Groups alarmed that RP negotiators in WTO talks didn't get directions from Malacañang

Jeniffer A. Ng, Business Mirror

July 23, 2008


CURRENT efforts at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to speed up talks on the Doha Round of negotiations could have huge implications for the Philippines, but civil-society organizations (CSOs) lamented that Malacañang did not give instructions to Philippine negotiators as to the strategies that should be adopted during the talks.


In a press briefing in Quezon City on Tuesday, CSOs, led by the Rice Watch Action Network (R1), Tambuyog Development Center (TDC) and Stop the New Round Coalition, also disclosed that the Philippine government is not ready for the WTO Miniministerial meetings currently being held in Geneva, Switzerland.


R1 lead convenor Jessica Cantos revealed that during the recent meetings of the Task Force-WTO Agriculture Renegotiation (TF-WAR), which includes government officials, there was no mention of instructions from Malacañang on how negotiators should approach the meetings in Geneva.


“We have not heard of any instruction from Malacañang on the position that will be taken by negotiators in Geneva during the talks,” said Cantos at the sidelines of the press briefing.

The apparent indifference of the government to defend the country’s interests at the current WTO meetings, the CSOs noted, is a far cry from the stance it has taken during the 2006 Hong Kong Ministerial Meeting, when President Arroyo herself directed the Philippine delegation to “preserve the country’s policy space.”


“We went [to Geneva] with no common agenda, and it would be obvious that we did not prepare for the talks. Nagkanya-kanya ’yung mga agencies concerned [Each agency was to his own] like the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry,” said Aurora Regalado, coconvenor of R1.


As of press time, the press secretary could not be reached for comment.
Cantos and Regalado said this “lamentable” situation could have been prevented if only the Philippines has an institution like the Philippine Trade Representative Office.


CSOs also expressed their misgivings about the current talks in Geneva, considering that the United States government appears to be reluctant to slash subsidies as indicated in its latest Farm Bill.


Meanwhile, Stop the New Round Coalition (SNR) said the draft modalities currently being discussed should be rejected as it will be catastrophic to a developing country like the Philippines, which has very low bound rates.


“The trade proposals represent the latest attempt by developed countries to severely constrict the flexibilities given to developing countries in this supposedly ‘development’ round of negotiations and makes a ‘mockery’ of the principle of special and differential treatment accorded to developing countries,” said SNR’s Joseph Purungganan.


Ephraim Batungbacal of TDC, a fishery nongovernment organization, supported this view. He said that in the Nonagriculture Market Access negotiations, steep tariff cuts are in store for developing countries after the binding formula is applied, at percentages that are nearly twice those of the developed countries.


“For example, using the proposed 12-percent to 14-percent coefficient range for developing countries, the Philippines would cut its tariffs at an average of 44 percent, while the US, using the proposed coefficient range of 7 percent to 9 percent for developed countries, would have tariff cuts averaging only 24 percent. This is special and differential treatment applied in reverse; not for the developing but for the developed countries,” said Batungbacal.


The WTO Miniministerial was organized by director general Pascal Lamy as a way to break the impasse on the Doha Round of negotiations. Only 37 countries, including the Philippines, were invited to join the talks. The meeting will end on July 26.






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