The Challenges Facing African Countries Regarding the WTO "Trade" Regime Since the Third Ministerial Meeting in Seattle

1 May 2006

  Dot Keet

The Challenges Facing African Countries Regarding the WTO "Trade" Regime Since the Third Ministerial Meeting in Seattle
Dot Keet
Institute for Global Dialogue, Occasional Paper No. 25, Cape Town, South Africa, May 2000

This paper was prepared for the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Initiative (SEATINI) workshop for African trade officials organised by the International South Group Network (ISGN) with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Harare 27 -31 March 2000. The author was accredited to the WTO Third Ministerial Conference as a participant in the non-governmental African Trade Network.


There are different explanations for the collapse of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Third Ministerial Conference in Seattle in December 1999 [see for example, Bridges, December 1999]. Depending on their political and geographical locations and intellectual or ideological orientations, analysts attach different significance to four main factors:

  • the failure of the major players, the US, the European Union (EU) and Japan to forge their own 'consensus' around negotiations on agriculture and a range of other issues, as they have managed to do in the past; and the prolonging of their own bargaining leaving them without the necessary time to 'work' on the rest of the WTO membership to achieve the necessary broader 'consensus'; with the added complication of the specific demands of the quite influential Cairns group of agricultural exporting countries; (2)
  • the role and impact of key US governmental players, above all the public pronouncements of President Clinton in Seattle, playing to his labour constituency who were demonstrating there; and, largely out of public sight, the arrogant comportment and gross procedural blunders by his trade representative Charlene Barshevsky as chair of the ministerial meeting; and, reinforcing this, before and in Seattle, the biased role of the WTO Director General and secretariat in general;
  • the sustained resistance to many of the proposals of 'the majors' by many of the developing country delegations, culminating in the formal public protests by the African, Caribbean and some Latin American representatives against the entire modus operandi of the meeting; and, in this context, their threat to withhold their support from whatever 'consensus' might emerge therefrom; and
  • the influence of the wide-ranging criticisms of the WTO and the proposed new multisectoral Millennial Round of negotiations, from almost two thousand non-governmental organisations around the world, including Africa; with hundreds of them actually 'accredited' as observers to the Conference and therefore able to assess the process close up, lobby their own and other governmental delegations in the corridors of the Convention Centre; and at the same time benefit from the impact of the tens of thousands of protesters on the streets outside demonstrating against the WTO and the emerging 'free trade' global system as a whole.

In addition to the relative weight ascribed to these respective factors and the various conclusions as to the ways in which these factors interacted to cause the collapse of the ministerial meeting, analysts also give differing interpretations about the overall significance and future implications of the failure of the Third Ministerial Conference. At one end of the analytical spectrum, it is presented as a temporary interruption that will rapidly be resolved, with the normal process resuming shortly or in due course [Moore, 1999]. While at the other end, it is viewed as 'a watershed event', a qualitative shift that will and must produce fundamental changes in the WTO and the entire global trade regime [Shiva, 2000]. In between, there are various opinions as to whether:

  • the collapse of the Third Ministerial Conference represents a victory that can be built upon by those opposed to a new comprehensive round of negotiations, whether with or without the many 'new issues' being proposed by the developed countries [Khor; January 2000]; or, conversely, that the developing countries have merely gained some breathing space within which to prepare for such an inevitable and necessary resumption of multilateral and multisectoral negotiations [Mehta, 2000, Erwin, 2000];
  • the collapse of the meeting and the public exposure of the WTO could imperil the multilateral rules-based system which must be defended [Davies, 1999]; or conversely that it potentially strengthens it by giving the powers-that-be a timely warning on the institutional problems within the WTO, and above all their own uses and abuses of the system [Tandon, 2000];
  • the confrontations in Seattle have strengthened the hands and future bargaining power of the developing countries towards the creation of an entirely different global system [Shiva, 2000]; or, conversely, that the collapse served merely to have their proposals shelved, yet again [Erwin, 1999] and their immediate requirements - for example on various impending deadlines - were not dealt with, leaving them in a legal quandary and possibly open to legal actions within the WTO processes [African Recovery, 1999]. (3)

Africa's Official Negotiating Position and its Role in the Third WTO Ministerial Conference

Although such broad analyses after the event are useful towards assessing the role and weight of different factors and the efficacy of different tactics, efforts in Africa now have to locate and evaluate such factors not in general or in the abstract but within processes of charting the way forward for their countries and the continent. Above all, African analysts, policy makers and negotiators have to draw on such analyses to make their own assessment of Africa's positions and role in Seattle and to focus on the most important issues and formulate the most effective strategies for Africa in the WTO.

This requires evaluation of the preparatory efforts amongst African governments and non-governmental organisations, in the lead up to Seattle and into the future. But the aims, henceforth, must not only be to identify the most important and pressing immediate issues and options facing Africa and the formulation of the most effective negotiating strategies within the WTO. It is necessary to consider all the strategic options in the short, medium and long term in relation to the WTO per se as the central institution of an emerging system of 'global government'.

In the years of preparation and months of 'pre-negotiations' in Geneva leading towards the Third Ministerial Conference in Seattle, the African countries began - gradually - to consolidate more proactive joint positions. They were assisted by a dedicated programme of information and capacity building and the framing of a 'positive' negotiating agenda, largely under the auspices of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) [1998, 1998b, 1999], the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), [1998] and the African Economic Community (AEC), [1999]. Initiatives were also taken by other international organisations, such as the World Bank and the WTO Secretariat. In addition, there were important contributions in Africa by non-governmental organisations, the latter very effectively under the auspices of the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Initiative (SEATINI), [1998, 1999]; and between African non-governmental organisations, in cooperation with other international NGOs, through the African Trade Network (ATN) [1999]. (4)

The joint official position that eventually emerged out of the conference of African Ministers of Trade meeting in Algiers in September 1999 [OAU/AEC, 1999] is proactive and even innovative on some issues, although too accommodating and cautious on others. On the positive side, the statement starts with ''a key challenge facing the multilateral trading system ... is to ensure that issues of development are addressed decisively and satisfactorily''. To 'take into account the developmental dimension', the African negotiating position points to the need to address the imbalances in the agreements arising from the Uruguay Round. This includes the need to address what is referred to as the 'implementation' issues, meaning the unfulfilled undertakings and commitments made by the developed countries towards developing countries during the Uruguay Round and in the Marrakech Treaty and Ministerial Declarations that concluded the Round and set up the WTO. On the negative side, the main focus of the African position is on the 'implementation' difficulties of African countries in complying with WTO requirements and fulfilling their obligations. This is accompanied by repeated reiterations of their perennial appeals for more financial aid and technical assistance. (5)

There are also some marked omissions and problematic formulations in the African strategy. With respect to the former, there is a failure to explicitly include the ground-breaking proposals on the Uruguay Round Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) as promoted by African negotiators in Geneva, most notably the ban on the patenting of life forms [Africa Group, 1999]. On the other hand, with respect to TRIPS, there is an important recommendation for the extension of the moratorium on the additional time allowed developing countries, 'pending further experience'. There is also an important new proposal that developing countries must not be prevented from imposing compulsory licensing for drugs listed as essential by the World Health Organisation (WHO); although this does not tackle other important health needs being prejudiced by the patenting of pharmaceutical products and scientific knowledge. Nor does this position take up the broader problem of what is effectively becoming the global monopolisation - and profiteering exploitation - of science and technology by giant western corporations.

A further weakness in the official African position for the Third Ministerial Conference is the failure to come out clearly against the introduction of ever more new issues, or the so-called 'Singapore issues' into the WTO. (6) The most contentious of these proposals being promoted by the most developed countries are for the introduction of global investment liberalisation, the world-wide opening of government tendering (or procurement) and the setting of national environmental and labour standards within the WTO. With regard to the latter, there is a consistent stand in the African Third Ministerial Conference position for the continued location of the 'labour issue' in the International Labour Organisation (ILO), as was agreed upon in Singapore. There is also a clear stand against the introduction of a new working group on bio-technology. However, the joint African position on the introduction of investment, competition policy and government procurement agreements into the WTO is merely that these should continue to be the subject of the working group studies. This position leaves it open for these subjects to be possibly inserted into formal WTO negotiations at some later stage, which is clearly the intention of the US and the EU.

In this last connection, the overall strategy of the African group is not to challenge the idea of a full new multisectoral round, nor even to bargain directly for the fulfilment of their own needs and demands for a comprehensive review and revisions of existing agreements as essential conditions for any future round. (7) Rather, the African trade ministers opted to throw their sound and valid proposals into the general pot of issues to be 'traded-off' in a new round. (8) These important African proposals are for processes of review of various agreements including those on agriculture, services, TRIPS, anti-dumping and countervailing measures, subsidies, safeguards, Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary Standards (SPSSs) and other technical agreements. These reviews are, in turn, related to 'the appropriate recognition of special and differential treatment' for developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs), and which are also defined as applying to 'island, vulnerable and small economies'. The main thrust of the recommendations is towards extensions of existing 'transition periods' allowed under Special and Differential Treatment (SDTs) for developing countries to implement WTO agreements, the expansion of the scope of SDTs and the widening of the country coverage of these special provisions to include low and middle income countries. Another potentially innovative proposal is for the differentiated time frames and processes of implementation of WTO agreements by developing countries not to be set a priori but to be ''determined by the availability of resources required to effectively implement them''. A further significant demand is that the Bretton Woods Institutions ''refrain from including in their structural adjustment programmes (SAP), measures which go beyond the obligations accepted by developing countries in the WTO''.

