WTO's Seattle failure affords developing countries a breather
- Insanally urges fresh look at trading arrangements

By William Walker
Stabroek News
December 12, 1999

Guyana's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Rudy Insanally, has observed that the failure of the recent World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in Seattle has given developing countries some breathing space to reflect on their position...and how their needs can best be satisfied in this era of rampant trade liberalisation. He said he hoped that the upcoming South/South Summit in Cuba will make the issue of development the new basis for international co-operation.

In an interview with Stabroek News Insanally said that the expectations of Seattle were many and ultimately the failure of the talks centred on the major issue of developed countries being unable to settle their own differences in areas such as agricultural subsidies. However, he did say that developing countries including those in CARICOM had adopted strong positions against some proposals put forward by the industrialised nations.

Insanally proposed that there was the possibility that if issues such as the environment and labour practices were entrusted to the WTO, "this would allow for the creation of new conditionalities" and that these issues would burden the WTO, which is essentially a trade organisation, with a confused arrangement. It was noted that issues of labour were in the domain of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and WTO's deliberations should be delinked from such considerations.

Insanally said that whilst the WTO is a rules-based organisation which attempts to put order to trading systems there was a general feeling by developing countries that it had to be more sensitive to the human aspect of trade, particularly in the Caribbean where there existed monocultures that cultivate one crop such as bananas or sugar for export. Insanally asked: "With the prices of commodities so close to costs of production how can such countries survive in the free for all of the global market?"

Any new progress in trade talks, Insanally stressed, "must look at the problem of how to harness the benefits of trade to make sure they are not just for the rich and powerful. The next round must be the development round; it should be sensitive to development needs."

He proposed that provisions in GATT and previous WTO talks which give preferential treatment to developing countries should be observed and preserved before any new arrangements were put in place.

Insanally said that the just concluded "G77 eminent persons" meeting was an initiative by Guyana as the chairman of the G77 and of the preparatory committee to the South/South summit to be held in Cuba next April to "reach out more widely" to academia and other institutions involved in development and to search for new ideas and initiatives that could be endorsed by the heads of government at the summit. The meeting which was held in Guyana came to the conclusion that the sharing of knowledge and technology between developing countries and the non reliance on industrialised nations for these "propellants of progress" was of primary importance. Insanally said that there were already many centres of excellence in the South, both technological and in the fields of medicine, citing the countries of Singapore and India. He noted the technical co-operation between India and Guyana as a practical example of such knowledge sharing that goes beyond rhetoric.

Insanally hoped that the South/South summit would attempt to give a vision of trade and development from the South's perspective and lamented that the dialogue has long been dictated by the developed nations. The improvement of South/South co-operation in both development programmes and trade negotiations is an area which the summit is expected to address. But Insanally said that "no one in their right mind would pursue South/South relations without North/South dialogue, hopefully on a more equal basis." Such cooperation is reflected in projects like the European Union-financed Suriname/Guyana ferry.

In the larger picture of trade and development, Insanally recalled that talks over the years in Rio de Janeiro and Copenhagen "had been less than fulfilling as the core issue of financing by industrialised nations had not been addressed." Many countries have failed to honour the agreement that .7% of their GDP should go towards development projects, he said, and in fact assistance was diminishing, leaving developing nations "with more to do with less".

He hopes that the South Summit will "put development back on the front burner" and that this will become a new basis for international co-operation and was gladdened by the news that an international conference is to be convened within two years to discuss the matter of development finance.

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