A key proposal
of the United Nations Development Programme-sponsored book, Making Trade
Work For People, is for the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial
conference in Cancun next September to make a declaration on special
and differential treatment (SDT) and human development.
The declaration would link the WTO agreement to the achievement of the
millennium development goals MDGs. The are a set of universally agreed
targets for the world community on poverty reduction, primary education,
access to basic health services, reduction of HIV/AIDS, potable water
and gender equality.
Hence the principles governing special and differential treatment would
n Eligibility should consider the human development indicators and rankings
n Provisions should be unconditional, binding and non-negotiable.
n Provisions on government assistance for economic development should
be reactivated, based on human development criteria; giving developing
countries more flexibility to suspend WTO obligations where necessary
for human development challenges. This would be subject to internal
and external validation.
n Graduation from eligibility for SDT would be based on internationally
agreed indicators of human and technological capabilities and the achievement
n The generalised system of preferences and other preferential schemes
should be made part of the WTO mandate.
How might such an approach work for the countries of the Greater Caribbean
Looking at the human development picture, one notes the wide diversity
of achievement (see table). Six countries have attained high human development
category, 17 are in the medium category and one has low human development.
But several of those with high human development are small, service-oriented
economies that are particularly vulnerable to the impact of trade liberalisation.
The smallest economies in the region have heavy reliance on import duties
for fiscal revenues, which finance basic social services for human development
in these countries. Tariff liberalisation obligations for these economies
should take into account the reliance of human development levels on
The majority of regional countries have shown indifferent performance
in improving economic and human development levels in the past 25 years;
a period of widespread trade liberalisation.
For 1975-2000, only six countries managed to sustain a rate of growth
of real per capita income of more than two per cent per annum. Seven
countries had a positive rate of less than one per cent and five registered
In the 1990s, growth appears to have picked up, but only marginally.
Manufacturing is significant in many of the larger countries in the region,
but meeting the challenges of international competitiveness often requires
State supports of a kind used widely by the developed countries and the
Asian countries at earlier stages of industrial development, but are
now proscribed by the WTO. SDT would restore the flexibility to deploy
such policies under agreed circumstances.
In many countries, agriculture is still a major source of employment
and income. High tariffs and subsidies in the developed countries coupled
with import liberalisation in the poorer countries and elimination of
traditional export preferences could spell disaster for the latter. Special
and differential treatment would recognise the social and economic role
of agriculture in the light of the MDG of poverty reduction.
Professor Norman Girvan is Secretary General of the Association
of Caribbean States. The views expressed are not necessarily the official
views of the ACS. Feedback can be sent to [email protected]