The proactive African demands in the sphere of improved 'market access', include (yet another) call for the removal of tariff peaks and escalations in the most developed countries against the exports of developing countries; together with the specific proposal for zero tariff rates for all products from LDCs; as well as the extension of Lomé Convention trade preferences for all African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries for a further ten years. (9) This is accompanied by the (reiterated) demand for the removal of other non-tariff protectionist devices in the most industrialised economies, as well as their export subsidies and other more covert domestic supports that create unfair competition against developing countries' exports, as well as unfair import competition within their own domestic markets.

A section of particular significance to Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other regional groupings in Africa is the African ministers' call for ''a decision to ensure that any review of regional trade agreements (RTAs) or any other new Agreements within the WTO do not undermine regional integration efforts by developing countries''. Their further innovative proposal is that in order to provide appropriate frameworks for trade agreements involving developed and developing countries, ''there is a need to revisit the provisions of Article 24 of GATT 1994 (on regional trade agreements) and the 1979 Enabling Clause''.

In the final analysis, however, the most innovative - and somewhat paradoxically, the most effective - intervention of the African countries in the Third Ministerial Conference in Seattle was not actually through their publicly declared negotiating positions. In fact, as is now well known throughout the world, they had little opportunity to promote their proposals due to processes even more exclusionary, untransparent and contrived than usual in the WTO [Hormeku, 2000]. So blatant was the manipulation and distortion of the entire 'multilateral negotiating' process in Seattle under the overall control of the US in collaboration with the WTO Secretariat, that it provoked an unprecedented open 'revolt' from the developing countries. (10) As with the Caribbean countries and some Latin American countries, the African Ministers present at the Third Ministerial Conference issued a firm joint statement on the penultimate day rejecting their marginalisation and general exclusion from the 'negotiations' and warning that ''under the present circumstances we will not be able to join the consensus required to meet the objectives of this Ministerial Conference''.

Within established WTO conventions, these declarations from a sizeable number of member states signalled that even if the US, EU and Japan had been able to resolve their own differences and cobble together some sort of final 'consensus' agreement, as they have always done in the past, they would on this occasion have been faced with an open challenge to the legitimacy of the so-called consensus and the very legitimacy of the meeting. Above all, in the generally hostile climate around the meeting in Seattle and with the focus of world public attention on the damning criticisms being levelled against the WTO, any possible upheavals within the meeting would have added further to the de-legitimisation of the WTO. The Third Ministerial Conference was therefore hastily and unceremoniously suspended. (11)

Issues and Options facing Africa

The governments, non-governmental organisations, policy and research institutions and other related entities in Africa are now faced with some important short, medium and long-term strategic challenges and tactical options with regard to the WTO, as well as in relation to broader issues of global governance and the currently dominant global economic system. This entails careful analysis of the immediate issues and emerging or possible future processes, as far as these can be foreseen, towards decisions (initially exploratory and always amenable to adjustment) on the prioritisation and possible sequencing of strategies.

It is essential, in this process and at the outset, to identify the possible options without any a priori exclusion, in order to have the fullest picture within which to evaluate all conceivable immediate and future challenges. Failure to examine fully all the options often reflects and reinforces preconceived orientations - already decided, consciously or unconsciously - towards particular approaches and to the exclusion of others. Such choices are often based on implicit assumptions, or pre-judgements - without appropriate investigation, deliberated assessment and explicit argumentation - that certain options are not 'feasible', or are 'irrelevant' and so on. However, the feasibility, greater utility or the immediate relevance of specific options can only be decided as the outcome of full and explicit analysis of all the alternatives. This has to be the basis for more fully informed and effective total strategies. Furthermore, even if, out of this process of analysis, some options are initially assessed as being not immediately relevant or feasible, they must all, nonetheless, remain within the overall framework of the total array of theoretical options, possible future choices or longer term aims.

1. The current built-in-agenda and possible future negotiations in the WTO

Even as the fiasco in Seattle was still reverberating around the world, the WTO Secretariat and the industrialised countries, led by the EU, were engaged in a rescue operation, using a range of legal and procedural devices and political ploys [Raghavan, 2000]. On the one hand, this takes the form of trying to (re)sell a full new multisectoral round to the developing countries in general. This includes re-designating it as a 'development round'; holding out the promise of getting their 'development concerns incorporated' into the proposed agreements, including such Singapore issues as the multilateral investment agreement and so on. (12) At the same time, more targeted political efforts are underway in Geneva, Brussels and elsewhere to win over enough developing countries - particularly 'pivotal' states such as India, South Africa and Brazil [Business Report, 7/12/99] - in order to influence the rest of the developing countries towards accepting the (re)launch of the negotiations towards a comprehensive new round as soon as possible. (13)

Whether this campaign for a new multisectoral round succeeds or not, Africa and the rest of the developing world will, inevitably, be faced with ongoing sectoral negotiations within the provisions of the built-in-agenda carried over from the Uruguay Round. This includes a number of scheduled negotiations, for example on agriculture and services, as well as regular reviews on safeguards, technical barriers to trade (TBTs), rules of origin, dispute settlements and a whole range of other technical issues. There are also special reviews scheduled on existing agreements, on subsidies, anti-dumping, TRIPS, Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMS) and others [UNCTAD, 1998b]. These reviews and ongoing negotiations are very important - but potentially dangerous - for developing countries. They hold out possibilities for introducing amendments into existing agreements, for example in TRIMS, so as to allow developing countries to set local content requirements on foreign investment in order to assist the development of domestic industries. On the other hand, if the developing countries are not well prepared, the built-in-agenda can also result in the developed countries introducing their own proposals and amendments in their own interests, including for example possibly slipping multilateral investment terms into the WTO through the TRIMS review process.

WTO negotiations are going to continue in one form or another and some of the mandated processes have already been officially launched since the beginning of the year. (14) In this situation, there are a number of important challenges facing African governments:

1.1 The immediately pressing matter concerns the deadlines set for the start of the year 2000, for the compliance by developing countries with various Uruguay Round Agreements (URAs). It is urgent for African and other developing countries to insist on an immediate moratorium on any actions against WTO member states with respect to deadlines on specific agreements, such as TRIPS and Services. These and many others could not be subject to the extensions that Africa was seeking, due to the fiasco in Seattle. Then the question of appropriate time extensions has to be taken up collectively, not on a case by case basis, as proposed by the US in particular, as that could open weaker countries to irresistible and divisive pressures (see also 8. below). The most advantageous position would be for African and other developing countries to bargain for an indefinite suspension of all such deadlines on their compliance with existing URAs until these have been subject to full reviews and appropriate revisions (but see also 5.3 below).

1.2 It is important also to be very wary about being persuaded into a full new, multisectoral round, repackaged as a 'Development Round'. The weaker countries may, in so doing, cede important and immediate strategic ground to developed countries without any certainty as to the efficacy, or indeed the guaranteed achievement of the proposed 'development dimensions' yet to be negotiated. There is also much (deliberate) vagueness about these potential 'development' gains, whose nature and implementation are, anyway, not universally agreed upon - and which are also yet to be fully formulated and agreed upon amongst Africans (see 4. 5. 6. below).

1.3 In this connection, too, it is tactically advantageous in Africa's bargaining positions to insist that there can be no further multisectoral or other unscheduled negotiations without the necessary full review and essential revisions of the already-existing URAs. There is further tactical advantage in arguing that these must not only be carried out fully, but that a period must be agreed upon for the assessment of their effects (see also 5.2 below), before further undertakings can be made by African countries.

1.4Furthermore, the developed countries should be pressurised to comply unconditionally with the letter and follow honestly the (purported) spirit of their own Marrakech undertakings and formal Uruguay Round obligations. The most serious evasion of these undertakings is the resistance by the richest countries to open up their markets to textile, clothing and agricultural exports from the developing countries. Within the growing public awareness throughout the world of the abuses and inequities of the WTO system, the leverage or bargaining hand of African countries is hugely strengthened to bring greater legal, moral and political pressures to bear on developed countries. This necessitates that African governments - working with (and often preferably through) their non-governmental organisations - extend, deepen and creatively use public opinion and the media as part of their bargaining strategies.

1.5 Further to this latter issue, it is strategically important in the forthcoming sectoral negotiations - and even more so if there ever are future multisectoral negotiations - not to fall into the mistake of allowing the legitimate demands and rights of African countries to be traded-off against the new demands of the developed countries. The established - if unfulfilled - rights of developing countries and the existing - and unfulfilled - obligations and undertakings of developed countries must stand in their own right and be implemented as such, without new conditions being imposed or new quid pro quo concessions being required, as some of the more adept developed countries negotiators are attempting to do [Keet, 1999c].

