GENTECH archive


WTO meeting - BRIDGES DAILY UPDATE - 30 Nov 1999


ICTSD BRIDGES DAILY UPDATE is a daily news service covering trade and
sustainable development on the occasion of the Third World Trade
Organization Ministerial Conference in Seattle.  The publication focuses
on news, activities and negotiations around the Ministerial from 30
November to 3 December 1999 as they relate to sustainable development
issue-areas. Copies in English, French and Spanish can be found on the
ICTSD website at [Due to
technical difficulties, the Bridges Dailies for November 30, December 1
and December 2 will be distributed simultaneously.]

30 November 1999

Chairs Emerging For WTO Negotiating Groups

Five negotiating groups are likely to be established during the
Ministerial Conference. Each group will be chaired by a minister and could
be divided into sub-groups if necessary. Singapore will probably chair the
negotiating group on agriculture, Lesotho the one market access, and Hong
Kong that on 'new issues'.  Brazil might refuse to preside over the
working group on implementation (no alternatives have been advanced yet).
The working group on systemic issues - transparency and relations with
civil society - is likely to be chaired by Chile. The first four groups
will not start meeting until Wednesday, and the fifth until Thursday.

Although the negotiation procedure remains to be determined, each group
will probably consist of some 15 to 20 countries, which are likely change
from one group to another, as participation seems to be determined
according to a country's economic weight as well as the special interest a
country might have for a given theme. If the working group manages to
reach a consensus, the text will be introduced in the 'green room', which
will consist of 15 a 20 governments representing different regions and
different levels of development. Finally, the green room consensus will be
presented to full WTO membership, which ultimately needs to approve it.

While the process of drafting the Ministerial Declaration seems blocked
only hours before the Conference starts, many delegates are holding
informal consultations. Among those, the European Union is preparing to
propose a new version of the ministerial declaration with the support of
such countries as Switzerland, Japan and Korea, as well as Central and
Eastern European WTO Members.

Cairns Takes A Hard Line In Run-up To Ag Talks.

The Cairns group of agriculture-exporting nations expressed confidence
that they are as strong as they've ever been in their commitment to pursue
"real and meaningful progress" on dismantling barriers to trade in
agriculture. Emerging from a meeting with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan
Glickman, one official from the 18-member group stated that "the U.S. is
virtually totally onside with the Cairns group, and wants the elimination
of export

The meeting, chaired by Australia's Trade Minister Mark Mark Vaile,
reinforced the Cairns group's position that agriculture be treated the
same as any other sector.  With respect to biotechnology, the Cairns
countries have yet to form a common position, and the issue is still "on
the table". However, Cairns representatives have been invited to meet with
Glickman again on 30 November to discuss how to proceed with this
potentially divisive question.  Some members of the agriculture group,
such as Canada, favour establishing a working group on biotechnology as it
relates to WTO rules within the WTO; others are lukewarm on the idea,
preferring to pursue such questions through a biosafety protocol.

In related news, farmers' organisations representing small and family
farmers expressed their anger at the gradual erosion of small and family
farms.  Via Campesina and the National Family Farm Coalition were joined
by U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone and others to bring attention to their
plight. Stressing their shared difficulties with small farmers from around
the world, they argued that the well-being of small farmers was being
sacrificed through trade agreements that were structured in the interests
of large corporate farms.  They called for an audit of trade agreements in
agriculture and vowed to fight any national legislation that would make it
more difficult for small farmers to earn a sustainable wage because of
trade obligations.

WTO and UNEP Establish Deeper Co-operative Linkages; Environmental NGOs
Develop Strategy

Executive-Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Klaus Topfer and
WTO Director-General Mike Moore met on 29 November to discuss the working
relationship between UNEP and the WTO. "UNEP is committed to this
co-operation," noted Topfer, "especially with respect to capacity-building
for developing countries." Both Directors acknowledged that multilateral
environ-mental agreements (MEAs) have equal status with WTO rules, though
Moore remarked that this remains an untested area that UNEP could assist
in clarifying. Topfer argued that MEAs should be linked with the WTO.

According to a WTO press release, co-operation between the two
secretariats will include the provision and exchange of relevant
non-confidential information, including access to trade-related
environmental databases, and reciprocal representation at meetings of a
non-confidential nature.  UNEP will also be playing a role in
mainstreaming environmental considerations within the WTO, particularly
for developing countries.  "We need to ensure developing countries that
environmental laws and the precautionary principle are not green
protectionism; this can be achieved with more emphasis on
confidence-building measures."

