Prospects for Arab WTO Members, since the Doha Round

World Trade Law Association (WTLA)
In Collaboration With:
Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority
Jordan University of Science and Technology
The University of Jordan, School of Law
Royal Jordanian Airlines
Clyde & Co
Khalaf Masa'deh & Partners
World Trade Law Association Regional Conference
Globalization, the WTO and Business Opportunities in the Middle East
Amman, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
25th April 2002
Opening Statement
Talal Abu-Ghazaleh
Chairman & CEO,
Talal Abu-Ghazaleh & Co. International (TAGI)
Co-Chairman & Bureau Member,
UN Information and Communication Technologies Task Force (UN ICT TF) NY
Working Group on Human Resources and Capacity Building (HRCB)
UN Information and Communication Technologies Task Force (UN ICT TF) NY
Commission on E-Business, Information Technologies and Telecoms
International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) - Paris
Prospects for Arab WTO Members, since the Doha Round
By Talal Abu-Ghazaleh
Ladies, gentlemen and distinguished guests,
I am pleased and honored to have the opportunity to address you today, and would like to
express my appreciation to you all for coming. The decision of the World Trade Law
Association to hold an Arab regional conference is a response from our friends in the
international community to welcome the continuing move of the Arab countries towards the
integration of the multilateral trading system.
The Arab world has come a long way in the last 7 years, and we count now 16 Arab members
and observers in the WTO. During these years, we may observe a certain evolution in the
orientation of the Arab world vis-à-vis the WTO and the multilateral trade system. Initially,
there were questions, unfamiliarity, fear, and resistance. The ITC, UNCTAD and other
international organizations invested their resources in disseminating general information about
the WTO; its promises, challenges and implications for our region and for the developing
countries in general. My own company, TAGI, was involved in sponsoring the first Arab
International Conference in the WTO ( 1995, Lebanon), under the patronage of H.E. Rafic AlHarriri, Prime Minister of Lebanon. This, and numerous events over the next years helped in
raising the interest and disseminating basic information to the senior Arab government and
business leaders.
Still, a very widespread confusion among much of the business and government sectors over
just what the WTO was all about, remained there. Most people still referred to "the GATT"
rather than the WTO, and had only a vague idea about its implications. Well, we all know that
children are afraid of the dark, not of the light, and the same is true for adults; people tend to
fear from what they don't know or don't understand, even more than the real dangers, so one of
the biggest initial tasks we faced was making the information accessible. The ITC has published
some excellent guides about the WTO and the World Trading System “The Business Guide to
the Uruguay Round” and “The Business Guide to the World Trading System,” both published
by ITC. They are excellent resources and starting points for anyone concerned with world trade
issues. Unfortunately they were not published in Arabic, and although most Arab leaders may
have knowledge of English or French, not everyone is equipped to read business books in a
foreign language. Luckily, the ITC was very receptive of my idea to translate and publish these
resources in Arabic, which has been done. They are now available at any of TAGI’s office, and
I highly recommend anyone who hasn't added these titles to his library to do so. They are also
available in English, of course, from the ITC. A work has also been initiated in creating an
Arabic language mirror site for the WTO web site.
While efforts must continue to be made both in the Arab world and globally in familiarizing
people with the WTO, we can now note the development of a new focus. As the Arab WTO
members have worked to implement their responsibilities under the agreements, and WTO
observer nations have worked to prepare for the negotiations of accession, Arab governments
have noticed a need for capacity building of the government policy makers, the bureaucrats, the
business leaders, the NGOs and the professional services. I have been approached several times
by senior government officials at various WTO-related conferences with requests for assistance,
either in implementation work, or in accession preparations and negotiations. Due to the scope
and complexity of the WTO’s legal system, I responded to these requests by forming a worldtrade consulting unit within my own company, and this has been greeted with enthusiasm,
especially by government clients. However, the need is much greater than one company or
project can meet. The ITC is of course the official WTO body that is responsible for helping the
developing countries that are members of the WTO.