1.6 As an extension to this, it is also important not to be lured into multisectoral negotiations with assurances that they will provide an opening for African countries to introduce their own 'trade-related' issues to go into the negotiating pot - such as trade-related debt, trade-related commodity price instabilities or trade-related global financial instabilities encouraged by deregulation, although their negative effects upon African trade possibilities are real [Tandon, 1999]. These are important issues in their own right and they can be used in African argumentation and pre-negotiation tactical positioning in the WTO. However, they should not be the subject of WTO working groups as this runs the risk of their being turned into negotiating topics. Such issues should not be part of negotiations within the WTO because they should be and can best be dealt with in separate, specialised forums and without entailing the risks and costs of trade-offs and other damaging concessions as required in WTO negotiating processes.(15)

1.7 It is important for Africa to prepare, practically, for the fact that many of the ongoing negotiations will overlap or be carried on simultaneously. They will also be conducted by limited numbers of trade officials and trade lawyers, largely out of public sight in Geneva. On the one hand, this poses the political and organisational challenge to each and every African government to ensure regular monitoring and the informed direction by their home offices over their Geneva-based negotiators. This could help to avert the discrepancies that were evident in Seattle between the positions reached by the African trade ministers in Algiers and those of the African negotiators in Geneva. On the other hand, some collective arrangements are also necessary for African negotiators because the return of the process to Geneva opens the way for a resumption of the byzantine processes of the manipulation of developing countries, pressures and other abuses that were exposed to full public view and knowledge in Seattle.

2. The WTO modus operandi and immediate organisational challenges for African governments

The WTO, as presently constituted, is a political arena characterised by unrelenting battles for national, general sectoral or even very specific corporate advantage; as well as a necessary forum for the negotiation and accommodation of some converging or common interests, especially between powerful key players. The international agreements and procedures that currently regulate - and continue to evolve from - such extremely tendentious and contentious processes are complex combinations of competing and conflicting interests and are replete with compromises and trade-offs, inconsistencies and internal contradictions, imbalances and inequities [Das, 1998, 1998a].

In this light, the WTO's general rules and regulations and specific agreements cannot be regarded as immutable fait accompli. They do not derive from unchanging and unchangeable abstract principles or absolute laws, but from very specific economic interests and strategic aims, particularly of the most powerful industrialised countries and 'their' global corporations. On this basis they cannot be accepted as being 'cast in stone'. The WTO's terms must be clearly understood - and forcefully argued - to be amenable to alterations through ongoing negotiations on the basis of deeper investigation and analysis of their implications and wider or new evidence of their effects [Keet, 1997].

The more specific and immediate challenges to African countries in this respect are to ensure that - if, and in so far as the WTO continues to play a role in international relations, and whatever form that takes (see 7. below):

2.1 African governments, separately and together, must dedicate much greater resources and energies towards subjecting each and every WTO agreement to rigorous objective analysis as to their effects or implications and whether they comply with existing national programmes, aims and in some cases, even constitutional principles. Practical modalities have to be created and resources have to be found to ensure that this is carried out independently of the influences, cajolery or pressures from the powerful 'donor' countries and other institutional 'creditors' (see also 3.5 below).

2.2 This exercise has to start from the premise of deciding, in the first instance, what is optimally desirable and minimally necessary, before making the secondary and subsequent assessments as to what is potentially achievable or remotely feasible. This requires the identification of a 'hierarchy' of negotiating proposals and demands, including initial, ostensible 'opening' positions, real front-line, inter-mediate and fallback positions and non-negotiable bottom lines, whether publicly on the table or internally agreed upon. It also requires the conscious coordination of such negotiating positions in different or related negotiating sectors where possible trade-offs may have to be agreed upon. All these inter-linked options could be expressed in sophisticated matrices, allowing for more rapid and effective monitoring and mutual consultations by negotiators involved in different sectoral negotiations (see also 4.5 below).

2.3. An important way to reinforce effective and comprehensive analyses is through the active involvement of all relevant government departments, as well as wider public participation and contributions. This should include parliamentarians, academics, organised workers, women, farmers and directly affected grass-roots communities and the business sector. Such participation will serve to broaden the sources of information and deepen the insights available to governments. Broader national backup can also strengthen the resolve and public criticisms or even active opposition can widen the tactical possibilities available to governments. Above all, such broad consultations give added weight and credibility to the recommendations to be taken into multilateral negotiations.

2.4. As a direct corollary to the above and as a guarantee of the effectiveness as well as the legitimacy of such consultative processes and inputs, they cannot be pursued in an ad hoc, intermittent, informal (and often tokenistic) way. It is essential to provide timely and effective public information and capacity building on the issues, but also to create appropriate institutional frameworks and formal processes for wide participation. One suggestion, for example, is for the creation of broad 'national WTO commissions' of governmental and non-governmental experts [Das, 1998b]. Such institutional arrangements will, of necessity, differ from country to country in reflection of their respective political cultures, although experiences and achievements can also be shared.

2.5. These background and preparatory processes are insufficient and will be of limited effectiveness if only pursued in country and conceived of only as 'national' strategies. Even where (and is so far as) there are differing national approaches and interests, it has to be recognised that the national financial and human resources of most African countries - even with the much touted financial and technical assistance - are not up to the demands of international negotiations of the complexity of those within the WTO, cooperation, coordination and sharing of resources has to be a prime organisational strategy for African countries. This is not easy because countries do have their differences and even where 'representation' of groups of African countries has been delegated to particular countries, it cannot be taken for granted that all opinions and interests will be adequately and consistently presented. Prior mandates and subsequent report-backs have to be the basis for this kind of delegation of responsibility. But such collective delegation can have a better chance of being soundly based if formulated within the framework of wider and deeper cooperation and mutual confidence building, for example, within regional development cooperation frameworks such as SADC.

2.6. However, with respect to spheres or levels of planning and decision-making above that of the national, it must also be recognised that the further such processes are removed from direct public knowledge and input and from institutionalised democratic processes and influences within the national framework, the more they become susceptible to narrow technocratic determinations and self-serving external political influences. (16) This is evident not only in the distant and largely impenetrable processes in Geneva, but also in the (relatively) more inclusive inter-governmental processes of discussion, planning and decision-making at the continental level in Addis Ababa (see also 3. below).

2.7. At a different preparatory level altogether, effective and successful engagement in multilateral negotiations is a function not only of rigorous collective analysis, jointly agreed demands and clear matrices of defined aims and objectives but of proactive practical initiatives, skilful bargaining techniques and convincing tactical stances at the negotiating tables. Effective bargaining requires additional forms and different levels of technical training and preparation over and above sheer intellectual capacities or 'knowledge of the issues'. Thus the creation of teams of negotiators should not be based on official political positions or diplomatic role and 'status' but on a range and combination of pertinent intellectual and tactical skills. (17)

3. The WTO and other institutional technical assistance and legal advice

Some commendable progress is evident in the evolution of common positions and increasingly proactive demands by African governments in the common statement presented at the Third Ministerial Conference. However, the African positions also reflect the effects of the concerted efforts of the WTO and the World Bank, for example, with and through the UN Economic Commission for Africa [UN-ECA 1999] to influence the direction of the inter-governmental African deliberations. These interventions are pursued with a view to ensuring the endorsement - explicitly and implicitly - of the assumptions, claims and aims of the current multilateral trading system and to secure the 'compliance' of African countries with WTO requirements.

The impact of this 'technical advice' is such that - despite some positive and even innovative proposals contained within the African ministers' statement - the main focus and thrust is actually on their own implementation of existing agreements and the need for technical and financial assistance to enable them to do so. There is an ''uneven emphasis on problems of implementation at the expense of problems relating to the essence of the agreements, emphasising implementation difficulties at the expense of the inequities and imbalances within the agreements'' [Hormeku, 1999].

In this context, the following are some important questions and challenges to be posed to African governments and by African governments:

3.1. It is essential to be aware - and wary - of 'technical' assistance that is not impartial or disinterested; in so far as most of that currently provided consists of training on the WTO by the WTO and the International Trade Centre (ITC) amounting to little more than instructions on how to implement WTO rules and regulations. At best, such assistance (by the ITC, for example) is heavily focused on providing technical 'market information' and training on 'marketing skills'- which may be helpful towards more successful international trade endeavours, but is totally insufficient to the fuller needs of African economies (see 4. below).

3.2 It must also be noted that although the research and policy advice provided by the (rather more disinterested) UNCTAD does include some useful analysis, information and suggestions, it also tends to be contained within the parameters of the WTO, reflecting certain tendencies within UNCTAD to accept many of the assumptions of the 'multilateral trading system' [Ricupero, 2000] and even the neo-liberal paradigm [Nadal, 1999; Epstein, 1999]. Furthermore, UNCTAD's advice, as could be expected, tends to be cautious and generally lacking in strategic vision because the institution is reluctant to be seen to be challenging or even questioning the role of the WTO in any overt way. (18)

3.3. What Africa needs - over and above the resources, skills and good intentions within UN agencies - is technical assistance, legal support and political advice that arise out of and reflect African and other relevant South experiences and processes [Shahin, 1996; Das, 1998, 1998a; Khor, 1999; The South Centre, 1999]. Such advice is more likely to be well-informed, committed and uncompromised, as well as independent and untied (such as in the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Initiative workshops), [SEATINI, 1998, 1999, 2000]. Technical backup should also include a more independent legal advice centre for developing country delegations in Geneva and with an appropriate selection of legal advisers, wherever possible from developing countries. (19)

3.4 Technical and financial assistance, however, has to be independent also in the sense of being clearly separate from the complex bargaining, complicated trade-offs and concessions that characterise WTO negotiations because ''African countries have lost many opportunities to negotiate better trade-offs through premature acceptance of offers of technical assistance'' [Tandon, 1999b]. Such offers and reassurances are used to deflect their questions or defuse their reservations and induce them to take on board proposed agreements which they know to have negative implications for their countries, whereas ''such assistance should only be accepted after substantive matters have been satisfactorily resolved'' [Tandon, ibid].

