RP a major obstacle to talks — WTO chief

By Ayen Infante
Published on the February 24, 2007 issue of The Daily Tribune

WORLD Trade Organization (WTO) director general Pascal Lamy, who is in the country to drum up support for a restart of stalled WTO talks, singled out the Philippines and Indonesia in his list of five countries responsible for stalling trade liberalization talks. The United States was included in Lamy’s list.

Lamy said a new opportunity is opened for a breakthrough in the stalled Doha round discussions in the next eight months.

Asked what will happen if the breakthrough does not occur until then, Lamy said “we will be back to where we were last year.”

He added that he is happy to see the Philippines having more political energy for resumption of negotiations but not necessarily for its resolution.

The Fair Trade Alliance (FTA), meanwhile, said it wanted the government to keep its fight in defending the interest of the country’s agriculture sector under the talks.

FTA lead convenor Wigberto Tañada said in a forum yesterday sponsored by major trade group Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry trade negotiators that they should use the country’s “home court advantage” to raise to Lamy the position taken by developing countries with regard to food and livelihood security and rural and industrial development in the WTO negotiations.

“He came to us, so let us give him a piece of our mind,” Tañada said.

Tañada expressed grave concern that Lamy would try the classic divide and rule tactic in softening the Philippines and Indonesian position on the Special products and Special Safeguard Mechanism (SP-SSM) which reflected as the principles behind food and livelihood security and rural development which the G33 (group of developing countries which are now numbering to over 40) actively pushed as officially stated in the WTO Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration in December 2005.

“It would be a pity if the softening of the G33 position happens within the Philippine territory when we, together with Indonesia, are in the forefront of this fight, it our home court… we should win this battle for the sake of the farmers and fisherfolks of the developing world,” he added.

He also stressed the need for the government to take a strong stance against the position of the developed countries with regard to non-agricultural market access or NAMA.

Tañada said the US and European Union are pushing for a so-called Swiss formula with two coefficient” developed countries are given 10 and developing countries a coefficient of 15.

He explained the lower the coefficient, the lower the tariff rates that they can use. A coefficient of 15 means at the end of the implementation period, a particular country’s tariff should not be higher than 15 percent.
Under this, the Philippines is pushing for a Swiss coefficient of 35 percent at the minimum. “In fact, the fisheries group would want a coefficient of 90.”

In his speech, Tañada made an appeal to Lamy to convince the developed countries to access the development agenda as proposed by the developing countries; to also focus on other issues not just market access; to consider the implementation of the so called Special Differential Treatment provision or reference particularly discussion on agri and NAMA.

He argued that applying a Swiss formula of less than 35 percent will devastate many of the country’s domestic manufacturing industry.

The reality, according to Tañada, is that “there is no level playing field in existing regime and there is no country that is equal. There is always a difference in the level of capacity.”

Lamy, meanwhile, stressed that amid all discussions in the WTO, the Philippines should keep its focus in eliminating red tape particularly related to customs to become globally competitive.

He said the dispute settlement under the WTO has benefited the Philippines, providing more market accessibility particularly to Philippine exports such as electronics, vehicles, among others.

The protection being enjoyed by the Philippines through dispute settlement, has allowed 70 percent of the domestic products to enter foreign markets including the US, Japan, European Union, Hong Kong, and China.

At the sidelights of the event, due to laxity in the implementation of security at the New World Hotel, members of the various non-government organization (NGOs) in protest of the WTO talks, came face to face with Lamy and shouted many times, “Lamy get out, Lamy go home!”

Members of different NGOs protesting against the visit of Lamy were allowed to air their views few meters away from the hotel. These groups represent the Price Watch & Action Network, Stop the New Round, Kilusang Mangingisda, PAKISAMA, PARAGUS, and Sanlakas.

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