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1.1. WELCOME REMARKS: John Mangudya, ZimTrade Assistant Chief Executive Officer

Mr. John Mangudya welcomed the participants to the workshop on behalf of ZimTrade. In his welcoming remarks he pointed out that to ensure that the Zimbabwe delegation to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Seattle Ministerial Meeting carried itself as a group, it was essential for all stakeholders to participate in the pre-Seattle consultative processes being organised in Zimbabwe.

He also pointed out that it was pertinent for Zimbabwe to look at the WTO rules and regulations from the point of view that once agreed upon, these would be the laws governing global trade, hence, needed to be compatible with the laws obtaining in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Mangudya thanked FES and Lotru for their co-sponsorship of the workshop, which paved the way for gathering essential information that will form the basis for Zimbabwe’s position in Seattle.

1.2 OPENING REMARKS: Dr. Felix Schmidt, Resident Director, FES.

Dr. Schmidt warmly welcomed participants to the workshop. He pointed out that the workshop came at a particularly opportune moment as everyone awaits the Third Ministerial Conference of the WTO, to be held in Seattle, late November to early December 1999. At that conference, Ministers will launch new negotiations and establish a WTO work programme, which will help define the trade and development agenda for the new millenium.

He noted that the thorough preparations being done by most of the countries and regions in the world indicated that there were going to be tough deliberations at the Third Ministerial Conference. Industrialised countries in particular would like to see more countries opening up their markets and reduce the protectionist tendencies. For developing countries, Zimbabwe included, there are several underlying factors behind this process. These countries are attending the Conference having in mind that they have so far failed to obtain substantial benefits from the outcome of the Uruguay Round Negotiations. They were unprepared for the Uruguay Round and therefore made serious concessions in return for limited gains. They are now facing serious problems as a result of these concessions. Certainly, developing countries are in much worse shape than they were 10 years ago, and that was a pretty low base. Poverty has got worse. There is increasing social unrest.

He noted that it was within this context that developing countries felt that the WTO must do better in terms of improved market access for them. The organisations have also to deliver on more and better quality technical support for the developing countries.

From the Seattle Conference, the developing countries expect an outcome that benefits their vulnerable economies.

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In other words, pointed out Dr. Schmidt, the Seattle Conference must not only ensure a more open trading system, but must also come with a result that leads to a balanced trade system that can improve living standards for of all its members. Through a balanced world trade system, developed countries can contribute to the development of third world countries, such as Zimbabwe, because they are the markets of the future. Thus, the process of development is something in which all countries, rich and poor, have a stake.

However, he noted that in many developing countries there was no capacity to negotiate for WTO provisions. There were also logistical problems e.g. the African, Caribbean and Pacific member states are dotted all over the world and can not regularly meet to come up with a common stand compared to the European Union member-states.

He urged Zimbabwe to effectively participate at the Third WTO Ministerial Conference so as to advance and protect its interest, with extensive preparatory work involving all stakeholders being essential. Dr. Schmidt noted that one of the major objectives of the workshop was to identify the interests and concerns of Zimbabwe’s industry and civil society in the Seattle WTO negotiations so as to come up with suggestions to feed into the national position.

The workshop was also strategically positioned to help enormously in clarifying issues to be handled at the Seattle Conference ranging from papers on the implementation of the existing WTO Agreements to papers on issues whose place in the negotiations or other part of the work programme is still being discussed.

1.3 OFFICIAL OPENING: Mr. S. Comberbach, Secretary for Ministry of Industry and Commerce

The official opening zeroed on the Seattle Conference being a forum to decide on what exactly – beyond the already identified „built-in" agenda items arising from the existing Agreements – will feature on the agenda of any new Round of negotiations.

Mr. Comberbach pointed out that the core agenda of that Conference was set four years ago when the WTO officially assumed responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the Agreements which finally emerged from the lengthy Uruguay Round of trade negotiations. At that time, the world hailed the Agreements as being potent and robust; as promising benefits for the entire global trading community and for the developing world in particular.

Now, several years later, on taking stock of and assessing situations, everyone realises that the anticipated benefits for developing countries have not in fact materialised – certainly not to the extent envisaged or promised.

