Developing country unity — what unity?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

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LAST week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade mounted a two-day seminar to review Jamaica's trade policy over the last 50 years.

This was a commendable initiative which should be emulated by every ministry and by important policy-making institutions such as the Bank of Jamaica. In particular, we look forward to the seminar by the Ministry of National Security on crime.

We especially congratulate Minister A J Nicholson for inviting Mr Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), to be guest speaker.

Many speakers talked about the lack of progress and implacable opposition among developing countries to the trade agenda. This type of argument, we submit, completely misses the point, which is that there is no such thing as unity among developing countries on a trade agenda and, indeed, on any issue.

This outdated mindset is pure nostalgia and ignores the reality of the current situation. That one is a 'developing country' is too simplistic a starting premise on which to base strategic trade policy.

There are more than 100 nations that can claim to be qualified for the nomenclature of developing country in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which ranks states in three categories -— developed, developing and least developed.

A least developed country is one with a gross national per capita income of less than US$900.

There is no designated monetary threshold for a developed country, so those who are in this group are there by self-selection.

There is no definition of developing country, so those that are so defined are either the least developed or those that choose not to be developed countries. There are, of course, some major anomalies, in particular China, which is the world's dominant trading country but has a very low per capita income.

The developing countries are too big a group to be a coherent voice. They vary considerably in per capita income, level of development, size and structural characteristics. They also have a wide range of trade interests which divide them and cause them to act against each other.

We have seen the differences within the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group that have caused its implosion. It was the Central Americans who pulled down the European Union (EU) banana regime, depriving the ACP countries, and it was Brazil that pulled down the EU sugar protocol.

Brazil and India stood on the backs of developing countries to elevate themselves into the "new Quad", along with the traditional powers of the United States and the European Union.

Having got to the inner sanctum of the WTO, they have pursued their national interests, except when claiming developing country commonality furthers their interests.

If Jamaica is to have a trade policy which can contribute to its economic development, then it must be derived from an analysis based on a realistic assessment of appropriate objectives and realistic strategic alliances.




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