3.5 The other problem with such external financial and technical assistance is that it can create in the recipients a dependence on external actors who themselves are interested parties in the matter. On the one hand, this inhibits the development of national skills and capacities in African countries and can perpetuate a dangerous reliance on outside advice that is rarely entirely disinterested or neutral. On the other hand, it can be extremely problematic in that such financial and technical aid can be withdrawn at a short notice, in terms of the interests (either entirely unrelated or even directly linked) of the aid providers.

3.6. Above all, the call for and the nature of 'technical' analysis and the 'legal' advice provided (neither of which are entirely neutral or value-free) has to be firmly located within the 'development dimension' advocated by the African ministers and focused on identifying the alterations required in all existing agreements to 'comply' with Africa's development needs, rather than the other way round (as elaborated in 4. below).

4. The WTO as a trade-driving and trade-sanctions instrument

Within the currently dominant neo-liberal paradigm, trade is depicted as the driving force of the new 'global economy' and the vast expansion of 'free trade' is viewed as the main means and measure of economic growth. Whether this is theoretically or empirically sound is questionable [Shafaeddin, 1994]. With regard to the 'WTO-regulated' and 'open' global trade regime, it can be noted, first, that much cross-border trade is carried on (largely by women) 'informally' and outside of the policy disciplines of their governments, let alone the WTO. More significantly, fully two thirds of 'formal' international trade actually takes place as intra-firm and inter-firm transactions [UNCTAD, 1995] outside of the 'open competitive' WTO-defined trade parameters that ostensibly guide and characterise the new 'global' economy. And much other trade into countries under the pressures of IMF and World Bank's SAPs can quite correctly be defined as 'forced trade'; as can the pressures on them towards 'export-led' growth based largely on the production of export crops to the detriment of food production [Shiva, 2000]. Above all, trade into the most developed countries can best be described as controlled and conditional trade - 'controlled' because there are still a range of tariff and (increasingly) non-tariff barriers into their markets; and 'conditional' because economic 'liberalisation' is carefully qualified by the needs of their economies and the interests or demands of specific national economic and social sectors. The more powerful governments are highly selective about the pace and direction of their own market liberalisation; and when it is considered necessary, are overtly protectionist, particularly against the transfer and use of science and technology out of the control of their corporations and economies or the flow of labour into their countries.

The global economy is manifestly not based on universally accepted or practised 'free trade' as the theoretical ideologues and propagandists claim; any more than it is a system that is beneficial to strong and weak alike, as is well documented and becoming more widely recognised, thanks largely to the work of the UNDP and UNCTAD. To the contrary, what is becoming ever more clearly evident is that trade liberalisation is designed and used by the most industrialised economies to get trade and investment access to the rest of the world; and that this is now being secured largely through the WTO - which is also used to secure other national economic and even political ends.

The developing countries are increasingly aware of the inconsistent and self-serving nature of the most industrialised countries' policies and practices. The developing countries are also increasingly conscious of the fact that the highly industrialised countries achieved their present levels of development on the basis of long periods of protections and governmental supports - which they are now, through the WTO, IMF and World Bank trying to deny to developing countries. African countries frequently criticise the overt and covert forms of protectionism in the most developed countries and repeatedly demand remedial measures. However, there is also a growing realisation, especially in weaker ACP economies, that improved 'market access' into the high consumer economies of the North, although important, is not sufficient without improved 'supply capacities' as expressed in orthodox business and commercial terms. In economic development terms, it entails more developed and diversified production structures within their own economies. This is a welcome advance in ACP positions within the Lomé Convention negotiations and was also expressed in the African position in Seattle, although accompanied by the habitual African recourse to appeals for more technical and financial assistance to achieve such improvements.

The basic problem, however, is that even while recognising the vital importance of developing greater productive capacities, African strategies on the ground and in the WTO continue to be located within the trade-and-growth and the trade liberalisation paradigm. Thus, for example, even as the African position at the Third Ministerial Conference calls for a 'development dimension' in the WTO, this is 'to be taken into account' within multilateral trade agreements. There are, therefore, a number of vital economic policy challenges facing African policy-makers within and in regard to the WTO as a trade-driving institution; and more broadly, within their own economic policy research and the planning that must underpin and motivate their international economic strategies:

4.1. It is essential to reject simplistic neo-classical trade theories that 'put the cart before the horse' in arguing that the expansion of trade and the liberalisation of trade is vital to develop productive capacity; whereas, although trade can act as an economic stimulant, this depends on pre-existing levels and forms of productive capacity. The more basic realities are, on the one hand, that more effective and expanding productive capacities are more important in driving successful trade than the opposite. (20) On the other hand, premature trade liberalisation denies governments the variable and targeted use of tariff and trade and other policies that can be important instruments in the development of domestic production capacities.

4.2. As a corollary to the above, it is essential for African policy makers and strategists to base themselves firmly on the understanding and to argue cogently that trade liberalisation is not equally or necessarily beneficial to all economies at all times. There is extensive empirical evidence and widespread experience in southern Africa showing the damaging de-industrialising effects of precipitated trade liberalisation; while the purportedly compensatory effect of inward flows of foreign investment towards 're-industrialisation' is simply not happening. Furthermore, the currently dominant international trade paradigm is not universal and invariable. It has not been and is not an immutable given, even in the most industrialised economies. The current neo-liberal paradigm has emerged out of a particular phase in the economic development of the highly industrialised countries and in the service of 'their' global corporations; and it is not appropriate for economies or companies in Africa at totally different levels of development.

4.3. A further challenge for African trade strategists is to break out of the misconceived trade paradigm that keeps their economies excessively externally oriented to 'international markets'. This simply reinforces the particularly marked extroversion of much African commercial production and the long-standing and pronounced vulnerability of African economies to general market instabilities and deliberate price manipulations in the international economy. What is needed is a greater degree of self-reliance (which is not synonymous with economic autarchy), less preponderant dependence on the markets of the rich North and broader and more diversified trade: meaning amongst themselves within regional groupings and through South-South strategic agreements.

4.4. Given the dangerous susceptibilities of African economies to rapid and extensive trade liberalisation and their need to have carefully defined and periodically re-defined trade policies, it is even more problematic to link other aspects of their national economic endeavours to the 'trade-related' agreements within the WTO. This leaves them open to a whole range of external economic policy controls over and above trade. For the most highly industrialised countries, international trade liberalisation is both an end in itself for their own producers and exporters as well as a useful instrument to compel all countries that need external trade to liberalise other economic sectors as well. (21) The effect is that all countries have to restructure and run their production sectors according to externally set conditions in order not to 'prejudice' the trade and investment operations of global corporations as set in the WTO agreements.

4.5. In so far as African countries do need to engage in external trade and in multilateral or bilateral trade negotiations and other economic, technical, social and political relations with the most industrialised countries - as in the 'Post-Lomé Convention' negotiations and future scenarios with the EU - it is essential that their trade needs are not held hostage to their (perceived or present) 'aid needs'. Conversely their (perceived or present) trade needs should not be manipulated to extract other concessions in other areas. This is precisely what the EU is insisting upon, with the inclusion in its post-Lomé Convention proposals of 'trade-related' commitments by ACP countries which have not even been agreed upon within the WTO framework [Keet, 1999a]. In this connection, there must be close analysis of the respective terms and proposals being made within parallel and related international negotiations. Constant mutual consultation and coordination between the respective national negotiating teams is essential to prevent any mutual undermining by divergent positions, such as giving away in one set of negotiations (Lomé Convention) gains that have been made or proposals that are being resisted in another in the WTO.

4.6. Another external 'discipline' that can be extremely dangerous and damaging to weaker countries derives from the so-called Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU) of the WTO. African members of the WTO may feel that they can, through the DSU, derive some potential protection from unilateral pressures and actions by the powerful countries, but it also leaves them open to the bilateral trade sanctions that can be officially authorised by the WTO if they are judged to have offended any of the trade or trade-related agreements. The danger resides not only in the methods of establishment and even biased functioning of the WTO dispute panels [Raghavan, 2000b], nor in the targeted and tendentious utilisation of WTO dispute cases by the most powerful countries when it suits them. The more fundamental problem is that trade sanctions are a very blunt and counter-productive weapon against 'erring' weak economies even were the imposition of such sanctions entirely 'well-intentioned' - which in international trade relations is extremely doubtful. (22) These serious problems point to the need not only to reform the functioning of the DSU system but to review the very rationale of applying trade sanctions against weak economies. The broader solution would be to remove the applicability of this instrument from specific countries, economic areas or international agreements [Tandon, 2000b] or from the WTO arsenal altogether.

