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The "Singapore Issues" in the WTO: Implications and Recent Developments

By Martin Khor | Third World Network | November 1, 2004

The so-called “Singapore issues” have been perhaps the most contentious of the issues that have been discussed or negotiated in the World Trade Organisation since its establishment in 1995. The issues are investment, competition policy, government procurement and trade facilitation. The first three of these are strictly non-trade issues, and much of the controversy has been on whether issues that are not directly related to trade should be allowed to be negotiated as treaties in the WTO, which is after all a trade organisation. It is agreed that the fourth issue is related to trade, and the debate has been on whether there should be binding multilateral rules in the WTO on this issue.

This paper gives a background to how the issues were introduced in the WTO and their evolution from the Singapore Ministerial (1996) to the Seattle (1999) and Doha Ministerials (2001) (Section B). The events at the Cancun Ministerial (2003) are detailed in Section C and the developments after Cancun up to the decision at the WTO General Council in July 2004 are given in Section D. The paper then describes the main features of the four issues and analyses the implications for development if they are introduced as subjects of negotiations and agreements in the WTO (Section E). Finally the paper concludes on the prospects that these issues may be revived as subjects of negotiations in the WTO or other trade agreements in the future (Section F). Annexes of some interesting documents are also provided.

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Read More: Governance, Trade, Malaysia, Asia

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