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WTO's Doha Round: A shattered dream for LDCs?

WTO's Doha Round: A shattered dream for LDCs?

 Md Moniruzzaman | Published:  February 11, 2019 21:24:18 


In November 2001, the Doha Development Round (widely known as Doha Development Agenda) was commenced at the 4th World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference held in the beautiful capital city of Qatar.  The Ministerial Conference is the topmost decision-making body of the WTO, which usually meets every two years and can take decisions on all matters under any of the multilateral trade agreements. Since Doha, so far seven ministerial conferences have been held at Cancun, Mexico (2003), Hong Kong (2005), Geneva (2009), Geneva (2011), Bali (2015), Nairobi (2015) and Buenos Aires (2017). The next is scheduled for June 2020 at Astana, Kazakhstan. 

Back in Doha in 2001, WTO members had decided to launch a new round of negotiations, and pursuant to that decision, adopted the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) and its accompanying work programme. New negotiating groups were formed which took the issues of market access for non-agricultural products, WTO rules (anti-dumping, subsidies, regional trade agreements) and trade facilitation. In existing bodies, negotiations took the issues on Agriculture: in special sessions of the Agriculture Committee; Services: in special sessions of the Services Council and Geographical indications: in special sessions of the Council for Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The TRIPS agreement is an international legal agreement that was signed between all the member nations of the WTO. Other TRIPS issues are addressed in regular TRIPS Council meetings, Dispute Settlement Understanding: in special sessions of the Dispute Settlement Body; Environment: in special sessions of the Trade and Environment Committee and Negotiations on outstanding implementation issues: in relevant bodies, according to paragraph 12 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration.

Considerable emphasis is placed on special and differential treatment (S&DT) for developing countries. The principle of S&DT is an integral part of the WTO Agreements. All negotiations and other aspects of the DDA work programme are required to fully incorporate this principle. According to the 'Doha Declaration' (paragraph 44- WT/MIN(01)/DEC/1) and the 'Decision on Implementation-Related Issues and Concerns' (WT/MIN(01)/17), all S&DT provisions are to be reviewed to make them more precise, effective and operational. These reviews are carried out in special sessions of the Trade and Development Committee (CTD). The negotiations on Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) are mandated by the Doha Development Agenda. Several mandates were set out in the Doha Declaration to achieve this objective.  They include:

  •  examine the issue related to trade and technology transfer so as to increase flows of technology to developing countries (paragraph 37);
  • n to ensure that WTO TA and capacity-building programmes are designed to assist developing countries, LDCs and low-income countries in transition to adjust to WTO rules (paragraphs 38 to 41);
  • n commit to the objective of duty-free, quota-free market access for products originating from LDCs and to consider additional measures for progressive improvements in market access for LDCs (paragraphs 42 and 43); and,
  • n to review all special and differential treatment provisions which give developing countries special rights so as to strengthen them and make them more precise (paragraph 44).

IMPORTANT ISSUES FOR LDCS: As an LDC, Bangladesh has been exempted from making all sorts of reduction commitments (such as reduction of tariffs, domestic supports, etc). Bangladesh has also no obligation to open up any mode or sectors relating to trade in services in this round. As a result, Bangladesh has no defensive interest in this round of negotiations. However, Bangladesh has many offensive interests to achieve from this development round. The following issues are important for LDCs including Bangladesh: Duty-free & quota-free (DFQF) market access, Preference erosion and Services negotiations.

The priorities of LDCs like Bangladesh are at the centre of discussion of Doha Round. The major issues of DDA include trade facilitation, services, rules of origin and dispute settlement.   The objective of DDA is to lower trade barriers around the world and thus facilitate increased global trade, particularly the share of trade of LDCs. Market access and special and differential treatment for the developing countries were also discussed as a major concern.

Doha Development Agenda is important in the sense that if successful, it would improve the economic vitality of developing countries and reduced government spending on subsidies in developed countries. Unfortunately, agribusiness lobbies in the United States and the European Union (EU) put political pressure on their legislatures. That protracted the Doha round of negotiations. As a result, bilateral agreements have increased.

