South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies on Thursday addressed the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Geneva, and echoed calls for "an early and successful conclusion to the Doha Round", but emphasised that it must have a strong developmental outcome.
"The least developed countries (LDCs) have kept reminding us that the delay in the Round means no real further movement on issues of vital interest to them. We support their call for an early harvest on; duty free quota free market access, cotton, a services waiver for LDC preferences, and an ambitious Aid for Trade package," said.
Davies also highlighted that bail-out packages of several developed countries in response to the global economic crisis, could also exacerbate existing imbalances between developed and developing nations. "Certain programmes have the potential to impact negatively on productive investments in the developing world," he stressed.
South Africa supported the proposals made by Argentina and other developing countries that the WTO monitor the impact of such measures on the trade and investment of developing countries.
Davies also drew attention to the need to initiate a dialogue on the future reform of the WTO and its decision-making processes.
"For South Africa, this must focus on strengthening the consensus principle and ensuring a more inclusive and transparent approach to decision making. There also needs to be greater clarity within the WTO on what we understand by development and greater coherence between the WTO and the other multilateral institutions concerned with promoting development and decent work," stated Davies.
He added that these reforms were essential to transform the WTO from an institution "dominated by a mercantilist discourse", to one which becomes a global public good.
The Ministerial conference was not designed for negotiation, however, the WTO reported that "almost all ministers said they wanted the Doha Round talks to achieve an agreement soon", a large number of them calling for this to be done by the end of 2010.
The Doha Development Round started in 2001.
Davies noted that South Africa has participated in several of the recent attempts to re-energize the Doha Round including in Bali, Paris, and Delhi - to no avail.
"Instead of prioritising the advancement of outstanding reforms that are of urgent need to developing countries, like cotton and the LDC package, recent engagements have been dominated by unfair demands placed on major developing countries to enhance market access for the benefit of narrow commercial lobbies in parts of the developed world," he affirmed.
South Africa was not part of the agreements reached by some members in the July 2008 package. He said the texts were imbalanced and reflected too much accommodation of the sensitivities of developed countries in agriculture, while demanding too much from developing countries in terms of reducing their applied industrial tariffs and policy space for industrial development.
Davies said that after considerable effort, South Africa had now won recognition of the reality that by implementing developed country commitments in the Uruguay Round, the country's average bound rate was reduced to almost half that of comparator countries.
"In addition, the fact that South Africa is part of the Southern African Customs Union means that these cuts would also apply to three Small and Vulnerable Economies (SVEs) and an LDC that would not otherwise have to take formula cuts."
"Despite our hard won recognition, we still have to establish whether or not our specific needs will be adequately accommodated before we are able to work on the basis of the December texts," Davies reiterated.