Bangladesh Ambassador Shameem Ahsan on LDC issues ahead of the MC10
Shameem Ahsan is the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations Offices in Geneva, Switzerland and the current Coordinator of the LDC Consultative group at the WTO.
Ambassador Shameem Ahsan is a career diplomat with nearly 30 years of service. Prior to his position in Geneva, he was Ambassador of Bangladesh in Brazil and in Iran, and High Commissioner of Bangladesh in Brunei.
He is a Medical Graduate of the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh and holds a post-graduate “Diplôme d’études Supérieures Spécialisées (DESS)” in Diplomacy.
[Bridges Africa]Nairobi is in a few weeks. How do you assess the road travelled and the work since Bali?
[Shameem Ahsan] Between 2013 and 2015, we have concentrated on negotiating the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and there was a second important task of defining a post Bali work program. The agreement on TFA took time because of well-known factors which delayed its conclusion until November last year, which is past the deadline for the definition of a post Bali work program originally set for July 2015. These two factors together pushed us back, and we lost nearly a year.
So the implementation of WTO Bali decisions, which is the most important issue for the period between Bali and the next ministerial conference in Nairobi, was also, by default, pushed back. We did not achieve what we thought we should achieve!
However, there's a silver lining. We did have a high-level meeting on services in February this year, and since then the road traveled is quite promising. We are still not there, but the work continues. We also think that on Duty-Free Quota-Free (DFQF), in a very small way, some forward movement has taken place as well. For example, Chile and Thailand made announcements of their offers. This is, in a nutshell, how we saw the road traveled.
[BA]What are your expectations for Nairobi?
[SA] We are definitely looking at an outcome which would be in line with the demand of the situation as regards the unfulfilled promises to the LDCs. We want substantive, binding, LDC specific decisions which should be commercially meaningful on all four elements of the Bali package i.e DFQF market access, rules of origin, the operationalisation of the service waiver and cotton. We are also hopeful that we will have an outcome close to our satisfaction on the special and differential treatment (S&DT).
[BA]Nairobi is not the end, but nobody knows what will follow: A continuation of the DDA? A new negotiating format? News issues? How do you see the post-Nairobi era?
[SA] I can only tell you that we had high expectations of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA). It was not fulfilled and there is a long road travelled between 2001 and now. We still think that DDA issues are important and they are not dead. We believe that these issues should be somehow discussed after Nairobi. That is our intention. That is our preference.
[BA] At present, the achievement of the DDA objectives seems out of reach for Nairobi. It seems that some delegations would prefer to cover the development objectives through an LDC package only. Do you see the possibility to have a credible LDC package, if there are no or only minimal concessions in favor of all the developing countries?
[SA] I think the intention of going for a meaningful, substantive LDC package is there. That is what we discern in members’ statement. But once we get into negotiations, only then we know where we can get! It is an ongoing process… it is a work in progress. So I believe it is rather foolhardy to predict anything at this point. I think there are good signs that we will get an LDC package which will be meaningful for us.
[BA] Being the first WTO Ministerial ever held in Africa, hopes are high for a development outcome, including on LDC specific issues. In your view which elements of a potential LDC package should be prioritised and why?
[SA] As I said before, the full Bali LDC issues including rules of origin and S&DT look promising, but all these elements need more work and more engagement from all WTO members. There are other issues of importance and interest to other developing countries and other major players. Therefore, we need a combined approach and collective effort from all members.
We believe that, if we can sincerely engage, and the time is very short, no doubt, we will definitely get there in terms of prioritising the issues of LDCs. As a general rule from the WTO Bali Ministerial decisions, all those issues where a binding decision was not possible, should now be prioritised, under paragraph 1.11, annex F of the Bali declaration.
[BA]Has the LDC group managed to find common ground on the DFQF issue?
[SA] The DFQF issue is, again, a work in progress. It is being discussed in a particular mode. A dedicated session was held at WTO Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) and we are now developing the parameters of a study on DFQF which will tell us the way to follow on this issue. That is where we stand currently.
[BA] LDCs have a real chance to get something at Nairobi, as this MC won’t be called a success without a substantive LDC package which is not limited to best endeavors. How do you promote the specificity of the LDCs, LDC needs and LDC interests in these negotiations?
[SA] Very good question! Actually, the LDCs have a unique status in the membership of the WTO because LDCs are exempt from any kind of obligations. LDCs are not in a "give and take" situation, which is the case with other members, or the rest of the membership. Therefore, for the LDCs, the specificity lies in the fact that, firstly, they would like to see the decisions, the declarations on issues of interest for them being implemented. So this is the specific angle of the LDCs: we always look for implementation.
LDCs are not in a "give and take" situation, which is the case with other members, or the rest of the membership.
Secondly, it is not a good sign that often members want to reinterpret and, in fact, rehash WTO ministerial decisions without going for their implementation. For the benefit of the LDCs, the implementation of ministerial decisions is important. If we tamper with it, then we are not going to get anywhere. In other words, you cannot try to re-invent things as they have been considered and decided upon by the ministers; that cannot be and should not be the case.
[BA] What are LDCs’ expectations about the Trade Facilitation Agreement at Nairobi when, two years later, implementation is yet to happen?
[SA] I think those countries who have been engaged with this agreement definitely have one expectation: that this agreement should be implemented. But you know, there is this process of ratification which is a national process, on which you can extol, you can exalt, you can hope for, but you can't push it. Indeed independent, sovereign parliaments are involved in the process and they are the ones which give the stamp of approval. That process, unfortunately, is different for different countries. We are talking here about substantive procedure which can take time, therefore it is very, very important to understand that: one push from one corner will not get you anywhere! You will have to follow the procedure. No legislature, no national parliament will like to be pushed.