The 2001 ministerial declaration established an official deadline for concluding negotiations for the Doha round by January 01, 2005. However, the Doha Round is yet to be concluded though subsequent ministerial meetings were held. The failure of Doha talks would also mean that future multilateral trade agreements are also probably doomed to fail for the same reason as Doha. The EU and US agricultural industries would not take the risk of allowing low-cost foreign food imports to take any of their domestic market shares.

The main reason the Doha talks have floundered is that the United States and EU are not willing to give up their agricultural subsidies. But other sticking points must be resolved if the talks are to resume and succeed. First, China, India, and Brazil need to be more supportive of the talks. They must also be willing to take on the leadership role. Second, the United States, Japan, and China must realise their "currency wars" are exporting inflation to other countries, such as Brazil and India. They must accept the responsibility and not treat their monetary policies as simply domestic issues. Third, Doha must dangle the carrot of more liberal service export regulations. That would entice the United States and other developed countries. Otherwise, they will move ahead on their own with the Trade in Services Agreement negotiations. Adoption of the Bali Ministerial Declaration on December 07, 2013 for the first time successfully addressed bureaucratic barriers to commerce-a small part of the Doha Round agenda. However, as of now, as the future of the Doha Round remains uncertain, it can turn out to be a shattered dream for LDCs.


Dr Md Moniruzzaman is Associate Professor at the Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management.

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On declining export growth

On declining export growth


Md. Monirul Islam

When Bangladesh emerged as an independent country, it was a relatively closed economy with the trade limited to very few products - in terms of volume as well as markets overseas. Over time, merchandise exports have increased significantly. In the early years, the country's exports covered mostly raw jute and a few jute goods items. These accounted for about nine-tenths of the total export revenue of US$377 million during the fiscal year 1972-73. By the end of the 1970s, this ratio stood at about three-quarters of the total export revenue. Export configuration, however, changed dramatically since then. Readymade garments (RMG) comprising knitwear and woven apparel products emerged as the principle export items of the country. The country achieved significant success in export promotion, mostly because of the stellar performance of the apparel industry. A report said that export earnings of the country are now equivalent to 18 per cent of GDP suggesting considerable and growing importance of the export sector in the national economy. The global downturn reduced export demand for Bangladeshi goods. Total export earnings decreased by 1.9 per cent in 2009. But astonishingly, knitwear and woven garments exports withstood the recession well due to their mounting demand in the world market.

Most recent news reports revealed that the overall export growth of the country has fallen considerably in the outgoing fiscal. Export growth of the country in 2016-17 fiscal hit a 15-year low at 1.69 per cent as the earnings from readymade garments witnessed a sluggish growth in the major destinations including the European Union and the United States. Available data shows that export earnings in FY17 stood at $34.83 billion with a shortfall of more than $2 billion from the government-set target of $37 billion. Notwithstanding the prevailing relatively stable political environment and infrastructural development, the failure to meet export target exposes the fact that our economy is not well in terms of export orientation. A news report said that export growth was the lowest since the FY 2001-02 when it was negative - by 7.43 per cent. Export earnings in FY17 fell short of target by 5.85 per cent and amounted to nearly $35 billion with about 2 per cent growth. Export earnings in June 2017 stood at $3.04 billion with a 15.27-per cent negative growth against $3.59 billion in the same month of FY16.

There are both external and internal factors responsible for the downward trend of export growth in the country. First is the shrinking of global demand for apparel products. Many foreign buyers expressed reluctance to procure apparels from Bangladesh as demand has reduced due to global economic recession affecting consumers' purchasing capacity. Secondly, devaluation of currencies is viewed as largely responsible for the sluggish growth.

The negative growth is a signal that the country is losing its competitive edge while other competitors are doing well. In this regard, Bangladesh must pay serious attention to the quality of products to challenge the contenders. Besides, last year Britain and Germany imposed embargo upon cargo operation in most airports of the country due to security concerns.

