Geneva: South Africa associates itself with the statements made by the friends of development, the Africa Group, the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS), the G20 and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Committee (ACP). We welcome the Russian Federation to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after its 18 year accession journey, and we look forward to working closely with Russia in this Organisation as a fellow Member of the BRICS. We also welcome the accessions of Montenegro, Vanuatu and Samoa.
We meet at this eighth Ministerial Conference of the WTO against the background of what the Director-General has correctly called an “impasse” in the Doha Round negotiations. This has led some of our Members to raise fundamental questions about the validity of the exercise we have been engaged in over the past decade, and it is to this issue that we want to address our remarks.
It is worth recalling some of the key principles we agreed to at Doha in 2001. In Paragraph 2 of the Doha Declaration we agreed to place the needs and interests of developing countries at the heart of the Doha Work Programme. In Paragraph 12 we agreed to “address a number of implementation problems of developing countries” because we recognised that the agreements inherited from the Uruguay Round were imbalanced and biased against developing countries.
In Paragraph 44 we agreed that “Special and Differential Treatment is an essential part of WTO agreements” and went further to agree that these provisions need strengthening to make them “more precise, effective and operational”.
Importantly too, we agreed that Agriculture would be at the centre of the Doha Development Agenda. In NAMA, we agreed that in addition to the principles of Special and Differential Treatment, we would apply the principle of Less Than Full Reciprocity. In Hong Kong we took this a step further, and agreed in Paragraph 24 of that Declaration that the level of ambition in NAMA shall be comparable to Agriculture.
This core mandate remains as valid today - at the start of the second decade of the 21st century - as it was at the start of the first decade.
By July 2008 the Doha Development Agenda negotiations had advanced although, in South Africa’s view, the texts produced in July and December were unbalanced. Onerous demands in NAMA on South Africa and other developing countries contrasted with modest commitments for reform in agriculture by developed countries.
Nonetheless, we stated in our intervention at the seventh WTO Ministerial Conference that: “Despite these reservations we have been willing to work to see whether, on the basis of the existing texts, the specific problems posed for South Africa and the Southern African Customs Union, arising from the historic injustice of South Africa’s classification in the Uruguay Round as a ‘developed country’, can be resolved in a fair manner.”
The main reason for the current impasse, in our view, has been the insistence of certain Members for ever more market access from so-called emerging countries, beyond agreed mandates. The demand that so-called emerging developing economies must make additional commitments is premised on the fact that these economies have strong rates of economic growth and increasing shares of global trade. In essence, what is demanded is that the differentiation in the levels of commitment between emerging economies and rich countries should be reduced significantly.
The reasoning is fallacious. GDP growth and growing trade signify dynamism but do not determine levels of development. On any indicator – GDP per capita, human development or manufacturing value-added – emerging economies remain developing countries. Emerging economies continue to face enormous developmental challenges, including widespread poverty and inequality and, therefore, they cannot be expected to make commitments that are equivalent to developed countries. Emerging economies will therefore need to continue to offer commitments that reflect the principle of Less Than Full Reciprocity.
Earlier this year, South Africa together with other Members argued that, in the context of the current deadlock, we should deliver on the promises made to the poorest Members of the WTO in Hong Kong and address the concerns of LDCs and the Cotton 4. Even progress on these issues was frustrated by the series of linkages made by developed countries that have been unable to deliver on the promise without seeking concessions in return.
In response to the current impasse, some developed country Members have called for “new pathways” and “new approaches” that they define in particular ways. The same Members have also called for the WTO to take on “new issues” in its negotiating programme. In our view, these do not constitute viable options to move forward.
South Africa believes that this conference should reaffirm that the Doha Development Mandate remains as relevant today as it was ten years ago, and that our fundamental priority is to redress the imbalances and inequities that continue to disadvantage developing countries. There is, in our view, no way forward other than to move ahead with rebalancing the global trading system in favour of developing countries.
We also believe the LDC Package that Members failed to agree in July this year, yet again, must be delivered as a matter of priority in any new work programme embarked on.
The so-called “new approaches” being sought by some developed countries must not become yet another attempt to obtain additional market access from developing countries beyond the Doha mandate. In our view, plurilateral processes will undermine the principles of multilateralism, transparency and inclusiveness, and will marginalise many of the weakest and most vulnerable developing countries from rule-making in the WTO. For these reasons, we cannot support such “new approaches”.
While we recognise that the WTO provides a forum for discussing trade-related issues, we insist any proposal for introducing new issues onto the WTO Agenda should be taken up in accordance with the rules and procedures of the Organisation. It is not reasonable to expect developing countries to seriously discuss new issues when the issues that are of paramount importance to them, particularly the poorest amongst them, remain unresolved.
We support the approach to resisting protectionism as enunciated in Statements by the developing country groups we are part of. We acknowledge that WTO rules have contributed to keeping markets open in the context of the growing pressures arising from the global downturn. But we must all recognise that protectionist measures fall within and outside the remit of WTO disciplines. Moreover, WTO rules themselves provide hard won policy space to its Members, particularly developing countries.
We therefore cannot support calls that amount to developing countries being required to renounce legitimate policy space, while developed countries can resort to measures with the same effect but that lie outside WTO disciplines. We believe that the WTO monitoring function should accordingly only call to account those measures by Members that violate WTO commitments.
South Africa remains committed to participating and concluding a Development Round based on the mandate agreed to in Doha. If the world is not at this moment ready to conclude such a process, we need to wait until it is.
- South Africa's country statement delivered By the Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr Rob Davies, MP, at the eighth World Trade Organisation (WHO) Ministerial Conference held in Geneva, Switzerland, 16 December 2011.
- Statements by Members and observers at the plenary session: Ministerial statements were delivered by DRC, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. They can be accessed here.
- Official documents for the Geneva Ministerial: they can be accessed here, including the BRICS statement referenced by Minister Rob Davies.