by the DDA and if the asymmetries in trade disciplines
François Riegert described food
security as availability, access, utility and stability. He suggested
that food insecurity could be reduced through the support for
agriculture in the developing countries; the support for research in the
developing countries; a responsible and sustainable management of the
tenure system; a reduction in the volatility of agriculture markets and
commodities. On the articulation between food security and the WTO,
François Riegert suggested that though the FAO and the WTO may not share
common views on the benefits (or not) of food security, one cannot
conclude that there is incompatibility. WTO’s Articles XXh, Article 38
and the Agricutlure Agreement are examples of WTO’s efforts to
stabilized price volatility in commodities. François Riegert concluded
by calling for more coherence between global governance institutions and
suggested that a “Agriculture Stability Forum” be established.
Flavio S. Damico began his
presentation by stating that policy coherence begins at home before it
can be tackled at the international level. Concerning the relations
between trade rules and food security, he suggested that the Agriculture
Agreement allowed ample policy space for developing countries which are
exempt from existing disciplines. He warned about the adverse effects of
trade distorting policies (e.g. export restrictions) in agriculture
which affect developing countries in addition to harming the country
using such measures.
Enrique Dominguez Lucero began his
presentation by stating that Mexico has been adversely affected by some
counties continued use of duties and subsidies. Since the launch of the
DDA, Mexico encountered some difficulties with blocs of countries which
use protectionist measures. Mexico’s federal government has thus shifted
its focus to concentrate on how to address agriculture issues.
Commitments made under the WTO are paralyzed by the DDA, through the
inclusion of new issues such as quality standards or country of origin
labelling. It is urgent that negotiations are pursued so as to increase
security in the agricultural sector.
Ravi Bangar stated that India’s
economy is growing at an 8.5% growth rate and hopes to reach 9% next
year. Nevertheless, growth in the agriculture sector is the lowest.
India is facing a high inflation rate, insufficient food stocks and
infrastructure deficits. India needs to have an inclusive growth in
addition to cereal self-sufficiency.
Discussion: Issues such as land
scarcity, agricultural taxation in developing counties, G20’s new
priorities, food industry monopolies, micro credits and the effects of
GMOs were brought up in the discussion with the floor. It was stated
that it is still necessary to focus on how to stabilized food security
for farmers and the society as a whole. More research is necessary in
the technology and biotechnology fields and greater efforts should be
directed towards reducing the infrastructure deficit of some countries.
More on this session
Session 13: Session peers through fog of WTO’s
relation to environment agencies
SESSION TITLE: Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) and the WTO
The session looked at the question of the
interaction between rules of the environmental regime and rules of the
trade regime and how those two systems accommodate each other.
The panel shared Petros Mavroidis’
view that there is undoubtedly a lack of clarity from both the
legislative and the judicial level of the impact of the WTO on
multilateral environment agencies (MEAs). On the legislative side, there
is still no specific regime on the issue though the WTO’s Trade and
Environment Committee has been discussing it since 1996, with a fairly
positive attitude but no concrete results. On the judicial side however,
MEAs have been discussed a occasionally (for example in disputes
involving US measures on shrimps and the EU’s measures on trade in
viotech products), showing that WTO dispute rulings adopt an open
attitude towards MEAs.
The panel raised the question of the compliance of environmental
policies with article III (and eventually article XX) of the GATT, and
also the question of whether MEAs impose obligations on non-parties. It
is rather difficult to make an argument in light of the negative
character of the GATT, but it will be interesting to observe whether
MEAs practice may influence the interpretation of key terms in the WTO
The role of MEAs in the trading system was debated, and Benjamiin
Simmons argued that without MEAs, the WTO
would not be the same today: MEAs tend to fill the void and deal with
negative externalities created by trade. This explains why MEAs are not
Marceil Yeater used the CITES as
an example of how an MEA can regulate trade to ensure sustainability of
the resources, in a legally binding way, and allow the DSB in its
ruling. On the contrary, a MEA such as the CITES can benefit from the
In conclusion, the panel agreed that both regimes are complementary, and
Mark Halle suggested that maybe
the way to deal with the linkage between them is not to deal with it,
and enjoy the existing flexibility!
More on this session
Session 14: Speakers see crisis as reason for
preserving policy space
SESSION TITLE: The world trading system in the wake of the financial
This session addresses the impacts trade
liberalization (in general as well as specially in agriculture and
services) may have on developing countries and explores how they should
respond to challenges after the crisis.
Mehdi Shafaeddin, affiliated with
University of Neuchatel, formerly with UNCTA, first analyzes the
structural weakness of least developed countries (LDCs), their long-term
requirements and opportunities for development. He argues that LDCs need
more policy space in the new competitive environment of globalization in
order to pursue long-term strategies (e.g. active role of government,
industry promotion policy, development of agriculture, control of
capital flow, etc). He however notes that policy space for LDCs has
shrunk because WTO as well as other institutions, international
agreements (e.g. economic partnership agreements between the EU and
developing countries) imposes constraints on them. He stresses that LDCs
should resist further loss of policy space.
Umberto Celli, University of Sao
Paolo, Brazil, takes Brazil’s financial services and environmental
services as example to argue that policy space is important for
developing countries to develop infrastructure services. He notes that
Brazil has made limited liberalization commitments in financial services
under the General Agreement on Trade in Services. This provides the
policy space Brazil needs to restructure its financial sector and
introduce rigorous financial regulations. It is because of the financial
restructuring that Brazil could get away from the attack of the
financial crisis. With respect to environmental services, he stresses
that government’s role in providing subsidies is crucial. However,
subsidies may be challenged under the WTO rules. WTO Members, especially
developing country Members therefore should be cautious when making
Timothy Wise presents a case-study
on how since the US agriculture subsidy program has adversely affected
Mexico’s economy since the entry into force of the NAFTA. He notes that
this program results in American agricultural products dumping in Mexico
which causes losses to Mexican agriculture producers and leads to
Mexico’s rising import dependency. Based on this case-study, he argues
that trade liberalization in agriculture may bring high costs to
developing countries and that transitional measures, special product
protection, special safeguard measures are critical in this context. He
also notes the importance to improve WTO rules on agriculture dumping.
The discussion afterwards allows
the panellists to further elaborate their points. One of the issues
raised is who are winners and losers in the context of liberalization.
More on this session
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