According to the provisional data, export earnings from RMG products in FY17 stood at $28.15 billion with a minimal growth of 0.20 per cent, which fell short by 7.34 per cent the government-set target of $30.38 billion. Export earnings from knitwear stood at $13.75 billion with 3.01 per cent growth while earnings from woven fell by 2.35 per cent to $14.39 billion in FY17.

Bangladesh is still a supplier of cheap basic apparel items that is profitably produced by unskilled and semi-skilled workers. If it wants to move up the value chain, it will need to improve the quality (productivity) of its workforce and management. It may be a matter of worry that if other RMG producing countries export quality products at low-prices, it is likely to diminish the demand of our cheap basic apparel items of comparatively high price. This is a critical area to be looked into, and appropriate research can only find out the factors responsible.

We need to have policy support ensuring adequate gas and electricity on a priority basis so that the export growth may rebound in the new fiscal. Bangladesh would have to focus on ensuring the quality of products as well as on diversifying markets and products. In this situation, we have to go for productivity-driven growth while making efforts to cut the cost of doing business.

The writer is Assistant Professor, Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management (BIGM).

Published : 02 Aug 2017, 21:14:08 | Updated : 02 Aug 2017, 21:14:32


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Current floods and co-riparian cooperation

Bangladesh has been subjected to varying degrees of flooding since time immemorial. The people have been living here for generations by cultivating rice and other crops by adjusting with monsoon rainfall and flooding. Traditionally, over 95 per cent people used to be engaged in agriculture and lived in peasant societies practising small-scale subsistence farming with family labour. Life was good for most of them.

However, people living near mighty rivers like the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna and their tributaries have been often facing destruction of crops along with demolition of their kutcha and make-shift houses due to river erosion. These people migrated temporarily and, sometimes, permanently to safer places away from the rivers. Floods traditionally brought in many benefits like improved soil fertility, increased capture fishing from widely dispersed floodwater and easy communication with boats.

The conventional reasons for flooding were mainly monsoon climate bringing heavy rain and its associated leaching of snow soils in the Himalayas resulting in heavy runoff in some years. However, with passage of time, the causal factors of flooding have undergone rapid change. Among the present causes of flood, some are man-made like diversion of water for irrigating crops, distraction of water for meeting requirements of urbanisation, use of water for generating power, utilisation of water for purpose of washing, bleaching, colouring, steam generation, cooling agents and so on. Some causes of flood are due to climate factors like heavy melting of glaciers due to increase in global temperature, deforestation in headwater areas causing erratic rainfall.

Floods are also caused by natural reasons like earthquake and landslides, among others. The present-day flooding in Bangladesh has several development implications. In the past, natural factors mainly caused flood; now-a-days, climate change factors, along with man-made factors, have emerged as main causes of the calamity. The net flow of water to Bangladesh is the summation of the effect (Natural factor + Manmade factors + Climate Change Factors).

Under these circumstances, water resource plans for controlling flooding in Bangladesh need to consider a variety of geographic, economic, and environmental factors manifesting upstream as well as within the country. This is a significant challenge, with as high as 93 per cent of the total basin area lying outside Bangladesh. Being the lowermost riparian country, Bangladesh alone cannot undertake any meaningful and comprehensive water development and flood control programmes.

Secondly, over time, the destruction pattern of flood has also changed. Previously in peasant societies, damages were mostly caused to crops, livestock, farming assets and in dwellings. However, now-a-days, due to diversification of the economy as well as economic growth, loss and damage of floods have changed manifold. The loss and damage now range from industries, power generation, urban water supply, road and rail, power and IT infrastructure like optic fibre lines, to name a few.

Thirdly, there is need for a change in focus. Previously, flood control was the main issue. However, now-a-days, there is a need for a wider focus on overall development of the water sector covering agriculture, industry, power, urbanisation, navigation, fisheries, environment and forestry keeping flood control in mind.

The Brahmaputra Basin provides special scope for mutual benefit of the stakeholder countries with respect to energy generation. In the Brahmaputra Basin, China is the most upstream country having hydropower generation potential. India (Arunachal Pradesh) and Bhutan have also hydropower potential, and both these areas have a list of planned hydropower plants. It is known that the total generated capacity would be higher than the anticipated local demand in Bhutan and Arunachal. Although Bhutan and India have signed agreements for distribution of power, Bangladesh is yet to take part in the negotiations. Possibilities for inclusion for Bangladesh exist, as the country is already allowing India for trans-shipment of goods between Assam and Meghalaya and Kolkata port of India.