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Most developing countries, including Zimbabwe, have experienced difficulties in meeting WTO obligations and not being able to participate meaningfully, through the WTO, in influencing or managing the global trading regime. For notwithstanding the waivers, extensions and traditional, periods, the fact is that developing countries have not been able to fully align their economies to cope with problems of the new trade regime, or even to take adequate advantage of the undoubted opportunities flowing from this multilateral liberalisation.

He noted that the foregoing was understandable since adjustment of production and trade patterns are not, and cannot be merely a function of time – complementary policies and significant additional resources are needed to make the trade development matrix functional.

Giving an overview, Mr. Comberbach said some of the Agreements being implemented by the WTO have „built-in" provisions for the commencement of further negotiations for further liberalisation of trade in such areas as agriculture, services, tariffs, subsidies, anti-dumping and countervailing duties, regulations on sanitary and phytosanitary measures and special measures for the least developed countries.

Following two previous Ministerial Conferences that were held to review developments in international trade, and the problems and issues that have arisen in the implementation of the various WTO Agreements, six new subject areas purported to have an impact on international trade were raised namely:

  • Trade and environment

  • Trade and investment

  • Trade and competition policy

  • Trade facilitation

  • Transparency in government procurement, and

  • Electronic commerce

Mr. Comberbach expressed that the study and analysis of the trade-related issues, problems and solutions in these subject areas was being undertaken by working groups established for this purpose. It was important to note that there is no final commitment, at this stage at any rate, on the part of the member countries over the desirability or otherwise or engaging in the WTO negotiations on rule-making in all these areas.

The government, indicated Mr. Comberbach, was concerned at the implications raised by the possible inclusion of some of these issues, or certain aspects thereof, within the scope of any future WTO negotiations – most specifically, those aspects that are clearly non-trade issues and which appear more like avenues for continuing and even enhancing the disguised protectionism enjoyed by some of the world’s leading trading nations. The government does not believe that their inclusion now will lead to any strengthening of the current WTO rules-based trading system.

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H.E. Ambassador Chidyausiku, Permanent Representative of Zimbabwe to Geneva

Ambassador Chidyausiku begun his presentation by expressing that Zimbabwe’s future as a trading nation ultimately depends on all stakeholders’ collective ability to face the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities offered by a rules-based multilateral trading system – this was no easy task and could not be left to government alone.

He noted that although the WTO was an intergovernmental body, it is important to ensure that governments negotiate on behalf of all stakeholders. This was only possible if viable consultative machinery were set up which ensured the full involvement of the stakeholders. Within the various sectors and apex organisations there was need to mobilise the resources of key strategic planning units – the participation of all citizens through their elected representatives, academia, civil society and other interested parties.

There was no branch of international jurisprudence growing as fast as international trade law. To this end, the challenge before Zimbabwe was of participating in and influencing the pace, scope and content of this process rather than become mere spectators and cheer leaders.

Ambassador Chidyausiku paid tribute to the Intersectoral Committee on WTO which is coordinated by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and whose membership is open to all stakeholders for its work up to date. He pointed out that the Committee has been providing valuable technical backstopping to Zimbabwe’s trade negotiators in Geneva. Over the past year the country’s challenge has been to mobilise technical assistance to boost the analytical and institutional capacity of the Committee – already UNDP has agreed to finance an UNCTAD coordinated assessment of the impact of implementing the Uruguay Round Agreements on Zimbabwe. Other donors such as Department of International Development (DFID) United Kingdom have also responded positively with long term projects which will boost capacity in Zimbabwe’s academic institutions, business organisations and government departments by designing appropriate training programmes.

Meanwhile, the agenda for the Seattle Ministerial Conference was set at the second Ministerial Conference in Geneva, which instructed the WTO General Council to prepare on the following:

  1. the issues, including those brought forward by Members, relating to implementation of existing agreements and decisions,
    • the negotiations already mandated at Marrakesh, to ensure that such negotiations begin on schedule,
    • future work already provided for under other existing agreements and decisions taken at Marrakesh;

  2. recommendations concerning other possible future work on the basis of the work programme initiated at Singapore,

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  3. recommendations on the follow-up to the High-Level Meeting on Least-Developed Countries,

  4. recommendations arising from consideration of other matters proposed and agreed to by Members concerning their multilateral trade relations

The work of the General Council was structured into three phases beginning September 1998. The first phase, September 1998 – February 1999, dwelt on general discussions/ brainstorming on all the items listed. The second phase which was originally meant to run from March – September 1999, but which has still not closed was the proposals phase. To date more than 220 proposals have been tabled covering all areas of interest to member states.

