Bangladesh concerns in WTO negotiation
Md. Joynal Abdin
The Independent – April 7, 2009
The World Trade Organisation (WTO, 1995) had carried out a very difficult task from day one of its operation. It worked to reduce Tariff and Non-tariff barriers to promote international trade. It negotiated with the member countries at multilateral level to facilitate trade and investment globally, worked to mitigate international disputes, and also worked as a platform to promote technical and trade related aid towards the LDCs.
Currently the world is going through a very dangerous financial crisis, during which and in the 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, it will work to facilitate globalisation in a balanced way. Bangladesh is still now a Least Developed Country (LDC) but hopefully is on its way to becoming a mid income level country. In the meantime we have many important tasks to do to promote our export and raise our foreign currency reserve so that our economy can go forward in that line.
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 eight per cent in developed countries over the period of five 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 nowadays we observe there is a grouping among the Asian and African LDCs. These grouping may be for geographical and cultural isolation or miscommunication or misunderstanding each other. Another cause of this grouping may be working from behind the screen 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 have already been taken like, LDCs will not be required to undertake commitment. Hong Kong Ministerial conference has agreed to provide duty free and quota free market access for the LDCs at least 97 per cent of total products. 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 have to be careful that 97 per cent duty free access list must include our major exportable products, otherwise our total effort will be of little or no value to us. LDCs must work for exemption of their major exportable product out of the three per cent 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? On this point we must convince African LDCs with political liaison instead of bureaucratic discussion only. I am sure if our Commerce Minister invites African LDC leaders here to Dhaka, they will respond positively. And in that case 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 five products each within five years (instead of 10 years), which will put Bangladesh to a disadvantage since these lines represent 67 per cent 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 per cent, 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 service negotiations, main interests of Bangladesh lie mainly in two issues, Special Priority and Market Access under Mode-4. 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 labour force into the developed markets under Mode-4. This can facilitate more remittances for us.
At this stage of discussion I would like to focus on a non-negotiating matter i.e. presently there are only a few officials in our mission in Geneva to handle a group of international organisations. As a result we cannot be present at each table to represent our LDCs’ position, as a group and as an individual member, for scarcity of human resources. This matter has also been discussed in several meetings in the Ministry of Commerce and other concerned institutional meetings. But till now initiative has not been taken to increase the number of officials at our mission in Geneva to sufficient level. Another thing is in Bangladesh we do not also have sufficient skilled Trade Negotiator to handle WTO negotiation at the table sensibly in both the public and private sector. In this regard, Bangladesh Foreign Trade Institute (BFTI) can be made functional to produce qualified trade negotiators for WTO and other FTA and RTA negotiation.