Fourthly, flood water now flowing to Bangladesh is contaminated by industrial and household sectors both within and outside, which are some of the reasons for environmental degradation in Bangladesh. As Brahmaputra River traverses through China, India and Bhutan before entering Bangladesh, environmental pollution occurring in upstream countries needs to be resolved through discussion with the co-riparian countries. Likewise, salinity intrusion is linked with flow and its velocity which are dependent on upper riparian countries. Salinity intrusion can, therefore, be partly resolved through negotiation for an adequate share of water. These environmental considerations should be very important in Bangladesh. Water-logging in urban and rural areas are caused by several factors, including unplanned and ineffective drainage, encroachment on wetlands in urban and rural areas, and the hampering of tidal flows in the coastal area.

Finally, the present flooding lends support to the urgent need for adopting state-of-the-art 'best management practices' consisting floodplain zoning, planned urbanisation, channelisation, restoration of abundant channels, dredging of rivers and streams, increased elevations of embankments and roads, establishment of buffer zones along rivers and adjustment of citizens' life-style to today's flooding conditions.



Dr Chowdhury Saleh Ahmed is a Faculty Member, Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management, an affiliated institution of University of Dhaka

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Salinity intrusion - threat to water safety

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On July 31, 2017, ministers, senior government officials, businesses, representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and development partners gathered at the Fourth Consultation of the UN High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) on Valuing Water, at the BRAC Center Inn, Bangladesh. This high-ranking assembly highlighted the myriad water-related problems Bangladesh has long been facing, which include scarcity of pure drinking water, improper use of water, lack of managing and conserving water etc. Speakers also mentioned that fresh water is facing a crisis around the world, compounded by extreme weather conditions like droughts and floods. Water sources are threatened by overuse, pollution and climate change. Speakers also suggested that we have to change our lifestyle to cut water use, and stressed the need to innovate new varieties of crops, which could be cultivated with a small volume of water.

The goal of the Valuing Water Initiative of HLPW is to achieve water-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by inspiring better decision-making, and making better trade-offs between competing claims on water. In the agenda of 'Valuing Water' almost all water-related problems appeared except salinity intrusion in water in the southern region of Bangladesh, especially the coastal areas.

Due to invasive water salinity, people are being infected with different diseases in which suffering of the pregnant women and children are immense. Last year, a leading daily newspaper reported that pregnant women in the country's southern region largely affected with anaemia and high blood pressure during pregnancy are the leading cause of having high salt intake in potable water that causes increasing risk in the maternal and newborn health. This statement was based on the study report conducted upon 202 pregnant women who came to take health service to Dacope Upazila Health Complex, Khulna district. This study established a great shock for the vulnerable people of the coastal region in Bangladesh.

The study revealed that salinity in drinking water is associated with increased risk of (pre) eclampsia and gestational hypertension in this population. For this reason, children may be born early, not be mature, shaped as smaller than usual, and may even die. High brackish water intake is also closely associated with the risk of hypertension in adults. Besides, people of the southern part of Bangladesh, especially of the delta belt, have been suffering a lot from various diseases caused by arsenic contamination, water pollution etc. For salinity intrusion, vegetables of this region also become salinity-torn.

In the past, a large part of Bangladesh's population obtained most of their drinking water from surface water sources, such as ponds and rivers. As a result, there were widespread deaths from diarrhoeal diseases such as cholera due to the presence of microbiological pathogens in surface water sources. In the 1970s, there was a campaign led by UNICEF to promote tube wells throughout the country. During this time, there was a significant decline in deaths from diarrhoeal diseases in the country, both due to availability of safe water as well as the use of oral dehydration solution.