This echoed a key conclusion reached by a grouping of prominent
environmental organisations that met on 29 November to forge a strategy
for the Ministerial discussions.  The groups included the International
Institute for Sustainable Development, the World Conservation Union, the
Royal Institute for International Affairs, and the Global Environment and
Trade Study.  "A central reason for not putting environment on the agenda
is reticence on the part of developing countries," said Daniel Esty (Yale
Center for Environmental Law and Policy); our efforts over the next few
days is to demonstrate that all countries have nothing to lose and
everything to gain by including environment on the agenda.  Some attendees
to the meeting were less than optimistic about the prospects for a
declaration by the end of the Seattle talks, let alone having environment
inserted into a potential text.  Esty points to posturing between the U.S.
and the EU as one issue that could needlessly prevent the inclusion of
environment in a declaration.

NGOs push for "Clean, Green, and Fair Trade"

A fiery session devoted to "The Human Face of Trade: Health and the
Environment" took place on Monday, 29 November at the 1st United Methodist
Church in downtown Seattle.  A series of panels composed of NGO and
government representatives urged the packed hall to push the WTO to change
its practices to "Clean, Green, and Fair Trade". A recurrent theme was
that of dissatisfaction with the WTO's decision-making processes, which
are regarded by many as non-transparent and undemocratic.  "Our agenda is
very clear," said U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters.  "We want fair trade, and [WTO
Director-General] Mike Moore needs to be reminded that.democratic
institutions don't make decisions in secret."  At noon, attendees and
protestors numbering in the thousands took to the streets and marched to
the WTO Convention Center, where a day-long NGO Symposium was being
staged. Chants of "Hell No, WTO" greeted delegates as they entered the
building to attend sessions in preparation for the coming week of

International Investment Meeting Hosted By The Foreign Policy Focus The
Foreign Policy Focus hosted a meeting at the Pike Place Market Convention
Center to discuss with other NGO members the multilateral and bilateral
agreements on investment and their impact on the environment.  The first
panelist, Martin Wagner from the Earth Legal Defense Fund, began by
addressing the different problems that the implementation of the
investment provisions in the NAFTA Agreement has caused to different
states such as California. He pointed out the impact that environmental
regulations have on investment and how "foreign investment gets a level of
protection that is greater than the domestic standards".

Lyuba Zarsky from the Nautilus Institute explained how 80 percent of the
capital flow in the world take place between rich countries and the other
20 percent occur among developing countries where only 12 nations receive
the biggest shares, including China.  She also highlighted the fear that
exists in countries of losing competitiveness which usually moves
political decisions to attract investment by lowering standards.

No Promises on Implementation; LDC Market Access Pact Progresses

Despite the often vibrant rhetoric in favour of a 'development round' or
better integration of developing countries into the multilateral trading
system, government answers to specific questions relating to the
implementation of existing WTO Agreements remain evasive. So far, neither
developed Cairns Group members, nor the United States or the European
Union have indicated a willingness to address any of the long list of
demands put forward by developing countries with regard to exemptions from
obligations negotiated during the Uruguay Round or extension of deadlines
for compliance.

On the contrary, the United States repeated in a Monday press briefing
that acceleration of its textile liberalisation commitments and
anti-dumping were off the table, and that the TRIPs Agreement already had
sufficient flexibility to accommodate questions related to access to
essential medicines or patenting life forms. According to the EU Trade
Commissioner Pascal Lame, the European Union also opposes renegotiating
'basic rules' of the multilateral trading system, but recognises that
their implementation has been problematic in 'certain areas' that could be
addressed in the context of a comprehensive new round of negotiations. The
EU has been careful to avoid the discussing textiles, but says that it
remains open to the possibility of addressing anti-dumping rules.

An announcement regarding market access for least-developed countries is
expected within a couple of days, but this announcement will in all
likelihood leave a loophole for the exclusion of the most 'sensitive'
products, whether agricultural or textiles, out of the commitment of
duty-free access for 'essentially all products'. The package to be
announced will probably amount to a binding at the WTO of existing
preferential tariffs under developed WTO Members' Generalised System of
Preferences (GSP) schemes or other comparable programmes. Such a binding
would make it more difficult to withdraw preferences or to tie them to

Fisheries Subsidies

Fisheries subsidies are emerging as a potential key element of the Seattle
Ministerial Conference's environmental agenda. Earlier in the preparatory
process, Iceland, the United States, the Philippines, New Zealand and
Australia had proposed the elimination of fisheries subsidies as a
'win-win-win' item for negotiation, as such action would prove beneficial
to trade liberalisation, the environment and development. On Monday,
Iceland and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) held a joint press
conference to attract attention to the initiative. Ministers and other
high-level government officials from the United States, New Zealand, the
Philippines, Australia, Argentina and Norway also expressed their support.

