INTERVIEW SPECIAL: Sen. Maxine McClean, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados and Spokesperson of the ACP Group at the WTO
Nairobi, 19 December 2015/ ACP: The ACP Group is the largest negotiating constituency in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and has over the years become increasingly influential in trade negotiations. On December 15-19, Kenya hosted the 10th Ministerial Conference of the WTO, the first time for an ACP country to do so.
In the margins of the meeting, the spokesperson of the ACP Group at the WTO and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados, Senator Maxine McClean spoke about the Group’s role in shaping the multilateral trading system at the WTO [Watch Youtube video].
Press ACP: The ACP Group of States constitutes one of the largest negotiating blocs in the WTO system. As far as the WTO framework for global trade, what’s in it for ACP countries and why is the 10th ministerial important in this sense?
Senator Maxine McClean: As you know the WTO is considered to be the world forum regulation of global trade. As a group of nations, Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific [largely] constitute what we would call the countries of South – the developing countries – within the global family. As we seek to better participate in world trade, we as members of the WTO see it as a mechanism to regulate, to set the rules, and effectively serve to protect our capacity and interests in participating. So in other words, as we seek to establish global trade rules and practices, it is important that we as a group come together within the broader family of the WTO to ensure that our best interests are protected as far as trade is concerned.
Trade, among other things, is one of the routes to development; it is a contributor to our respective national development strategies and stages as well. So it is necessary then that we are active, that we have our voices heard, that we effectively contribute to the shaping and the charting of the rules and procedures, and the ultimate outcomes of the efforts of the World Trade Organisation.
PACP: What are the key concerns for ACP countries at these negotiations?
MM: What we really are concerned about is the whole question of development. For us, any effort to negotiate the rules of trade has to recognise that the membership of the ACP are all developing countries. We are faced with the need to build capacity to trade effectively in the global trading system. We need to identify strategies that will allow us to do that, but before we even get to talking about strategies for facilitating development, there has to be a fundamental recognition that there has to be provision for some flexibilities, given the characteristics of our respective countries… For example, we are talking about ‘Special and Differential Treatment’ (SDT). That is simply recognising that there are asymmetries, that there are differences between the developed world and the developing world, [between] our small vulnerable economies and large established economies. I think that is part of the need to remind the membership of the WTO that we have special needs which have to be accommodated, and if we are not accommodated, the reality is that we are not in a position to realise our greatest potential to trade. And at the end of the day, our major trading partners are those countries who benefit substantially. We [ACP countries], in most instances, import substantially more than we export. Much of the goods and service that we do consume are imported from countries with whom we are seeking to build a just and fair trading system.
PACP: Development has indeed been recognised as a central pillar in the WTO multilateral trading system. In 2001, the WTO committed to put development as a priority in what is known as the Doha Round of negotiations. But since then, it has been difficult to move forward on an agreement. Why?
MM: There are a number of factors, and I am not sure I can give you a full and comprehensive answer to that. But if we look first of all at our membership base. The WTO has a cross section of members representing the entire spectrum of nations – small, medium, large, developed, developing, wealthy, poor. So you’re talking about a trade agenda which is intended to regulate all members. Each member, or in the case of the ACP, a group of members, come to the table with a different set of agendas. And we are struggling to find common ground, which would allow us at the end of the day to agree to a range of rules procedures etc., that would allow all countries a fair chance of effecting successful international trade. And so it is a very complex process… and it becomes more so when positions become entrenched.
PACP: Due to the deadlocks and difficulties in coming to an agreement on certain issues, some have suggested to ‘turn the page on the Doha Development talks and start anew. What is the view from an ACP perspective?
MM: I have a difficulty with turning the page unless we have read the previous page, unless we have been able to write on the page – using the analogy of the page. Because at the end of the day, it is unfinished. And my question is, if we turn the page, to what are we turning? My challenges to the membership is to look to see what we have left undone and how we can address what has been left undone to determine how we go forward. It may mean modifying some things, eliminating some things, but we cannot simply turn the page unless we adequately address what is, in fact, unfinished.
PACP: With 79 diverse economies from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, why is it important that the ACP Group of States negotiate together at the WTO?
MM: It is absolutely essential that we stand together. Many of our countries have a common history in terms of our former colonial past that has pretty much shaped the structural make up of our economies, and so the challenges in development we share in common, the solutions I believe that we have to find, we ought to find in common. As we work it is easier to achieve the level of successes that we desire if we collaborate and work as a group… There’s strength in numbers – that’s not only a cliché sounding phrase. But the very fact that we share very similar circumstances, similar challenges, common vulnerabilities… we’re in a situation where individually, the efforts that we make would not translate into the kind of results that they would if we worked collectively.
So for us, the question basically of why collaborate? Because there’s strength in numbers, there’s the need to pool our resources, which are limited, and really and truly we are negotiating we are negotiating within the context of WTO with significant world powers and I think that is also a critical issue to recognise – that our voices, when heard collectively are probably better heard.
– ACP Press Office