Like Minded Group Sets Out Positions Before Doha
Trade Ambassadors from the Like Minded Group (LMG) -- a 13 member developing countries coalition -- elaborated their positions on various WTO issues in an interactive dialogue with journalists and non- governmental organisations (NGOs) held on 5 July in Geneva. It was the first time an exchange of ideas of this nature was organised by the group, attracting approximately 25 NGOs and media representatives. Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) and public health, implementation issues, and trade and environment were highlighted by Ambassadors as important topics to be addressed in the run-up to the WTO's Fourth Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar, in November.
TRIPs and public health
In discussing issues related to the mandated reviews of the WTO TRIPs Agreement, the LMG placed great emphasis on the link between TRIPs and public health. LMG Ambassadors said that they were seeking an Understanding on the issue that would bring clarity and a "common understanding once and for all" on relevant TRIPs provisions including Articles 31 ("other uses without authorisation of the right holder"). Encouraging discussions on the topic in the General Council session on 18 July, with no outright objection to deal with this issue in the upcoming Doha Ministerial Declaration so far, raises high expectations of potential progress on the issue.
Other TRIPs-related issues, which are part and parcel of many developing countries' broader concerns on implementation, were also discussed. In particular, the LMG stressed that "the balance between private profits and public policies" in TRIPs should be redressed and that substantive reviews under Article 71 should take place to address the "real sense" of the provisions. The Group rejected any role of non- violation complaints in TRIPs and highlighted that technology transfer provisions for least-developed countries under Article 66.2 and special and differential treatment had not been operationalised. With a high expectation on progress on TRIPs and health, the LMG Ambassadors said they were cautious to be realistic and indicated that they might target major issues such as public health.
Run-up to Doha
Consensus remained elusive within the LMG on whether or not a new round should be launched. Some LMG members stressed the priority of a positive response to their concerns relating to implementation issues, and one Ambassador said that constructive engagement in Doha preparations is unlikely without meaningful decisions on implementation issues. However, Ambassadors made it clear that progress on implementation issues did not represent an automatic "yes to a new Round", adding that they had the legitimate right to redress imbalances in the Agreements without further concessions, as they had already "paid twice" in the Tokyo and Uruguay Rounds for market access in textiles and agriculture that had not yet materialised.
No Singapore issues, no labour standards
At the meeting, Ambassadors forwarded a common demand for a clear agenda demonstrating the negotiation parameters before the WTO Ministerial Conference in November. The LMG admitted that they were not ready to negotiate on rules on Singapore issues such as trade and investment, competition policy and transparency in government procurement (see BRIDGES Weekly, 22 May 2001), and that they preferred to keep the existing working groups in these areas in an "educative mood". The LMG is solidly against addressing core labour standards, in the WTO, insisting that the right place to deal with labour standards is within the International Labour Organization.
Trade and environment
On trade and environment, the LMG remained sceptical of the selective approach of the European Communities in its demands to address the relationship between multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and WTO Agreements, the precautionary principle, and eco-labelling. LMG representatives regard those demands as efforts to legitimise protectionist measures. The LMG asserted that current rules within the WTO Agreements (e.g. within the SPS and TBT Agreements and Article XX environmental exceptions) are sufficient to accommodate legitimate environmental concerns. In their view, there is no need to amend or clarify the old rules, or to insert new rules, as this could lead to the emergence of protectionist measures in the name of environmental protection. On the scope of Art XX exceptions, one Ambassador said that time will tell whether they are better or worse off with negotiating rules, subject to further decisions by the Panels and the Appellate Body.
July reality check
Market access was one of the few negotiation items that received support from the LMG. While stressing that strengthening of the WTO coupled with redressing of the imbalances within the trading system were in the interests of LMG countries, Ambassadors regarded July as a critical period for a realistic evaluation of the possible achievements in the coming Doha session. One Ambassador said that if there were no "converging of views" by late July, "expectations for Doha would have to be lowered".
Members of the Like-Minded Group are Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Honduras, Indonesia, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Jamaica.
"LMG caution against 'misperceptions' about new round 2," SUNS, 9 July 2001; ICTSD Internal Files.