FfD Forum 2019

Statement to Panel D: “Trade, science, technology, innovation and capacity building” on behalf of Civil Society FfD Group (including the Women’s Working Group on FfD)

Delivered by Ranja Sengupta, Third World Network

18 April 2019

Thank you Moderator. I am Ranja Sengupta from Third World Network, also part of the CSO FFD Group.

The global trading system, in particular the Multilateral Trading System, is facing an unprecedented crisis, which is a reflection of the failed policy of globalization. As the Dispute Settlement System is being systematically neutralized, it leaves those with weaker economic powers at the mercy of countries with greater economic strength.

In this context we are hearing increasingly about WTO Reform that actually goes beyond addressing the Dispute Settlement issue. It was good to hear the question on how to make trade policy inclusive. CSOs have asked for reform of the WTO for a long time, to ensure it works for sustainable development objectives and is inclusive keeping at its heart the poor and marginalized constituencies, including women, indigenous peoples, workers, farmers, small producers and consumers.

But the proposals currently coming from advanced countries on WTO reform currently do not reflect such sustainable development objectives but rather serves the interests of their corporations.

First the push for new issues in the reform agenda in the form of e-commerce, investment facilitation, government procurement and so on represent a major challenge to development policy space and policy coherence. We have been hearing how the WTO is planning to embrace e-commerce rules and how the technology embodied will solve all our problems. But we are not hearing enough about the regulatory challenges to ensure national control over data, a key resource for the 4th Industrial Revolution; nor the ability of governments to tax digital corporations either domestically or through import tariffs; nor to ensure economic and social policy space over a number of sectors including finance, manufacturing, agriculture, labour, & environment.

The push for investment facilitation at the WTO is also precipitous as the experience from the FTAs and investment treaties show us. In particular the use of ISDS by corporations to thwart development policy objectives across a number of areas including tax reform, environment and public health protection, labour protection, and the upholding of Human rights in general is already a major concern.

Second, the current reform agenda seems to challenge the much established and needed concept of Special and Differential Treatment, which does not recognise the extent of poverty and inequality within several developing countries and will make even poorer developing countries such as Vietnam lose such preferences. It has the ability to push several countries into debt.

Further, special and differential treatment cannot be replaced by horizontal preferences for gender, SMEs and so on. Not only are current approaches very narrow and not designed to address genuine issues, these constituencies in developing countries cannot benefit if their countries themselves are constrained from pursuing developing objectives by WTO rules.

We recommend any mention of reform of the WTO necessarily come with a strong development mandate, must not further undermine development objectives of developing countries, LDCs, SIDs, countries with Special Needs and so on, and large constituencies within them, and must be accompanied by a comprehensive impact assessment from sustainable development perspective.

Thank you!

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