He indicated that Zimbabwe submitted a number of proposals in the context of Group positions such as G-15, G-77, Africa Group, SADC, COMESA, Group of Commonwealth Developing Countries as well as the Like-minded Group.

All these proposals highlighted the need to address implementation issues; to balance Uruguay Round Agreements such as on Agriculture, Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIPS), Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS), Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIMS), Anti-dumping and Subsidies and Countervailing Measures. The proposals also focused on the need to maintain preferential market access such as the Lome arrangement and various GSP schemes; the importance of regional cooperation; the need to maintain GATS architecture in the resumed services negotiations; the need to defer negotiations on Singapore issues such as Trade and Investment, Trade and Competition Policy, Trade facilitation and Transparency in Government Procurement until the study process has been completed in the respective WTO Working Groups.

These positions are broadly shared by most developing countries. However, there was need to examine them thoroughly to see how they accord with Zimbabwe’s own specific requirements.

Ambassador Chidyausiku pointed out that the third phase which has just started in Geneva and will continue until the Seattle Conference was focusing on the draft Seattle Ministerial Declaration. The first version of the draft circulated on 7 October 1999 was attacked by most developing countries as extremely unbalanced as it had more substance on the so-called „new issues" and very little on Implementation. This first version of the draft was widely pronounced „Dead on Arrival". Meanwhile, the second draft tries to accommodate all the proposals so far tabled that is now difficult to draw a distinction between the proposals-driven second phase and the Declaration drafting third phase.

The understanding is that whilst proposals are still welcome, these should now be in the form of specific language for the draft Seattle Declaration and not proposals to address totally new issues. It was important to note that the Seattle Conference is also expected to launch a new round of multilateral trade negotiations. There were still different views on whether member states should use the term New Round or simply Future Negotiations.

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Ambassador Chidyausiku concluded by saying that the Seattle Conference is just an event. The key challenge is addressing the process leading up to Seattle and the negotiations post-Seattle. Zimbabwe was launching a consultative process that must be sustained, institutionalised and empowered throughout the negotiations – this challenge was not for government alone but for all stakeholders.

Floor Discussions of Presentations by Mr. S. Comberbach and Ambassador Chidyausiku

Participants expressed that there existed serious communication and information gaps/lags between Harare and Geneva. They also pointed out that there was need to be continuously briefed given that new issues within the WTO context were always cropping up. As a suggestion, Mr. E. Cross, CZI vice president alluded to a private sector initiative whereby funding could be sourced for Zimbabwe officials in Geneva to periodically jet into the country mainly to update private business on issues pertaining to the WTO and the ACP-EU framework. Under the same breath, Mr. Cross inquired if it was possible for private business to have physical presence through a manned office in Geneva, an initiative aimed at intensifying private sector representation on WTO issues as was the case with South Africa.

In response, the Ambassador accepted the existence of a properly structured and functional communication framework, siting that sometimes the Geneva team also had problems in linking up with home. However, already an initiative to address the situation had been launched through the setting up of the WTO Standing Committee in Zimbabwe. The Committee was a vehicle set-up for tapping views and opinions from all stakeholders in the economy, and it was in the process of building up capacity in trade development policy research, analysis and negotiation skills with assistance from Zimbabwe's development partners. He hastened to add that Seattle was but an event, as such the consultative processes should be intensified into the medium to long-term.

With regard to the private sector’s proposal to facilitate the Geneva-based team to periodically travel to Zimbabwe mainly to update stakeholders on WTO issues, the Ambassador welcomed the idea, sighting that in the past it had been difficult to undertake such travels due to financial constraints.

Meanwhile, Minister Counsellor to Geneva, Mr. T. Chifamba, on the issue of private sector physical presence in Geneva, responded by saying that South Africa’s private business has not seconded anyone to Geneva. But that country’s Geneva office was adequately manned, for example, at times there were more than six sessions on SPS, and South Africa would have about four people in attendance. The South Africans can afford to second an officer for six months to the SPS committee. In that regard, it was essential that in the short to medium term, Zimbabwe intensifies its consultative processes and increase interface with all stakeholders including the Geneva office.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | August 2001

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