Geneva, SWITZERLAND – The first thing that one notices when getting onto the streets of Geneva is the cosmopolitan nature of the city. There is an equal number of restaurants catering to both the tastes of foreigners and local cuisine – such is the breadth of diversity that this relatively small town brings. There is [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Geneva:Drinking fresh, pure water straight off the tap

Visit to the WTO

Geneva, SWITZERLAND – The first thing that one notices when getting onto the streets of Geneva is the cosmopolitan nature of the city. There is an equal number of restaurants catering to both the tastes of foreigners and local cuisine – such is the breadth of diversity that this relatively small town brings.

There is music, culture, art, bars, restaurants and museums in addition to the natural beauty, picture post-card perfect lakes and surrounding snow-capped mountains. In mid-April with spring in the air, the weather could change rapidly to being chilly and cold or being pleasant and warm during the day. What is however strikingly attractive about this city, during our recent visit, was that as spring sets in the flowers have begun to bloom in parks, sidewalks and the vast expanse of gardens of international organisations.
There are many other factors that make Geneva an extremely pleasant and attractive city to live in. For example drinking water straight from your tap! Try doing that back home, in Sri Lanka!

Ports like the one at Hambantota need to be efficient to facilitate trade.

The city is a global centre for diplomacy, trade, human rights and peace making; has been for many years. The most important institutions are the European headquarters of the UN, International Red Cross, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Health Organisation, International Labour Organisation, International Telecommunication Union, International Baccalaureate Organisation and the World Intellectual Property Organisation.
Geneva also plays host to many inter-governmental organisations such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), World Meteorological Organisation, the World Economic Forum) and the International Organisation for Migration.

Global trade and its linkages is what brought a group of 16 senior editors from Asia and Africa to Geneva in mid-April for a week-long understanding of the WTO and its mechanisms. The organisation must be the most under-rated amongst international institutions operating in Geneva given that its dispute settlement mechanism is the most independent, transparent and fair to all member countries (big or small), among all international organisations including the UN.

According to outgoing WTO Director General Pascal Lamy, the dispute settlement work of the WTO has grown in size while its quality (rulings) has not been disputed. “This is a system that has huge credibility,” he told the group of visiting journalists at his office. Other officials said 100 members, 63 per cent of the WTO, have participated in dispute settlement cases. The mechanism is available for any country aggrieved over a trade issue with another country which has allegedly broken WTO” rules.

In the 18 years of the existence of the WTO, 457 cases have been resolved compared to 152 cases in 67 years for the ICJ (International Centre for Justice) or 300 cases in 48 years for GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs which was replaced by the WTO in 1995). Of these cases, only 18 led to trade sanctions being imposed. Developing countries have been active participants as complainants. For example the United States has defended 119 cases while filing 106 complaints. The cases vary from licensing, safeguards, agriculture, subsidies to anti-dumping. The Advisory Centre on WTO law, an intergovernmental agency, provides legal support in such complaints to developing and least developed countries.

During the week the visiting journalists ‘conversed’ with a range of experts in the areas of global trade, trade union perspectives of the global value chair, value-added trade, admission of WTO membership, agriculture negotiations, trade facilitation and trade-in-services among others. Most meetings were held at the WTO.

The other important assignment of the WTO is its trade facilitation role which can cut losses of some countries to millions of dollars if border (ports/airports) systems work perfectly with the least amount of delays.

“For example, it costs US$6,000 and takes six weeks to clear a container in the port of Chad (Africa) while the same consignment would cost just $400 and take only 30 minutes to clear in China where systems are efficient,” said one official who briefed reporters. All the briefings, except a few, were off the record.

The trade facilitation expert said all governments have agreed that poor trade facilitation due to bureaucracy and red tape leads to massive losses in any country, adding that “all trade should be an express carriage and goods cleared as fast as possible”.
Proposed new laws by the WTO are to deal with transparency, fees, formalities and transit rules. Countries are being persuaded to automatic border points with financial and technical assistance being provided. The WTO is also looking at removal of the ad valorem tax system.

Inefficient border systems could ruin orders. For example, a top British clothing brand changes its designs every three weeks and suppliers have to deliver within this period or lose contracts.

At the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FFS) office in Geneva, a finance and development expert from a global think-tank says that while there is a shift from the state to the private sector in developing, the situation is different in the developed world were the state still plays a critical role in sectors of the economy and social welfare.

‘This is not what you would expect but this is true,” he said. FES was the host and sponsor of the visiting journalists during the week-long trip. Most of the world’s FDI (foreign investment), he said goes to just seven countries in the world while pointing out that there is no guarantee that tax breaks attract investors who are more concerned about good infrastructure.

On the same day and at the FES office an interesting discussion evolved on the postal and (snail) mail system. Officials from the global union involved in post offices across the world said that of the 663,000 post offices in the world, Asia and the Pacific had the highest number at 310,726 (47 per cent) followed by industrialised countries – 159,813 (24 per cent).

Globally, each post office covers an area of 20 sq km and serves an average population of 10,614. Letters between individuals accounts for less than 5 per cent of mail received across the world now, according to 2011 data.

The “Made in the World” label is becoming more and more evident in manufacturing with a large number of products made for export coming from components from all parts of the world. Officials at the WTO often use this term to define products which are produced in a country but have sometimes 90 per cent of the raw materials or input from overseas. “It’s easier to say ‘Made in the World’ to describe such products,” one official explained.’

Agriculture negotiations and resolving these disputes are also a crucial component of the WTO, the visiting journalists were told. Export subsidies are largely used by richer countries to protect their farmers while in a perverse way, the rich want subsidies reduced in developing countries.

The discussion on health issues and lifestyle trade in the world drew some interesting information. The global tobacco industry now puts a lot of effort into attracting young people through flavoured cigarettes like strawberry, cloves, methol, etc. The right to protect the health and safety of human and animals and safeguarding the environment is in the WTO rules where countries have the right to bar imports which infringe these rules.

The advent of the WTO has also helped reduce the cost of drugs and medicines across the world.

Is trade more open now under WTO rules than before? “Definitely … that’s a YES,” says Mr Lamy, whose term ends on August 31, 2013. His successor will be soon named after a series of consultations and nominations by member countries.

Share This Post

comments powered by Disqus

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.