Understanding the human resources restrictions faced by the developing countries in adapting
their legislation to reflect new obligations, and in building the infrastructure is needed. And as
the developing countries have put the “conditionality’ of capacity building in further progress in
trade liberalization, the WTO responded by increasing the Secretariat budget for 2001 and by
pledging 30 million Swiss francs for the new Global Trust For Technical Assistance.
It is clear that the requirements of the developing world in the area of trade related to
technical assistance extends well beyond what the WTO can and should provide. Being
known of my interest and commitment to capacity building of Arab nations to participate in the
multilateral trade framework, the WTO put me in touch with the Centre for Applied Studies in
International Negotiations (CASIN); together in partnership with my own firm and with the
support of the WTO. As a result, we have established the Abu-Ghazaleh-CASIN Multilateral
Trade Capacity Building Center, known as “AGCATrade,” to build the capacities of all the 22
Arab countries in trade-related issues and WTO negotiations. CASIN was established in 1979
as a non-profit Swiss foundation, for the purpose of helping to train leaders from governments
in governance, diplomacy, negotiations and conflict management, as well as in development
and trade issues. So far the response to this TAGI-CASIN capacity building partnership has
been very promising. I am hopeful that it may help to act as a catalyst in bringing these issues,
skills and specialized competencies to a higher degree of development. Different people define
capacity building differently, but one key aspect is always sustainability, and I am hopeful that
the train-the-trainers component of the project may help in getting a wider dissemination of the
material and skills including stronger programs in universities, and better mobilization of
business and other sectors of society. This is important not just for Arab and other developing
countries, but also for the future of the WTO itself.
Moreover, we have financed and produced an “unofficial” WTO web site in the Arabic
language. This site makes both background information, current and breaking news related to
the WTO and the Arabic speaking world available. The site will be funded and operated by
TAGI, while the WTO will support it by providing TAGI with the documentation and the
information of both a general nature and also that that may be of particular interest to the Arab
world. However the site is officially endorsed by the WTO for general information and
educational purposes and is the result of the formal, structured and on-going cooperation
between TAGI and the WTO. The website is a gateway for the Arab world to access WTO’s
agreements and documents in Arabic, and it is a step towards supporting the acceding Arab
The location of the last ministerial round in Doha was a cause for an excitement among Arab
supporters of the WTO, but it was greeted with cynicism by anti-WTO forces. Some hoped that
the Doha Round would act as an impetus to the continued movement and as an inclusion of
Arab nations into the multilateral framework. Now that the Doha meetings have been
concluded, we can ask ourselves: What are the prospects for Arab WTO members? I will try to
be candid about this and I will say that I am not sure. Honestly speaking, many of us do seem to
share with NGOs and many of the anti-globalization forces in Western civil society, a belief
that the WTO (including the areas of trade covered by it e.g. Intellectual Property, investment,
etc., its bureaucratic machinery and the negotiation process itself) is skewed in favor of the
powerful developed countries. Many people, both in the developed and undeveloped countries
argue that the US and other key Western industrialized countries have an undue if not officially
sanctioned influence in directing the course of WTO activities. I don't think we should blame
powerful countries for having influence. It stands to reason that if you are powerful and
influential, it will be apparent and others will feel this. But perceptions are very important,
whether right or wrong, and the perception of a lack of fairness can be hazardous to a process
based on negotiation and consensus.
No one claims that the WTO is perfect, but we can’t ignore the ongoing reforms led by Mr.
Mike Moore to the WTO decision-making processes following the Seattle Ministerial in 1999
which led to the successful launch of the 'Doha Development Agenda.'
Also, it is important to note that although the Arab leadership understands the importance of the
WTO and the necessity of engaging positively in the multilateral framework, the people who
make up the rank and file of the governing institutions and middle managers in government
service, these people are likely to reflect the same ideas as found in the society in general. In the
society at large, we find big coalitions of anti-globalization, anti-WTO forces in the developed
world itself, not to mention areas in the Arab region. It is important to work quickly and
aggressively to build the capacity of Arab nations to be proactive and not reactive, engaged and
not merely defensive, and focused on objectives and not merely rejections.
