Vol. 5 Num 559 Thu. December 22, 2005  
Front Page

CPD on WTO Talks
Lack of political, negotiation skills let Bangladesh down

Unlike others, Bangladesh has utterly failed to obtain any benefit from the just-concluded Hong Kong WTO Ministerial Conference due to lack of understanding of issues and lobbies involved as well as negotiation skills.

"In Doha we received assurance, in Cancun we had faith, but in Hong Kong we have become totally frustrated," remarked Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Executive Director Debapriya Bhattacharya at a press briefing yesterday.

The Geneva text, the first draft of the Hong Kong Declaration, prepared by technical experts offered the least developed countries (LDCs) including Bangladesh duty- and quota-free market access for all products to all countries. But, Debapriya said, Bangladesh lost the free market access for its textile products due to a "lack of political skill" at the Ministerial that made a series of modifications to the draft.

"However," he said, "all is not lost yet. As 2006 is likely to be the last leg of the Doha Round, this year will be a very critical one for Bangladesh. It can still achieve much or lose even more."

"To gain from the upcoming follow-up negotiations," Debapriya said, "Bangladesh will definitely require strengthening the Geneva Mission and the commerce ministry on an urgent basis. The ministry will also have to devise means and methods to effectively draw on other trade analysis capacities available in the country."

A four-member CPD team comprising Debapriya, Mustafizur Rahman, Uttam Kumar Deb and Fahmida Khatun that participated in the December 12-18 Ministerial Conference and other related events. The CPD yesterday launched a trade policy brief containing the team's reflections on the outcomes of the conference from Bangladesh's perspective.

In the Hong Kong Declaration, the USA agreed to give duty- and quota-free market access for 97 percent of LDC products, excluding textiles that account for 42 percent of Bangladesh's total exports.

The CPD brief termed Bangladesh's initial ambition for free market access for all its export items justified, but said a number of factors contributed to the non-realisation of that. "Indeed, from Bangladesh's point of view, the adopted Declaration was of lower value in comparison to the Geneva text," it maintained, adding, "the Geneva text was adopted with modification which effectively deprived Bangladesh."

According to the leading independent think-tank of the country, among the factors leading to Bangladesh's failure to gain from the Hong Kong negotiations was its self-deceptive attitude, "which impressed on others that duty-free and quota-free for all countries would pass through at the Conference. Bangladesh also failed to understand about the depth of the resistance on the part of the USA. The campaign for US TRADE Bill also generated a sense of false optimism."

The CPD team also observed that too much emphasis on the LDC cap did not deliver, particularly in case of apparels.

Besides, the CPD brief said, Bangladesh failed to anticipate adequately that certain textile importing developing countries would play an open and active role against it. "The role of Pakistan and, partly, Sri Lanka was to the detriment of Bangladesh's interests," reported the team, remarking, "Our South Asian solidarity was of no help to Bangladesh."

More importantly, Bangladesh's inability to "activate its political connections and mobilise political clout to withstand these pressures" was another factor that went against the country's trade interests.

Debapriya said the USA has always maintained a protective policy in textiles. In Hong Kong talks the US used Pakistan effectively to counter Bangladesh's demand for free market access for its apparels.

The CPD said Bangladesh's initiative to set up a separate negotiation group, namely the G14 + 1, was done on a very ad hoc basis and at a late stage of the negotiations, on the fourth day of the six-day conference. Besides, it observed, "There was no analytical and conceptual background paper explaining the rationale, articulating the objective and setting the concrete goals. The initiative diverted scarce negotiating capacity at critical juncture of negotiations."

The CPD brief stressed taking preparation from right now to make best use of whatever advantages and benefits are given under the Hong Kong Declaration, especially in the areas of agriculture, cotton, food aid, non-agriculture market access, services, fisheries and the Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS). Apart from technical preparations, what is necessary for doing that, the CPD said, is political steadfastness, familiarity with the WTO process, effective political outreach and the nerve to withstand pressure.

The CPD also emphasised export diversification to reduce dependence on textiles, scraping of tariff concessions and improving market competitiveness for promoting export.

Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Executive Director Debapriya Bhattacharya speaks at a press briefing on ¿Outcome of the Hong Kong ministerial conference¿ at the CPD Dialogue Room in the city yesterday. PHOTO: STAR