WTO must do more for Small Vulnerable Countries
Home Up Statement by Sen The Hon. Petrus Compton to the 61st Session of the United Nations General Assembly New York - September 26, 2006 WTO must do more for Small Vulnerable Countries Address by Senator the Hon. Petrus Compton to The High-Level Plenary Meeting of The United Nations General Assembly - New York


Contact: Nand C. Bardouille, Tel: (246) 430-1678, nand.bardouille@crnm.org


October 31, 2005, CHRIST CHURCH, BARBADOS – The Chairperson of the Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference is set to make his rounds through the Caribbean this week. He visits the Region at a time of mounting uncertainty amongst the smallest and most vulnerable Caribbean Members of the WTO over the benefits to be derived from being a part of the WTO system, in light of the treatment of “development issues” in global trade talks and recent developments concerning a key commodity export - bananas. Below is an op ed by Hon. Petrus Compton, Minister of External Affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation, St. Lucia, that captures these concerns.



The WTO must do more for its Smallest, most Vulnerable Members
Hon. Petrus Compton
Minister of External Affairs, International Trade
and Civil Aviation, St. Lucia

The World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Round is facing formidable challenges, that stand in the way of its successful completion. The Caribbean is prepared to play a constructive role in moving the process forward, so that a balanced and development-oriented outcome can be achieved. But the Region has strong misgivings over how ‘development issues’ are finding expression in on-going negotiations. Development must be the linchpin of Doha Round talks, especially if the smallest and most vulnerable of WTO Members are to benefit.

All eyes are now on what has been characterized as a decisive year-end Ministerial, and the hope is that it will propel the Round that much closer to completion. But for this to happen, much depends on headway in building consensus amongst principal players on Agriculture negotiations, ahead of the WTO’s December Ministerial.

Without sufficient forward momentum on this gateway issue, other areas important to developing countries will continue to be on the back-burner of the negotiating agenda. There is a very real possibility that the Doha Round could be derailed, without sufficient progress in Agriculture talks. Mired by impasse, as recently as last week, Agriculture talks are in jeopardy of collapse, at a time when industrial goods talks too are struggling. A proposal by the EU Friday (October 28), meant to unblock the talks, provides for further cuts in farm tariffs. However, the proposal has met with a cool reception, especially from the US. There is the view that the EU’s offer has fallen short of expectations, raising the prospect that time may run out on closing divergences in farm trade talks.

In spite of high profile pronouncements that the Doha Round is a “Development Round”, global trade talks have so far fallen short on this score. The Caribbean has made a clarion call for development to be infused in the negotiations. The tragedy is that this fervent appeal to re-orient negotiations, so that development issues are front-loaded on the negotiating agenda, has fallen on deaf ears.

The Region’s legitimate concerns with the state of affairs in a so-called Development Round have been glossed over. Try as they might, developing countries have been unable to forestall the marginalization of development issues in trade talks.

The hallmark of development-friendly WTO negotiations is whether development issues are on the radar screen, and importantly whether substantial progress is being made in advancing them. On both scores, the Round would thus far receive a failing grade, giving WTO naysayers much ammunition to berate the multilateral trading system.

As if this weren’t enough to contend with, some of the smallest and most vulnerable countries in the Caribbean must now come to terms with recent developments in regards to a key commodity export, that threatens to undermine the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people. A ruling handed down by WTO Arbitrators October 27 on the proposed European Union banana tariff determined that the proposal would not maintain market access for third country or most favoured nation (MFN) suppliers. In effect, the ruling exposes Caribbean banana trade to new uncertainties, at a time when preferences are being scaled-back. A solution must be found, and fast. The Region calls on the EU to negotiate with MFN and ACP suppliers, to arrive at a mutually satisfactory solution that ultimately is fair to both.  That solution must provide for market stability.  The Caribbean expects that the EU will honour its commitments as regards ACP banana market access to the European market, in keeping with the Cotonou Partnership Agreement.

Preferences are vitally important to the ability of small and vulnerable countries like St. Lucia to export bananas, yet this issue has received a hostile reception in the WTO. These preferences harm no one. The Caribbean has no desire or ability to damage the trading interests of Latin American or indeed any other exporters.

Bananas are the bedrock upon which St. Lucia’s most vulnerable communities – especially those in the rural areas – are constituted.  Banana exports sustain a way of life, like no other sector in St. Lucia can.  If it is unable to profitably trade in bananas, the very social fabric of St. Lucia will be dislocated.

It is immediately clear that the Arbitrators’ ruling goes beyond bananas, affecting the capacity of the Caribbean’s small, vulnerable banana-producing states to effectively trade a vitally important commodity.  If WTO rules are undermining our ability to trade, what then is the value of the WTO system to the most vulnerable?  The WTO system is marginalizing small economies.  Indeed, the WTO negotiating agenda is failing to address the obligations of a Development Round to developing countries, especially to its smallest and most vulnerable Members.

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