Rights groups slam WTO's Bali package
Rights groups yesterday criticised the World Trade Organisation's landmark Bali package due to the discretionary nature of the provisions extended to the least-developed countries (LDCs).
One of the three pillars of the deal struck in Bali earlier this month, the LDC package offers duty-free and quota-free access to 97 percent of the items from LDCs to developed and developing countries, relaxed rules of origin and preferential access to richer countries' service markets.
But, there is no legally-binding clause, meaning the package's implementation depends upon the willingness of the developed and developing countries, said Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, chief moderator of EquityBD.
EquityBD is one of the 12 rights and civil society organisations that called a press conference in Dhaka on the outcome of WTO talks in Bali.
The usefulness of the package is “too vague” as a result, he added.
The deal, which was struck after round-the-clock negotiations, was met with a roadblock when Indian Trade Minister Anand Sharma refused to budge over food security rules.
India wanted a pact that would let developing countries buy as much crop as they want from farmers at subsidised rates for food security, but the US was worried that the excess stockholding might get dumped on the world market.
“Agriculture sustains millions of subsistence farmers—their interests must be secured. For India, food security is non-negotiable,” Sharma said in his speech to the WTO's ministerial meeting.
Subsequently, the neighbouring country found itself isolated at the conference in Bali over its defiant stance, and Barkat Ullah Maruf, coordinator of EquityBD, said the Bangladeshi delegation led by Commerce Secretary Mahbub Ahmed should have supported India in this issue.
“The role of Bangladesh delegation, therefore, needs to be criticised.”
Badrul Alam of Bangladesh Krishok Federation said agriculture must be out of bounds of the WTO as it is related to the right to food.
Maruf said the presence of the Bangladesh commerce minister in the WTO delegation would have been beneficial, as the trade issues with other countries could then be resolved on the sidelines of the conference.
The keystone of the Bali agreement is trade facilitation, which calls for measures to cut red tape and streamline customs and port procedures to ease the movement of goods through national frontiers.
Substantial investment is needed to implement the agreement, and Maruf said a country like Bangladesh has other pressing areas for investment, particularly those pertaining to trade alleviation.
Chowdhury added that trade multilateralism will get importance in future.