"We are all at the Frontline" Says Deputy Director-General World Trade Organization

December 15, 2011, Geneva

"It is important that we appreciate these perspectives of developing country negotiators from the frontline, because in effect we are all at the frontline." Dr. Harsha V. Singh, Deputy Director-General WTO was speaking after launching a breakthrough publication by CUTS International Geneva on the evening before ministers of Trade from all over the world start discussing a way forward for the multilateral trading system. The event was attended by representatives of the international trade and development community who are gathered in Geneva to attend the Eighth WTO Ministerial Conference.

Dr. Singh lauded CUTS for putting together this publication entitled "Reflections from the Frontline: developing country negotiators in the WTO", which records the first-hand experience of developing country ambassadors and negotiators in multilateral trade negotiations.

In his opinion, the authors are more than just interested reporters from the frontline, showing the evolution of ideas, various policy positions and the inter-linkages that will increasingly become important. He did a preview of the book and believes that this book makes a fundamental contribution towards trade policy concerns, development perspectives, and WTO negotiations.

Dr. Singh predicts that this book will have wide-ranging impacts on these issues, but also relatively quicker impacts in other areas because "the changes which occur in interactions among countries so as to deal with trade issues are a precursor to similar development that are likely to follow in other areas of international interaction." For instance, the Cotton-4 countries acquired a major political place in discussions despite their small share in world trade. Similarly, the Group of 20 which was created by developing countries for the purpose of negotiations in agriculture, succeeded in forgetting their divergence of views on some issues to effectively advocate their common interests on other issues.

He told the trade community listening him that this book is "a basis to progress together and to ensure that the frontline does not become a fault-line" and that "it is important that we appreciate these perspectives of developing country negotiators from the frontline, because in effect we are all at the frontline." According to him, the publication will help stakeholders appreciate the diverse perspectives of developing country partners as seen through the quantum physics analogy where "shining light to measure any matter itself changes the state of that matter."

The Minister of Trade and Industry of the Republic of South Africa, Mr. Rob Davies, said that he was reminded that after developed countries dominated negotiations since the middle of the last century, the world made the year 2001 a milestone at Doha by putting development at the centre of multilateral trade negotiations. What was the dynamic that enabled such historical decision? Answering this fundamental question will be critical as such dynamic is much needed today to fructify the deadlocked Doha round.

Quoting from the book, the Minister endorsed Ambassador Servansing's view that "The dominant role of developed countries in determining the contours of a deal for the rest is no longer on the cards. However, the relative role and weight of the emerging economies in defining this new equilibrium has yet to crystallise." and that "[…] smaller developing countries argue that a "one-size-fits-all" approach cannot accommodate the diversity of interests in the developing world". This is what the conference starting tomorrow will have to grapple with.

To summarise the situation in which the Ministers will meet from tomorrow, he mentioned the Gramscian idea where the old world is dying away, and the new world struggles to come forth.

When welcoming the participants earlier in the evening, Mr. Pradeep S. Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS thanked the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, who supported the organization of this event, and stressed the importance of the long-term relationship CUTS International has with them. He recalled that development was and remains at the heart of CUTS' work on all issues, including trade. CUTS strives to contribute to international agreements that can deliver equitable opportunities to all, with special provisions for developing countries in view of their low levels of development.

Mr. Mehta's intervention was followed by an introduction on "Reflections from the Frontline: developing country negotiators in the WTO" by Mr. Ramamurti Badrinath, Director CUTS International Geneva. Mr. Badrinath reiterated that this publication records ten years of the tireless efforts of many in making trade eventually work for developing and least developed countries. Through nine chapters on substantive negotiating issues and seven others on negotiating coalitions, readers will get a sense of the practicalities of being a WTO negotiator. They will be provided with key moments, strategies, experiences and knowledge on negotiations before all lessons are forgotten.

According to Mr. Badrinath, what is being launched today is more than just another book. It is a capacity building and training asset that will save newcomers in multilateral trade negotiations six months of catching up on the issue.

Mr. Matthes Buhbe, Director FES Geneva office, concluded the book launch on a positive note, saying that hard work usually reap fruits.