Since then, much effort has been taken at the policy level to combat this issue. The government established policies and strategies such as the National Policy for Safe Water Supply (1998), National Water Policy (1999), National Policy for Arsenic Mitigation (2004) and the Water Safety Framework (2011). Now, the country has made notable development to improve the water and sanitation situation. As per the report of WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, access to improved drinking water sources is at 87 per cent in Bangladesh.

Now, salinity intrusions into vast swathes of the south-western region have gained serious proportions. A daily newspaper report said that the current magnitude of salinity intrusions can be gauged from the fact that 93 upazilas of 18 south-western districts are affected by it. As many as 20 million people in the coastal belt have no access to potable water causing various diseases on top of hindering farming and leading to loss of livelihoods. A 2016 study revealed that Bangladesh's coastal population, comprising approximately 40 million, relies heavily on natural water sources like ponds, rivers and tube-wells for obtaining drinking water. These sources have become severely saline from seawater intrusion caused by environmental changes and man-made factors including poor water management and shrimp farming. Salinity has already encroached 100 km inland from the Bay of Bengal, and the impacts are projected to be exacerbated by sea level rise due to climate change and excessive groundwater withdrawals from aquifers.

In this situation, salinity intrusion and health hazards of the people of the southern part of Bangladesh need to be on the agenda in the Fifth Consultation of the UN High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) on Valuing Water.

Now, it is imperative to develop and evaluate affordable approaches to providing water with low salt content such as rainwater harvesting. To preserve rainwater and make water salinity free, traditional aquifer system in small scale has been working. But that is not enough. In this respect, Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR)-- a sophisticated water aquifer device to Manage Aquifer Recovery (MAR), could be implemented with the support of foreign donor agencies or countries who are, in fact, responsible for the carbon emission, the major cause of global climate change.

The writer is Assistant Professor, Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management (BIGM).

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Need for unbiased, critical policy formulators

The post-World War II period witnessed the emergence of a technocratic approach to deal with the policy problems, that the war ravaged world faced mostly in the economic domain, to wage a quick come back on the path of national development or at least early rehabilitation of the old order. Recently, researchers worldwide consider this approach (technocratic) is an inefficient, ineffective and obsolete means of making policy decisions. They are advocating for substituting them with sound techniques of scientific policy analysis that could help both the legislators and the executive decision-makers enabling them to select correct polices objectively. Now, the use of scientific knowledge and techniques for making, managing and evaluating public policies is generally termed as 'policy analysis.' It mainly demonstrates the notion of 'thinking man's response to demands'.

Policy analysis is the multiple methods of inquiry and argument to produce and transform policy-relevant information for resolving public problems. But in Bangladesh, as of now, it is, in some cases, done through adopting unsystematic approach to suggest and evaluate the public policy options, mostly resulting in non-achievement of the targeted goals. Under the existing system of administration, officials are mainly required to execute the policy. They are also engaged and entrusted with the task to analyze policy. But after managing offices, they hardly get time and scope to engage themselves devotedly in such policy relevant work(s). However, some of the privately owned entities together with public institutes are working in the policy analysis area of the country. But their outcomes are not much satisfactory in terms of the fulfillment of people's desire(s). There is a concern in Bangladesh that nobody is interested to think beyond the governmental stance simply to prove that they are most diligently government friendly or at least they do not stand on the way of the government policy matrix, more so the persons walking in the corri-doors of power that be. Some of them tend to criticize the government policy in an half-hearted way without causing any real damage to the govt's image.

The process of policy analysis may culminate in its optimality through incorporating the notion of think-tank to make, manage and evaluate public policies in Bangladesh. US, the leading developed country in the world, has annexed the concept of think-tank in its policy analysis process much earlier. In US, there are some 1,200 think-tanks belonging to four categories to make and appraise the public policies. These think-tanks are classified into four categories, such as conservative, liberal, non-partisan and libertarian. Normatively, think-tank is one of the main policy actors in democratic societies, which assures a pluralistic, open and accountable process of policy analysis, research, decision-making and evaluation. Think-tanks affect the American public policy-makers in five distinct ways: by generating original ideas and options for policy, by supplying a ready pool of experts for employment in government, by offering venues for high-level discussions, by educating US citizens about the world, and by supplementing official efforts to mediate and resolve the conflict(s).

