Dhaka seeks WTO support to face trade challenges

Bangladesh on Tuesday sought the World Trade Organization’s support for meeting trade-related challenges it may face after coming out of the Least Developed Country category in line with the UN General Assembly resolution of 2004. Making his intervention at the two-day WTO Ministerial Meeting of Developing Countries here, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi the WTO needs to address the challenges Bangladesh would face in post-graduation LDC phase in line with the General Assembly resolution 59/209 adopted in 2004.

He also stressed that any decision, provision and agreement negotiated within the WTO must be directed towards increasing trading opportunity for developing countries and LDCs, according to a statement issued by the Bangladesh High Commission here. Munshi said it was important that the decision-making process in the WTO should be open, transparent and inclusive.

He emphasized the issue of the filling up the vacancies at the Appellate Body of the WTO should be resolved for making it functional without any further delay.
The Commerce Minister highlighted the ‘phenomenal’ economic growth Bangladesh has achieved under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the graduation of Bangladesh from LDC categories to middle income countries.

Munshi's views found endorsement in the Joint Declaration issued after the ministerial meeting which said the process of WTO reform must keep development at its core, promote inclusive growth, and fully take into account the specific challenges of graduating LDCs. “The way forward must be decided through a process that is open, transparent and inclusive,” the Declaration said. It said WTO notification obligations must consider the capacity constraints and implementation related challenges faced by many developing countries and LDCs and “a more cooperative and gradual approach is the best way in dealing with the issue of transparency where many developing countries struggle to comply with their notification obligations.”

The Declaration re-affirmed that the dispute settlement system of the WTO “is a central element in providing security and predictability to the multilateral trading system and has proved to be more effective and reliable as compared to its predecessor GATT.” Noting with concern that WTO member-countries have failed to arrive at a consensus in the selection process to fill vacancies in the Appellate Body, the Declaration said the “ongoing impasse” on the issue “has weakened the dispute settlement system and threatens to completely paralyze it by December this year.”

“We, therefore, urge all WTO Members to engage constructively to address this challenge without any delay in filling the vacancies in the Appellate Body while continuing discussions on other issues relating to the functioning of the dispute settlement mechanism,” according to the Declaration. The Declaration said the Special and Differential Treatment (S&DT) is one of the main defining features of the multilateral trading system and is essential to integrating developing countries into global trade.

The S&DT provisions, which have been challenged by the US, allow developing countries longer time period to implement agreements and commitments, measures to increase trade opportunities, provisions to protect their trade interests and support to build capacity to handle disputes and implement technical standards.

The Joint Declaration in New Delhi said Special and Differential Treatment provisions are rights of developing countries that must be preserved and strengthened in both current and future WTO agreements, with priority attention to outstanding LDC issues. It stressed the importance of technical assistance and capacity-building provided to developing countries and in particular LDCs, including through the Enhanced Integrated Framework, aid for trade and other tools and wanted it to continue.

WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, speaking at a dinner hosted by Indian Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu on Monday night, said the Special and Differential Treatment mechanism must be innovative in order to address the impasse. “If left unaddressed, it may go either way,” he said adding “the ideal way is to have a bench mark because the differentiation is already happening and is essential for small developing countries.”

The WTO DG said the best way forward is to have a trade-facilitation-agreement-type model where countries may set their own benchmarks. Azevedo said the New Delhi Meeting took place at a time when trade tensions show no signs of abating and protectionist tendencies are on the rise which makes it very essential to collectively debate and discuss the way forward in a multilateral framework.

He said talk about destroying the existing WTO system is not the correct way and may not have the desired outcome. Azevedo said the WTO dispute settlement system is in a “deep crisis and all countries have to look for a resolution as business as usual approach is not an option anymore.” Azevedo said plurilaterals should not be seen as a division between developed and developing countries as they contain members from both sides. In the inaugural session of the ministerial meeting, today, Prabhu said there are 7.3 billion people living in developing countries and they should not be deprived of the benefits of growth and WTO is an institution which addresses concerns of development and growth of countries through trade and not aid.