In all, some 25 WTO Members backed the initiative. Among reasons cited by
the speakers were that subsidies - estimated at US$20 billion a year -
contribute to excess capacity of the global fishing fleet and thus to
overfishing. More than 70 percent of the world's fish stocks are either
depleted or recovering from severe depletion. Some commercially viable
species are close to extinction. Fish is a major component of much the
world 's diet, as well as an important factor in local economies and
employment. The initiative's backers proposed a two-pronged approach: a
first phase consisting of the identification of harmful subsidies (i.e.,
those that contribute to overfishing) and the second of setting a
timetable and quotas for their elimination. "If the Seattle Round achieves
nothing else than an agreement to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies,
it will already have done a great deal for sustainable development," said
WWF Director-General Claude Martin.

African Group Outlines Its Positions

At the suggestion of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the African
Group met on 28 November to harmonise its positions for the Third WTO
Ministerial Conference. The reference documents for the meeting were the
conclusions of the African Trade Ministers meeting in Algiers in September
1999 and those from a meeting held in Geneva last week.

While most delegations agreed that the Seattle Round should not include
'new issues', South Africa - supported by a few countries - advised the
African Group to extend the negotiations beyond the built-in agenda.

Two countries asked Africa to 'approach these negotiations in a positive
manner' and to accept the concept of a 'development round'. The
'development round' is a concept proposed by the UK to overcome Southern
countries' resistance to widening the scope of the negotiations to include
new issues (see Africa Trade Network position paper on this issue).

Tanzania suggested that the African Group adopt a pragmatic attitude and a
'reasonable, negotiable and acceptable' position, prioritising the issues
that Africa must negotiate in its own interest.

Egypt regretted the lack of an alternative plan that would allow Africa to
overcome the constraints imposed on it by the solutions currently
available. It insisted on the need to define a common African negotiation
position while stating the different points of view. A co-ordination and
reporting mechanism should also be established. Egypt, as Zimbabwe,
identified agriculture, assessment of existing agreements and market
access as the three most important issues for the continent, and new
issues as well as labour standards as unacceptable subjects for

Zimbabwe expressed doubt on the effectiveness of further trade
liberalisation, as well as its potentially negative impacts on African

In addition, Nigeria together with several other countries proposed that a
new formal request be addressed to the WTO for a continuation of the Lome
Convention waiver, which expires in February 2000.


Speaking at a conference organised by the International Confederation of
Free Trade Unions in Seattle, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene
Barshefsky and EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamew both confirmed their
position vis-a-vis trade and labour standards: the United States advocates
the establishment of a Working Group within the WTO to study the
interaction between trade, employment and social safety nets, while the EU
is proposing to set up a Joint ILO/WTO Standing Working Forum on Trade,
Globalisation and Labour. Neither proposal, as they currently stand, would
involve discussions on the potential use of trade sanctions in case of
violations of core labour standards. Both proposals - vigorously opposed
by developing countries, albeit for the opposite reasons - were rejected
by the ICFTU, which campaigns for the inclusion of labour standards as a
'social clause' within the WTO Agreements.

Despite a star-studded panel of firm believers in trade liberalisation, it
soon became apparent that the audience of the Seattle Symposium on
International Trade Issues in the First Decades of the Next Century was
far from convinced. Martin Khor from the Third World Network introduced
the central message of the NGO Seattle Declaration, signed by more than
3000 organisations and released Monday: review the content and
implementation of existing Agreements, repair the imbalances and
shortcomings revealed by the review, and reform the WTO's decision-making
structures. Add no new issues to the built-in agenda of agriculture and
services before the review, repair and reform process is complete, i.e.
have a 'turn-around' instead of a 'new round'. It would be dishonest to
speak of a 'development round' if further liberalisation were undertaken
before these implementation concerns were addressed.  Like developing
country governments, the signatories of the Declaration identified the WTO
Agreements on agriculture, trade-related investment measures,
trade-related intellectual property rights, subsidies and anti-dumping
among those in need of repair. For a more details on the Symposium, please
see the report prepared by the International Institute for Sustainable
Development, available at

ICTSD has produced this Daily Update with the collaboration of Fundacion
Futuro Latinoamericano (FFLA) and ENDA-Tiers Monde.  Spanish and French
versions are available upon request from ICTSD or can be accessed,
together with the English version, at

For further information contact ICTSD at 13, ch. des Anemones, 1219
Geneva, Switzerland;  tel: (41-22) 917-8492; fax: 917-8093; e-mail:, or visit our website at