Bangladesh needs to follow these distinct ways of US think-tank for judicious policy-making, implementation and evaluation. It should be not by copying, but by adaption in matching context.
Government (political authority) and administration (bureaucratic authority) of Bangladesh tend to ensure the well-being of the people by introducing an appropriate policy set-up. But due to lack of proper support, equipment, capacity, and capability etc. for policy analysis, these two forces (government and administration) often fall short to evolve a workable policy-mix and implement those into action to achieve the set goal(s). From this inconvenient arrangement, think-tanks as policy-making and analysis players may come into pitch to assist both the government and the administration in public 'policy-making, implementation and evaluation', which are the terms and conditions of policy analysis.

Considering policy relevant cooperation, think-tank may help policy makers to exploit multiple channels and marketing strategies - publishing articles, books, and occasional papers; appearing regularly on television, op-ed-pages, and in newspaper interviews; and producing readers-friendly issue briefs, fact-sheets, and webpage on public-oriented issues like environmental policy, energy policy, power plant issue, nuclear issues etc. Besides, generating new ideas for government officials as well as political leaders (the state stakeholders), think-tanks may also provide a steady stream of experts to assist them in adapting with policy analysis and viable public policy-making. In this regard, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management (BIGM), Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) etc. can take vibrant initiative to provide policy-relevant rigorous knowledge for both the political leaders and the officials. Noteable, CPD is the only private initiative in this area. Others are, in nature, quasi-public entities.

Following the election in 1976, Jimmy Carter, the former President of US, staffed his administration with a batch of individuals from the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations, the two renowned think-tanks in the US. Four years later, Ronald Reagan turned to other think-tanks to serve as his brain trust. During two terms in office, he drew on 150 individuals from Heritage, the Hoover Institution, and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Even, US 'policy of war' or 'war on terrorism' in 2001 against Iraq was made with the suggestions and research findings of a think-tank namely 'Project for New American Century'. In spite of having US dominance on Think-tank, they convene professionals from the external countries for sharing ideas with the policy makers within the framework of think-tank. In Bangladesh, we have some government and non-government think-tanks; but we don't have such type of glaring course works relating to sharing ideas with that of foreign resource personalities who have the greater affiliation to policy-making.

There are immense lacks of new idea set-up, which is one of the major constraints to the way of proper public policy-making in Bangladesh. Even, we have no prolific ex-ante analysis (prior analysis on decision) under governmental surveillance, but ex-post analysis (post analysis to implement the decision) of budget beyond governmental supervision, which is also very minimal. For this reason, our budget, to some extent, fails to satisfy the desire of the people as it lacks ex-ante analysis.

Governments of many developed countries like US, France, Germany, and Japan etc. sat with those think-tanks for budgetary discussion under ex-ante analysis. Bangladesh needs to have not only public and privately owned think-tanks but also other professionals who may even oppose the official version of the problem(s) or policy so articulated. These independent think-tanks from their contending approach may be able to competitively gather information from the field with a view to assisting or criticizing the government for making people-oriented policy. Seemingly, such entities, especially opposition think-tanks, may root out the trend of biased policy analysis. Markedly, sometimes nation faces confusing statement from the authoritative source(s) relating to the purchasing capacity of the people, the economic growth rate etc. of the country.

Ours have a dominant market of garment industry from which the country earns at least 56% of total foreign currency every year. Bangladesh may use the potentials of the think-tanks to enhance its market policy abroad. In the age of globalization, various economically advanced countries like China, India, and Japan have already put together its course of occupying world market with their home grown commodities through promoting sophisticated market policy framed by various think-tanks. In the backdrop of above discussed situation, pragmatic think-tanks both public and private may be helpful in providing policy analysis tools, knowledge and expertise and thereby improve quality of public policy-making. To put it more simply, Bangladesh now needs the honest services of a trusted brand of think-tanks more pressingly than ever before to keep its progressive march on and forward.

(The writer is a Faculty at Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management (BIGM), Dhaka.)

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