4.7. And finally, underpinning all the above, is the most fundamental necessity for the currently dominant global paradigm to actually be inverted and transformed. Instead of important development strategies and policy instruments in developing countries being constrained or even forbidden in the WTO - and by the IMF and World Bank - because they are 'trade distorting', the current multilateral trade regulations and the entire paradigm have to be challenged and changed because they are 'development distorting' [Khor, 2000]. International economic negotiations would then be about development-with-trade -dimensions, rather than about trade negotiations per se which may or may not have positive or negative development implications or unevenly distributed development gains and costs.

5. Special and differential terms towards different development models

The search and struggles for different and effective development policies in and for Africa is a long-standing and wide-ranging process that pre-dates the WTO and the rise to global dominance of the neo-liberal paradigm over the past two decades. However, the ideological, political and institutional, technological, economic and sheer financial power of narrow vested interests in the emerging global system now pose serious questions for all the peoples and governments of Africa, of the South and, indeed, of the whole world. Moreover, real survival challenges are posed to all of humanity by the unsustainable modes and levels of over-production and over-consumption in the rich North and the destructive, divisive and destabilising effects of the highly liberalised, deregulated (and in many respects anarchic) emergent global system.

This is a profound and complex challenge and many arguments and organisations such as the UN socio-economic agencies have to be deployed in what is an epochal paradigmatic debate. Governments have to demand that the UN agencies be resourced, restructured and empowered to play that role. However, governments must also be able to feed into and effectively influence UN policy research, proposals and future negotiations. This means deploying their own national resources in analysing their own economies, ecologies and societies. Equally important are the myriad of non-governmental institutions, social movements and community-based organisations that provide the most focused analysis and authoritative evidence on what is happening on the ground. Such organisations are also invariably at the cutting edge of ground-breaking research and creative proposals for innovative, appropriate and sustainable alternatives.

However, in support of this vast and complex process, the Special and Differential Terms can also, in some specific ways, be utilised within the WTO. There has been a growing trend amongst developing countries in recent years to analyse and prioritise the defence of SDTs in their strategies in the WTO [Egypt, 1998; OAU, 1998; India, 1999]. This is also evident in the African statement to the Third Ministerial Conference. However, the other challenges to African and other developing countries, in this respect are as follows:

5.1. There is some urgency in identifying in detail and applying to maximum effect, the rights that they do have under SDTs in all agreements as well as pushing for the extension of the coverage and time frames for these exemptions, as the African position for the Third Ministerial Conference does. But these steps are not an end in themselves. They must be tactically conceived and utilised as immediate defensive measures to create a certain interim economic 'breathing space' for their countries or room to manoeuvre in multilateral negotiations, while they marshal their counter-evidence, alternative arguments and political forces.

5.2. It is necessary to argue that such time frames should be determined not merely by the ''availability of resources required to effectively implement them'', as the African trade ministers propose but should arise out of and reflect the real economic aims and achievements and broader social, environmental, political and related dynamics within their national economies and regions (see also 6.3 below). Innovative proposals could also be adopted from the ACP negotiations with the EU over the Lomé Convention for time frames and transition periods to be defined and determined by agreed performance criteria; that is, to be flexible and development-based rather than set mechanically - and somewhat arbitrarily - in advance and from the outside.

5.3. The tactical utilisation of SDT's would also only be effective and valid if it were directly linked to arguments that challenge the re-interpretation within the WTO of the original GATT special and differential provisions or Differential and More Favourable Treatment, Reciprocity and Fuller Participation of Developing Countries [GATT, 1979]. These have been subtly changed through their location within the WTO neo-liberal globalist assumptions that there is and must be a single economic model for all countries, advancing - albeit at slightly different speeds - along a fixed track towards one single, pre-set destination. Within this view, temporary concessions may be made but only to enable weaker countries to 'catch up'. Thus, developing countries are, like all other WTO members, compelled to sign onto all the WTO agreements under 'the single undertaking'. However, there is a clear tension between the essence of the original SDTs and the single undertaking. The sweeping imposition of the latter has to be changed accordingly.

5.4. It is strategically important to go further and utilise the implicit recognition - and even explicit acknowledgement [GATT, 1979] - that it is inequitable to treat as equal economies that are unequal, and that countries at different levels of development require basically different considerations. The importance of revitalising this principle is to advance the argument that it is not temporary concessions that are needed but different conceptions towards distinctive, diverse and gendered models of development for peoples at different levels of development and favouring different forms, methods and rates of development.

5.5. But, in the final analysis, any such 'SDT' tactics within the WTO could merely remain at the level of formal argument unless they are informed and driven by real alternative development programmes 'on the ground' that are holistic, realistic and appropriate for African countries. Amongst the many dimensions and considerations, this in turn entails revisiting and rethinking the viability and validity of separate and autonomous national economic programmes within countries and separate economic and political strategies on the international plane.

6. Regional Trade Agreements within the WTO and regional development strategies

It has long been recognised in Africa, amongst strategy analysts and politicians, that the integration of African countries into regional groupings - in and of themselves or as building blocs towards the eventual unification of the continent - is a vitally important process towards undoing the arbitrary carving up of the continent by colonialism. Such re-grouping into larger and more viable economic entities is also an important basis to begin to change African countries' largely non-viable, internally distorted and externally dependent economies inherited from colonialism. It is necessary to begin to challenge effectively African countries' continued neo-colonial, subordinate insertion into the international economy.

Despite years of largely rhetorical declarations on the importance of regional cooperation and integration amongst African economies, there has been little progress on the ground and minimal attention has been given to this issue within the terms of the WTO. It is commendable that the joint position of the African trade ministers to the Third Ministerial Conference makes some firm statements and even innovative recommendations on the WTO approach. This includes the call for the revision of specific WTO articles and clauses relating to Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs). However, in this respect, it is important to note that:

6.1. The importance of revisiting the relevant articles is not to ''facilitate the conclusion of trading agreements involving developed and developing countries'' as the African trade ministers state. Rather, what is needed is to ensure that separate and differentiated terms are set for such agreements between countries at different levels of development. And these have to be quite distinct from the current single uniform Article 24 which was originally designed for agreements between industrial economies at more or less equal levels of development.

6.2. Greater emphasis should be given to the importance of RTAs between developing countries. Recognition has to be established that they are legitimate processes, in and of themselves, and not unfortunate 'departures' from 'the open multilateral trading system'. This is how globalisation theorists see them and they argue that such RTAs, therefore, need to be controlled and constrained by WTO terms [Bhagwati, 1993]. This interpretation is also reflected in active initiatives by the IMF and the World Bank and related institutions to ensure that African regional groupings move rapidly towards 'open regionalism' [World Bank, 1991]. This is explicitly designed to contribute to the reinforcement of an open global economy, rather than serving the prime purpose of contributing to effective development cooperation between the regional partners. Open regionalism has to be seen as such, and resisted in the WTO and also in relation to IMF and World Bank programmes in emerging or potential African regions. [Keet, 1999b]

6.3. Formal recognition and operational expression should also be established within the WTO for the fact that regional agreements between developing countries, especially in Africa, are not merely trade agreements but entail broader multi-faceted and inter-dependent economic, environmental, social, cultural and political processes. Furthermore, as with SDTs more generally, the terms and time-frames for agreements within such regional entities have to be determined by internal processes and practical progress on negotiated agreements and programmes, rather than pre-set from without [Keet, 1998]. The idea of multi-faceted developmental benchmarks to determine the terms and conditions for such regional groupings to 'integrate into' (open up to) the global economy has to be pursued in the WTO, the IMF and World Bank and within other processes such as the 'Post'-Lomé Convention' negotiations with the EU.

6.4. This, in turn, demands that African governments move forward decisively towards the formulation, negotiation and active implementation of regional cooperation and integration programmes within their respective regional groupings. This is imperative if they are to be taken seriously by their own populations, by domestic and foreign investors and by other members of the WTO. It is on the basis of concrete programmes under way that they will be able to demonstrate and argue more forcefully for the policy 'spaces' that they require.

6.5. The main purpose of regional cooperation and integration amongst African countries is their own combined and mutually beneficial development and not, as the African trade ministers state, simply to ''reverse the process of marginalisation'' and as a ''first step on their effective integration into the multilateral trading system''. It is, to the contrary, important for far-sighted perspectives to be adopted amongst African policy makers to create and utilise regional integration between African countries as a strategic framework for engaging with - or even confronting and resisting - the global system more effectively, both economically and politically [Keet, 1999b].

7. The character and future role of the WTO

Despite the legalistic terminology of the agreements and the quasi-judicial nature of the dispute settlement procedures, the WTO is clearly not a detached and dispassionate supra-political legal institution with rules and regulations based on impartial and equitable, abstract and universal legal principles. It is a political construct and - from the very process of its formation, in the content of its agreements and in the functioning of its secretariat - it is intrinsically biased towards the most developed countries and against the 'developing' world.