Much of the time, the anti-WTO protestors seem to have little knowledge of, is the actual work
of the WTO, or its instruments. Rather the WTO and globalization are seen as symbols for a
wide range of ailments and complaints, some legitimate, and some fictitious. If the antagonists
of the multilateral system had a better understanding of how things worked, perhaps they would
be more cooperative. For example, Resolution #4 of the World Forum on the WTO's final
declaration states: "We call for the exclusion of agriculture from the scope of the WTO and the
ban of dumping practiced by multinational corporations. This means the lift of agricultural
subsidies in industrialized countries, and the opening up of their markets to the agricultural
products of the developing countries.” The drafting of this resolution seems to have failed to
notice that the lifting of the agricultural subsidies in industrialized countries and the opening of
their (industrialized) markets to the agricultural products of the developing countries will only
happen, if at all, under the auspices of the WTO. In fact, part one of their 4th resolution
("exclusion of agriculture from the WTO") would practically insure the impossibility of
attaining the second part of the resolution (lifting of agricultural subsidies in industrialized
countries). One of the basic purposes of the WTO is to open markets, including agricultural
markets of Western countries and to reduce or eliminate subsidies and other tariff and non-tariff
barriers to trade. Those kinds of inconsistencies tend to riddle the thinking of those in the antiWTO camp. In fact, it is often hard to have a meaningful conversation with the antiglobalization people because they usually don't know what they are talking about, or are
internally self-contradicting. The anti-WTO camp deride the WTO as being run by
multinationals and as unfair and inhuman. They neglect to see that it is a democratic
organization in which all of its members, the majority of which are developing countries, have
equal votes. This is why the capacity building of developing countries to participate freely is so
important. If developing countries (e.g. the Arab states) begin to see themselves not simply as
riders, but equal drivers of the process, that sense of ownership may filter down to the NGOs
and civil society groups that are currently so vocally against the WTO.
As Mr. Mike Moore, Executive Director of the WTO noted at Doha, and I quote: "Opponents of
the World Trade Organization who sometimes claim that the system is "undemocratic" start
from a basic fallacy. The WTO is not imposed on countries. Countries choose to belong to the
WTO. No country is told to join. No country is forced to sign our agreements. Each and every
one of the WTO's rules is negotiated by member governments and agreed by consensus.
Countries choose to participate in an open rules-based multilateral trading system for the
simple reason that it is overwhelmingly in their interest to do so. The alternative is a less open,
less prosperous, more uncertain world economy — an option few countries would willingly
The WTO and the advocates of trade liberalization and globalization are beset by a motley army
of protestors who are better organized than informed. This is the situation in the developing
countries. We have a less radical tradition of civil society participation in the Arab countries
and WTO issues that don't bring the people to the streets, but I think that we can safely say that
the percentage of people who are in opposition is just as high here as elsewhere in the world.
I believe that the WTO is a powerful force of change, for the good of people in all countries. I
believe the more people understand it they will lessen their antagonism and be more supportive.
I believe that if the developing countries like those in the Arab region had more sophisticated
resources for analyzing, preparing and negotiating agreements, the process would be subjected
to less acrimony. It is worth mentioning that the merchandise exported to the 16 Arab WTO
members and observers an amount of 220 billion US$ in the year 2000, which actually reflected
a significant rise from 1999, while the imported merchandise amounted to 146 billion US$.
Commercial services have also been remarkable with exporting an amount of 31 billion US$ in
the year 2000, and imported 37 billion US$.
The WTO serves a valuable function, in that it puts pressure on the local (domestic) status of its
member states to make changes that are often in the interests of the people, but perhaps not of
the special interests that control the issues at the national level. It is my hope that continued
efforts at promoting public information campaigns and capacity building in support of the
ability of the developing countries to participate equally, will prepare the way for future trade
negotiations that will be even more productive than the last previous rounds.
In my own opinion, the WTO system is what you make of it, and the chief barrier to a more
equal participation is not in the structure of the WTO, but in the capacity of the developing
countries to fully participate, hence the importance of capacity building.