Md. Joynal Abdin
The Financial Express on March 17, 2009
The World Trade Organization (WTO, 1995) is carrying out a very difficult task from its day one of operation. It works to reduce Tariff & Non-tariff barriers to promote international trade. It negotiates with the member countries in multilateral level to facilitate trade & investment globally, works to mitigate international disputes, and also works as a platform to promote technical & trade related aid towards the LDCs.
Currently world is going through a very dangerous financial crisis, during & post financial crisis period protectionism may grow again. If so then WTO will have to face a comparatively tougher situation. After all we hope that, WTO will never loss its momentum, its will prove its necessity and work to facilitate globalization in a balanced way. As we all know that, Bangladesh is till now a Least Developed Country (LDC). But it has many important task to do to promote our export and raise our foreign currency reserve so that our economy can go forward up to a developed country.
As we know that, currently three negotiations are ongoing in the WTO negotiation table these are -a. Non-Agricultural Products Market Access (NAMA)
b. Agriculture, and
At the same time following working groups are working parallel,
a. Trade Facilitation
b. TRIPs and Technical Barriers to Trade
c. Trade Related Technical Assistance
d. Trade and Environment
Major objective of NAMA is to reduce tariff on industrial goods for all countries. A formula has been agreed upon, which will bring tariffs below 8 percent in developed countries over the period of 5 years. Here our major demand on behalf of LDCs is Duty Free and Quota Free market access to all products of LDCs in all developed countries and in major developing countries with flexible rules of origin. We must achieve it; I think we can have this facility if all LDCs can claim it unitedly. But now a day we observe there is a grouping among the Asian & African LDCs. These grouping may be for geographical & cultural isolation or miscommunication / misunderstanding each other’s. Another cause of this grouping may be someone from behind the screen working to make this grouping among the LDCs so that they cannot work unitedly in the WTO negotiation table. Bangladesh as a leading LDC can take initiative to seat with African LDC leaders outside WTO to discuss the issues and reduce the misunderstanding for our own interest.
In NAMA some decisions already been taken like,
a. LDCs will not be required to undertake commitment.
b. Hong Kong Ministerial conference has agreed to provide duty free & quota free market access for the LDCs at least 97% of total products.
c. Currently Chairman proposed 57 tariff lines for the EU and 29 Tariff lines for the US for implementing tariff reduction within 10 years.
Here we are getting some ease but we must have to be careful that 97% duty free access list must include our major exportable product, otherwise total effort will be value less for us. LDCs must work for exemption of their major exportable product out of the 3% excluded list.
Currently Bangladesh wants further improvement of the DFQF text. Here African LDCs are strongly opposing us. But why are they opposing? Is it bringing welfare only for Bangladesh? In this point we must convince African LDCs with political liaison instead of bureaucratic discussion only. I am sure if our honorableCommerce Minister invites African LDC leaders here in Dhaka they will respond us positively. A platform will be there to discuss this issue for their assistance here. Another major concern for us in NAMA is Pakistan and Sri Lanka which are considered to be offered tariff reduction for 5 products each within 5 years (instead of 10 years), which will put Bangladesh in a disadvantage position since these lines represent 67% of Bangladesh’s Export to USA.
On this issue we may claim at least similar treatment for us. They are morally obliged to allow us this facility as an LDC. There are two major decisions in Agriculture negotiation, these are a. Lowering Overall Trade Distorting Domestic Support (OTDS) and lowering final bound Aggregate Measure of Support (AMS). As an LDC here Bangladesh may remain silent. b. Lowering de minimis support at least by 50 percent, we can support it. One thing we must remember that tough Bangladesh is an agricultural country but we are net food importer’s also. In services negotiations, main interests of Bangladesh lie mainly in two issues, Special Priority and Market Access under Mode-4. Special Priority, GATS has a provision for special priority, but the provision goes in conflict with MFN principle. So Bangladesh can concentrate on free movement of our labor force into the developed markets under mode –4. This can facilitate more remittances for us.
In this stage of discussion I would like to focus on a non-negotiating matter i.e. presently there are only few official in our mission in Geneva to handle a group of international organizations. As a result we cannot represent each table for scarcity of human resources. This matter is also discussed in several meetings in the Ministry of Commerce & other concern institutional meetings. But till now initiative has not been taken to increase officials in our mission in Geneva. Another thing is in Bangladesh we do not have sufficient skilled Trade Negotiator to handle WTO negotiation table efficiently in both the public & private sector. In this regards, Bangladesh Foreign Trade Institute (BFTI) can make functional to produce qualified trade negotiators for WTO & other FTA & RTA negotiation.