The WTO was created and is used as a political instrument for the consolidation of the liberalised global economy propelled by global corporate interests, as well as for the defence and promotion of continuing national economic and strategic interests of the most powerful industrialised countries. Its terms and modus operandi are the product of self-serving and highly tendentious political processes, based upon and reflecting a particular economic model or paradigm favouring the strong and created on the basis of a particular balance of global power in the specific historical circumstances of the 1980s.

Awareness and criticism of this has been building up amongst developing countries over the past five years of the existence of the WTO and reached a dramatic peak in Seattle. This, in turn, has produced a spate of high level declarations within developed countries and the WTO about the need for WTO 'reform' in the direction of greater 'transparency', 'inclusiveness' and so on. At the same time, defenders of the WTO insist on the necessity to defend the status quo, by projecting an alarming alternative scenario of a descent into global trade wars and other forms of 'anarchy'. Even many developing country spokespersons hold up the threat of a return to big power pressures and unilateralism without the (so-called) multilateral rules-based WTO system [Erwin, 1999b, Davies, 1999].

There are, however, many alternatives between the status quo and 'global anarchy'. Those disadvantaged by the current global regime should not allow themselves to be intimidated by such scenarios into acquiescence with a highly unsatisfactory global institution and a dangerous global system. Such threatening scenarios are a well-established strategy by defenders of the existing order in many spheres. The same devices are now being deployed to fend off probing analyses of the WTO regime and to inhibit the formulation of alternative institutional proposals and alternative global cooperation scenarios [Short, 2000].

Thus, the broadest challenges at the global level for African and other developing countries - and for humanity and the world - require serious engagement with the following questions:

7.1. The first question is whether reform of the functioning of the WTO is all that is needed or whether that might simply be designed to placate and coopt its critics and divide and defuse public opposition. The major powers, especially the Europeans, are past masters at reformist strategies of 'reasonable' accommodation on detail to preserve the whole. 'Access' to information, 'consultation' and even greater 'participation', while essential, are certainly not sufficient where it is the inequalities of resources, skills, experience and power that weigh heavily in multilateral negotiations. Much more is needed in transforming the structures and modus operandi of the WTO [Das, 2000], starting from the basis of more critical vigilance by developing countries about the underlying purposes and largely illusory effects of such partial reform processes. (23) Above all, developing countries should be highly resistant to exploratory 'reform' proposals from several developed countries pointing towards the creation of an inner council in the WTO including both developed and selected developing countries. In the name of 'efficiency' and in the guise of 'broad inclusiveness', this council would be charged with agreeing on the main negotiating positions before these are presented to the Conference of the Whole. This is simply a more formalised version of the WTO's informal 'green room' negotiations that reached their extreme of exclusiveness and secrecy in the Third Ministerial Conference in Seattle. This approach also suggests the adoption in the WTO of the UN Security Council model that has proved to be manipulated, anti-democratic and resistant to reform over many decades.

7.2. The second challenge is to prevent the diversion of reform efforts solely towards the problems of process or means. This can be promoted and pursued to the neglect or to the minimisation of the full significance of the substance or objectives of the developing countries' demands. The simultaneous need and main purpose of reform is towards a comprehensive review and revision of the WTO's rules and regulations and many agreements, particularly Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS), the agreements on subsidies and anti-dumping provisions; the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), TRIPS and others. The concomitant need is for the withdrawal of (currently proposed or future) 'new issues' that would place further insupportable pressures and burdens on developing countries in the international negotiating processes - and ever more limitations upon their national development policy options and rights.

7.3. However, African and other developing country governments - and NGOs - cannot simply rely on a defensive response to the 'new issues' by focusing on their practical difficulties in coping with such multiple negotiating processes. A more proactive stance is necessary on the substance of the 'new issues' that are aimed at placing full investment liberalisation, competition policy, government procurement and other contentious issues within the ambit of the WTO. On the one hand, it is important to argue and demonstrate how and why such proposals are inimical to African development needs and why they do not belong in the WTO. On the other hand, however, Africans have to actively take up and implement within their countries their own appropriate national measures, especially in defence of labour rights and standards, environmental standards and protections that are also being pushed into the WTO. These are important measures in their own right, but such national programmes are also necessary to fend off growing interference in their countries by outsiders on the basis of (purported or real) 'disinterested concern' for such issues 'all over the world'.

7.4. The next question is whether it is sufficient to resist the expansion of the scope and powers of the WTO, which the introduction of ever more 'new issues' would produce; or whether what is needed is the actual reduction of the scope, coverage and powers of the WTO. This could be achieved by removing some agreements currently within its remit, such as TRIPS, because the vitally important health, environmental and development issues posed do not properly belong there and should not be determined by 'trade' considerations. [Khor, 2000]. Others, such as the TRIMS agreement, should be cancelled altogether because its terms are a blatant intrusion into domestic investment and production policies so as not to 'prejudice' the 'international competitiveness' of global corporations. Further reduction or pre-emptive constraints on the expansion of the WTO would also entail ensuring that other sectors in developing countries such as small scale agriculture and artisanal fishing and especially production for domestic food security should remain outside the 'trade' concerns and 'trade-related' 'disciplines' of the WTO. The same should apply to global water resources and other areas essential for social services, social well-being and human rights.

7.5. The fifth challenge goes further to pose the more extensive relocation of common global concerns currently subject to the trade terms and trade sanctions of the WTO and a fuller redefinition of the role and responsibilities of the WTO. This would leave the WTO to regulate only the technical aspects of tariffs and trade, along the lines of the original GATT. One area of trade concern that could benefit from multi-lateral rules is the mis-use and abuse of anti-dumping and countervailing measures particularly by stronger countries able to pursue such defensive (protectionist) tactics. However, other broader issues of international concern and responsibility should, more properly, be placed instead, within the ambit of appropriate specialised UN agencies, such as UNCTAD, UNDP, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) (duly reformed and appropriately empowered) or other specialised international technical agencies, such as the Commission on Biodiversity. The concentrated focus and expert analyses of such bodies is on their respective internationally attributed areas of specific responsibility and not in function of - nor qualified or compromised by - their purported 'trade promoting' or 'trade distorting' effects.

7.6. The sixth strategic option is for an end to the privileged, pre-eminent and commanding role of the WTO as an instrument of an emerging highly centralised system of undeclared but de facto global government with formal coercive powers, but that has never been explicitly and thoroughly debated and agreed upon internationally. This entails a transformation not only of the WTO but of the whole system governing international relations and the common human and planetary concerns that have to be the shared responsibility of all. A ground-breaking alternative conceptualisation [Bello, 2000] is that what is needed is a ''more pluralistic system of global governance based on a balanced - and mutually counter-balancing - range of more equal international economic, social, environmental and technical institutions''(24). All would be regulated and guided by a framework of over-arching global conventions and other international agreements on social, political, human rights, world resources and others, many of which are already in existence in the UN and elsewhere, on matters of common concern to all of humanity and the planet.

7.7. The seventh option - which is the most far-reaching of all and completes the overview of all the possible scenarios with respect to the future of the WTO - is for the closure of the WTO. This is not only because of the problematic functioning of the WTO or the imbalanced nature of power relations within, significant as they are. Shutting down the WTO is justified on the grounds that it is based on the erroneous assumptions of the neo-liberal paradigm. It is also intrinsically flawed in its conceptualisation of trade as the prime means through which to measure, manage and discipline international relations. Under the guise of 'regulating' trade relations, the WTO actually makes trade the central focus and instrument of global government - of which it is rapidly becoming the central organ. The WTO's trade agreements elevate trade as the defining criterion for all policies, institutionalises competition and makes trade disputes one of the most effective new weapons of 'war'. In fact, what most defines international trade relations under the WTO is not 'free trade' but neo-mercantilism, the re-emergence of trade wars utilising political means. Trade, as one of the most enduring, sensitive and contentious areas of international relations is a most inappropriate basis from which to promote deeper international cooperation and shared global welfare into the future. (25) International governance should be developed on the basis of the common not the competing interests between nations and people. Where there is a clear need for common regulations and global agreements but there are also conflicting interests, these need to be negotiated and adjudicated in the most impartial forums or non-contentious arenas possible. The WTO is definitely not such an arena and such global consensus-building, which is extremely difficult in itself, is highly unlikely to be possible in any trade-driven organisation.

Strategic Challenges for Governmental and Non-Governmental Agencies in Africa

The above (re)considerations and (re)negotiations, appropriate modifications and in some instances far-reaching transformations are complex and challenging. But they are feasible and achievable under different balances of power or changing circumstances. Recognition of this very basic point is not to suggest or expect, however, that this is simple or straightforward. But the experiences of Seattle - both inter-governmental and non-governmental - provide some indications as to what can be achieved on the basis of strategic planning, determination and effective cooperation. This must now be consolidated and carried forward.

Although the main criticisms made of the WTO regime are based on the substance of its agreements and the assumptions of the paradigm on which it is based, it must also be recognised that the WTO as an institution reflects and reinforces global power relations. (26) The successful promotion of alternatives to the current global regime does not rest only on effective research and analysis, skilful bargaining strategies and negotiating tactics and techniques, or even on exposing the fallacies and undermining the hegemony of the currently dominant ideology - important as all these efforts are. Changing the current global system also demands changing the global balance of power, both economically and politically. The former is the underpinning of global power relations, but changes in the political balance of power are essential to create global terms more favourable to changing the economic balance of power.

The process and the outcome of such historically important processes and the advancement of the aims and options discussed above will, on the political front, depend upon the creation of effective strategic alliances amongst African countries and between African countries and other developing countries that have general or specific interests in common; or on the basis of tactical alliances and trade-offs where they differ. Such alliances would have to be built within the WTO. From the outside, they need to be developed in relation to the WTO, as well as within and in relation to other international institutions and processes.

In this respect, strategic judgements would have to be made of the relative advantages and disadvantages of attempting to create alliances of:

  • a large number of countries on a wide range of issues, or
  • a large number of countries on a small range of common concerns; or
  • a smaller number of countries on a large range of common concerns; or
  • a small number of countries on a few issues, or even a single issue.

The relative advantages of these different constellations of countries in pursuit of particular aims suggest that there have to be a range of such alliances between various groupings of countries for different purposes or at different periods and according to specific objectives.

Forging a joint position in the WTO for the whole of Africa and over a wide range of concerns belongs in the first of the above broad approaches. This is, if anything, probably the most difficult framework through which to achieve and sustain full agreement. (27) The main point, however, is that inter-African unity and cooperation is a strategic necessity much broader than alliance-building in the WTO alone. Regional groupings, such as SADC, would fit into the third option, which might carry greater possibilities for creating mutual commitments and thus sustaining common positions, but this could also raise broader African resentments and carry repercussions in other spheres. This is particularly serious in the light of the importance of broader cooperation within the continent on a wide range of common problems.

On this basis, any single country might have to participate in - and coordinate its participation in - a number of different alliances simultaneously. This might include the need to have some order of priority amongst them but it would inevitably also entail the necessity to reconcile possible tensions between positions agreed upon or aims being pursued in the respective alliances. This is clearly the case for South Africa with respect to:

  • its self-enlightened but also self-serving concerns about and therefore formal involvement with Africa in the WTO;
  • its more immediate economic and general strategic interests and thus deeper engagement and commitments within SADC;
  • its even more specific national interest in opting to join the global Cairns group of agricultural exporting countries;(28) and
  • its more recent global political positioning with other 'middle level' developing countries, including Brazil, India, Egypt (and even, it would seem, Nigeria) in what is being dubbed an emerging 'Southern Hemisphere Group' [Bridges, 2000].

That there can be tensions between these different alliances - and between them and specifically 'solo' national strategies - was quite evident in South Africa's role in the Third Ministerial Conference in Seattle. The possibilities for building such varied, simultaneous and overlapping alliances within Africa - and between African countries and other potential allies elsewhere in the world - also entail facing up to some other significant problems and positive challenges.

(1) The achievement of the African group in Seattle and their unprecedented determination to take a stand is testimony to what is possible, although this was a somewhat ad hoc response to the circumstances in Seattle, rather than an agreed upon stance planned in advance. Nonetheless, as is well-established in many other spheres, when the weak stand together they are immeasurably strengthened. Even the most vulnerable amongst them are covered by the jointly-agreed collective position. Above all, the united whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This has to be built upon in practice. However, that in turn entails a willingness to go beyond the customary 'African unity' rhetorical declarations (of many African governments) towards real commitments and actions, even if that means making some accommodations to each other, agreeing on mutually acceptable compromises and even ceding a degree of 'national sovereignty' to the larger whole for more fundamental strategic purposes. (29)

(2) As is also well-recognised in inter-governmental negotiations - within SADC, for example - achieving principled unity or even effective forms of tactical cooperation is an extremely difficult political process. This is not only because of the complexity and diversity of the issues and the numbers of countries that have to be involved and accommodated but also because of the extreme financial, political and now ideological dependence and subordination of many African governments. There is also the growing problem of the deliberate promotion of vested interests in Africa's marketised and privatised national economies - and hence the neo-liberal paradigm - within the political, bureaucratic, managerial and entrepreneurial elites in Africa. In the first instance, this poses vitally important political challenges to government officials and political leaders to recognise their actual and potential role in the current global order (and disorder). They must decide whether they are going to rise to the challenges of alternative global perspectives, and national and regional possibilities. If not, it is ultimately up to the citizens of Africa to 'recapture', reform and re-invigorate their respective governments or where necessary replace them.

(3) The other problem is that the differences between African countries are not only political or merely tactical. They reflect different strategic approaches to dealing with their northern partners, with developed countries in general, with global institutions and the 'global economy'. These latter positions, in turn, also reflect different levels of development and (actual or perceived) positioning in the global economy and differing interests, perceived possibilities or expected gains to be made therein. Within such perspectives, pragmatic accommodation to the status quo seems a viable option for some countries which feel that although they do have criticisms of the WTO and problems with its agreements, they can 'cope' with these and with the highly competitive global economy. (30) At the other extreme, many feel that they 'have no choice' but to submit. But equally problematic, such differences between African countries sometimes actually reflect differing economic interests, competing aims and positions towards each other. This is most clearly evident with respect to South Africa's (real and perceived) role and position within Africa, but it also applies in varying degrees to other African countries and even with respect to some that have only slightly better economic situations than their neighbours.

(4) The alliances that African countries do achieve are also under constant external pressures and influences. These are often quite fragile because individual African countries and their representatives are easily drawn out of painstakingly created united fronts by invitations to them from developed countries to assume 'special roles' on behalf of their region. This susceptibility is largely due to their general economic dependence, specific financial inducements and the 'status' aspirations (or illusions) of governments and their representatives. It is also due to the political manipulations, pressures and arm-twisting, which was quite evident in the back-room processes in Seattle [Hormeku, 2000]. On the other hand, this regional and continental allocation of global roles and responsibilities is to some degree, now part of established international institutional practice and can be regarded as valid and useful. But often such roles are bestowed - and assumed - without mandates from or accountability to the rest of Africa. Yet, it is in Africa's 'name' that countries are selected and given a 'representative' role and this was evident in Seattle as well. (31) This raises important questions about who 'speaks' for Africa; how and when, and where mandates are decided.

(5) Similar questions have to be posed with respect to the emerging 'Southern Hemisphere' grouping of larger or middle-income countries, such as India, China, Brazil and Argentina and in Africa, this would include South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria. There may be something to be said for the capacities of such countries to stand up better to the pressures of the most industrialised countries; and they might even be in a stronger position to represent the interests of the whole of 'the South' or the developing world. (32) However, while it is true that the countries of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean do share many common grievances with regard to the role and behaviour of the most industrialised countries, and especially within the WTO, there are also differences of interest and strategy amongst them. It cannot be assumed that this self-selected group of stronger developing countries will automatically and invariably understand and defend the interests of all developing countries and especially the weaker least developed countries. This is where the challenges of inclusiveness, access, transparency and accountability have to be pursued within and between developing countries, as between themselves and the most powerful countries of the world, as in the WTO, for example. But the equally problematic question that has to be posed with regard to this select group of stronger developing countries arises from the processes and differing motivations for its formation. There may well be good intentions amongst the leaders of these self-selected countries. However, there is also clear evidence that Pascal Lamy, the EU Trade Commissioner and various European ministers, as well as the WTO Director General, have been extremely active, since the debacle in Seattle, in trying to gather together enough influential developing countries to help build up the credibility of the WTO and to assist in the (re)-launch of negotiations towards a new comprehensive round of the WTO [Business Report, 7/12/99]. If this is the case, the South-South Club which was reportedly 'promoted behind the scenes in the World Economic Forum in Davos' [Financial Mail, 18/2/2000], and in many other venues before and since, may have a more specific agenda and role vis-à-vis the WTO than simply 'representing the South'. All the other governments and the non-governmental organisations engaged in these processes need to be aware of these questions.

(6) Finally, it must also be acknowledged by African governments and brought to the attention of their people that the positive stand taken by Africa at the Third Ministerial Conference was in some measure due also to the effective interventions of African non-governmental organisations in Seattle and in the months and years before the Third Ministerial Conference. (33) The sizeable number of African development NGOs, educational, policy research and advocacy institutes, church and community-based organisations, trade union and other labour bodies, women's organisations, farmers, environmental and other organisations had been brought together in Seattle through concerted efforts across the continent over many months in 1999 and after years of effort before that. The African NGOs in Seattle strategised with each other and engaged with other Northern and Southern NGOs and (generally more effectively than African governments) with the media. Those 'accredited' by the WTO were also able to interact directly with African delegations - who sometimes knew less about what was going on than the African NGOs. The role of African NGOs (see below) has to be fully recognised and used by all African governments. (34) On the one hand, this can be done in the same tactical way that Washington regularly uses US 'civil society demands' as levers in international relations. On the other hand, this has to be deeper and more genuine in Africa. Governments have to open up to and work honestly with their own citizens in the interests of their people, their regions and the continent; because not to do so would be seriously self-limiting and even self-defeating for Africa.

(7) As for African non-governmental organisations, they too are faced with a number of similar challenges. The first is to undertake rapid initiatives to build on the experiences and gains made by African 'civil society' organisations in Seattle; in the first instance with regard to their enhanced 'stature' and the recognition of their skills and potential role amongst (many) African governments. (35) The challenge is to translate this 'recognition' into real access to information and participation in discussions and strategising on these issues back home. In the considerable likelihood of this being extremely difficult to achieve with many African governments and given the weaknesses of popular organisations on these 'global' issues in much of Africa - the second challenge for African organisations is to engage in cross-border cooperation for mutual support and capacity-building and to create cross-border, regional and continental coalitions for increased joint influence. (36) Such coalition building would also be enhanced through cross-sectoral alliances between networks of organisations engaged in other related campaigns. (37) Furthermore, such popular coalition-building would be effective both within Africa and internationally and both with regard to the WTO as well as related international campaigns. (38) The other lesson from Seattle for African - and other 'South' - organisations is the vital importance of engaging actively with counterpart organisations in the 'North'. This is essential to ensure that they also understand these global institutions and global concerns from the point of view of the most disadvantaged victims of the emerging global regime and economic system, who are also the majority of the world's population. Such global popular South-North coalition-building is already underway. In fact, long and intense South-South, North-North and South-North interchanges preceded and created the 'Mobilisation against Globalisation' in Seattle that surprised the world. (39) This had been building for many years and looks set to continue and expand. The agenda now is to pursue the further implementation of the Global Declaration of a vast array of organisations from around the world against the aims of the Third Ministerial Conference, against the role of the WTO and against the nature of the emerging global economy. The aims of that declaration and of the continuing international campaign are, on the one hand, to ensure that there is 'No New Round!' and on the other hand to work for the world to 'Turn Around!' This means formulating and implementing viable economic, environmental, social, political and institutional alternatives for the world.


2. Which includes countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile - which are rather less susceptible to arm-twisting than the weaker developing countries.
3. '...the failure to adopt a new agenda locked in all the shortcomings of the Uruguay Round that developing countries had sought to change', South African Minister of Trade and Industry, Alec Erwin [African Recovery, 1999].
4. Except where identified in explicit terms or as specific organisations, the term NGOs is used throughout this paper in the generic sense to refer to non-governmental organisations in general, including broad social movements, trade unions and other labour organisations, women's, farmers, consumer and other such organisations, education training and research institutes, and so on, as well as more narrowly defined development NGOs.
5. Both the terms 'developed' and 'developing' are used throughout this paper as short-hand indicators, but with the clear recognition of their inadequacy in capturing the complexities of the internal situations and global locations of most countries; and with the conviction, above all, that the use of the generic term 'developing countries' to embrace the huge number and range of countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean does not reflect their wide economic diversities or, indeed, the fact that many of them are not 'developing' but stagnating or even regressing on a number of indicators.
6. 'So called', because they were inserted into the WTO agenda on the initiative of the developed countries during the First Ministerial Meeting of the WTO in Singapore, in December 1996. This eventually produced a compromise agreement for the establishment of Working Groups to investigate their trade links and development implications, as an interim device in the face of opposition by developing countries.
7. Or, as Ghanaian Trade Minister John Abu stated, as official spokesperson for the OAU/AEC Ministers in Seattle: 'We don't like to tell our colleagues in the developed countries that we won't accept a new round. But we have to be informed how we will be supported to address the new issues that are going to crop up.' Interview in the UN publication African Recovery No 13.4, December 1999, p33.
8. 'Instead of using [the need for their endorsement of the consensus] as a lever for stopping the introduction of new issues which they say they do not want, [African trade ministers] prefer to use it as a vehicle for adding on their own issues' [Tetteh Hormeku, 1999].
9. It should not be merely 'substantially all', as governments of the industrialised countries now offer.
10. Although such a withholding of their endorsement had been previously mooted by key non-governmental strategic analysts in Africa [see Tandon, 1999b].
11. This description derives from direct personal observation in the final plenary session of the Third Ministerial Conference by this writer and confirmed by other sources.
12. Originally proposed by British Overseas Development Minister Clare Short [1999].
13. The British Trade Minister Beyers was particularly active and effective in this regard.
14. The process towards the negotiations on agriculture has already been officially started, as was stipulated in the Uruguay Round for the beginning of 2000, although how fast or when and how they will proceed is not at all clear.
15. There are already innovative proposals on the international agenda for independent international debt-review bodies, or debtor-creditor arbitration panels, under UNCTAD and even for a full UN Summit on debt.
16. In most African countries such democratic influence and control is still only a potential, but processes that pre-empt and do not encourage such increasing democratic controls are to be seriously avoided.
17. This is a level of personnel training and selection often underestimated in developing countries, but where for example US - governmental and business - negotiators are very carefully prepared.
18. This has long been evident, but came across clearly in the public pronouncements by UNCTAD personnel during UNCTAD 10 in Bangkok, February 2000; and this diplomatic caution was all the more notable for continuing in the aftermath of the WTO debacle in Seattle.
19. More independent and appropriate, that is, than the legal advice centre recently set up in Geneva. This was originally conceived of as an independent and separately financed entity, located in Geneva but outside of the WTO but was effectively pre-empted largely through the interventions of EU commissioner, Leon Brittan.
20. Marketing skills also being secondary or complementary to productive capacities.
21. This is made possible because all countries need external trade to one degree or another, since total autarchy is rarely sustainable.
22. The clearest case is the proposed use of trade sanctions through the WTO, by President Clinton, that will severely damage weaker economies, purportedly 'in order to improve labour conditions'.
23. ''...developing countries should not be lulled into complacency by the 'positive' messages coming from the Quad countries on the need for institutional reform of the WTO, as these countries are the stoutest defenders of the inequalities built into the structures, dynamics and objectives of the WTO and their agenda could lead precisely to the strengthening of an organisation that is fundamentally flawed'' [Kwa, 2000].
24. The importance of a plurality of relatively balanced and mutually balancing international institutions of global governance is why it is also not appropriate or acceptable for Rubens Ricupero, Secretary General of UNCTAD to propose his institution as a 'parliament of globalisation'. Address to UNCTAD 10, NOG-Plenary, Bangkok, 8/2/2000. This would privilege one of the many international institutions and displace the General Assembly of the United Nations from its proper role (although that, too, needs to be thoroughly examined and transformed).
25. Probably the only more contentious form of international relations being conflicts over borders or outright war!
26. ''The WTO is not reformable. [Its functioning is] a symptom of deeply embedded power relations... and if it didn't serve these interests it would become marginal and irrelevant'' [R. Patel, in SEATINI Bulletin, Vol. 2.12, December 1999].
27. The 140+ member G77 group of developing countries also belongs in this category, as does the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
28. More correctly, it is South Africa's agricultural sectoral interests and influences.
29. 'National sovereignty' is a relative concept, anyway, and in the current global dispensation is seriously eroded and has become largely an illusion for many countries in Africa in relation to their Northern donors and creditors. The added irony is that such 'national sovereignty' is still a jealously guarded 'principle' in relation to other African countries.
30. There are strong tendencies in this direction amongst global policy strategists in South Africa.
31. This was clearly evident in Seattle both with extremely weak and vulnerable countries, such as Lesotho, chosen by the US to 'chair' the Working Group on Market Access and even the strongest countries, such as South Africa, which was incorporated into some of the exclusive Green Room discussions quite apart from the rest of Africa. It is South Africa's position in Africa which provides it with much of its international 'status' or significance - and usefulness - to the developed countries.
32. ''This group is envisaged to form the nucleus of countries in the south that can interact on behalf of developing countries'', according to South African Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zuma, Financial Mail, Johannesburg, 18/2/2000.
33. ''African NGOs maintained a significant presence at the Seattle meeting, both on the picket lines and as back up for African governments'', with particular reference to the non-governmental African Trade Network [African Recovery, December 1999].
34. Or, as the current Chair of the G77, Ambassador Rohee, declared: ''The relations between governments and our social partners in the NGOs, as manifested in Seattle, must continue'' [Third World Economics, No 224, 1-15 January, 2000]
35. African non-governmental organisations 'accredited' to the WTO in Seattle achieved an unprecedented break-through of being acknowledged and officially admitted for a briefing within one of the meetings of the African Trade ministers during the Third Ministerial Conference.
36. There is already such a non-governmental African network, the African Trade Network (ATN) - head-quartered in Accra, but with a continental spread - that played a key role in the preparation and participation of a range of African non-governmental organisations in Seattle.
37. Such as the African campaign for the total cancellation of Africa's international debts.
38. Such as the growing international campaign for the reform or 'decommissioning' of the IMF and the World Bank.
39. Although the US and world media - largely ignorant of the many months of prior mobilisation and the multiplicity of groups, currents and countries represented on the streets of Seattle - tended to focus on the more numerous presence of US organisations and trade unions and to emphasise the difference and divergences between them.


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About the authors

Dot Keet

Dot Keet is a South African academic and activist involved in many national, African and international networks resisting corporate "free trade" agreements.  She is an active member of the national South African Trade Strategy Group (TSG) and the Southern African Peoples Solidarity Network (SAPSN), the key coordinator of the Southern African Social Forum (SASF); as well as the continent-wide Africa Trade Network (ATN); and the international Our World is Not for Sale (OWINFS) network.