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GC Special Sessions to continue focus on implementation

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 9 Feb 2001 --   Implementation issues are to continue to be addressed at the Special Sessions of the General Council, with the timing of the sessions and preparations for them to be set on the basis of informal consultations to be carried out by the new chairman of the General Council.

This was announced Thursday at the General Council by the outgoing Chairman, Amb. Kare Bryn of Norway, who reported on the consultations that he had been holding (in pursuance of the General Council decision in December on implementation issues).

Earlier, Brazil raised the issue of the Canadian ban on beef imports from Brazil on the grounds of suspected mad cow disease, and served notice that it would bring this issue up at the General Council and the subsidiary bodies.

Trade diplomats noted however that the WTO system is so weighed against the developing world that no quick relief is possible or likely if Brazil were merely to follow the dispute settlement route -  raising a dispute, holding consultations, getting a panel, arguing the case (and winning it), going through the appeal and implementation process etc.

With major countries following neo-mercantalist policies and threats and pressures to advance by any means the interests of their corporations, the ‘trade game’ and the ‘power play’ are becoming rough, and need to be countered in other ways, trade observers said.

The statement on implementation issues by the Council chairman brought out that no formal linkages were being established between the implementation work and other processes (current ongoing negotiations and preparations for the next ministerial and a possible new round to be launched), though progress in implementation would have an important bearing on the other work of the organization.

The next chairman is expected to be Mr. Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong China. However, Harbinson being named and elected is linked to a consensus on the chairmanship of other bodies, including the Agriculture Committee, where the agriculture negotiations are being held.

Bryn had held consultations this week on implementation-related issues, where at one stage the EC and others tried unsuccessfully to roll all these problems into a new round (as they put it ‘a solution to be found in the wider context’), but which was resisted by some of the leading developing countries.

In reporting on his consultations so far, Bryn said that firstly, the General Council had a clear mandate on the work on implementation-related issues -  spelt out in the General Council decisions of 3 May 2000 and the June 2000 work programme. “These remain the basic framework for the present process,” he said.

These two decisions had set out that the process on implementation issues should be completed no later than the 4th session of the Ministerial Conference and should be a mixture of formal and informal processes.

Last year, the General Council had formal Special Sessions on implementation intermingled with informal consultations conducted by the Director-General and the General Council chairman. To enable the consultations to be done in a transparent way, he had conducted frequent informal open-ended meetings.

Second, all Members recognized that the process of addressing implementation-related issues and concerns was of the utmost priority and that “nobody wished to establish linkages to any other current or future areas of the WTO work programme at the present time.”

“However,” added Bryn in the next sentence, “it was also clear that for a number of delegations, the progress made in this process could have an important bearing on other work of the organization.”

This seemed to bring out that there were no “formal” linkages between implementation and other issues (agriculture and services talks or preparations for the Doha ministerial), but there were ‘informal’ linkages that will influence the stand of the developing countries pursuing implementation on a new round etc.

The remaining implementation issues, Bryn said, fell into four categories: those that have been referred to the subsidiary bodies for their consideration; the outstanding issues in para 21 of the Mchumo text -  with two subsects, those that have been the subject of intense consultations; and others which have not; issues raised by members in the course of consultations, and the range of implementation issues in para 22 of the Mchumo text.

The para 21 in the Mchumo text for the Seattle Ministerial meeting listed the items on which the Ministerial conference was to take decisions, while para 22 issues were those where the Conference was to commit itself to address and resolve in the next year.

Bryn said that it seemed to him that most members would be prepared to concentrate in the first instance on issues referred to subsidiary bodies, those remaining to be dealt with in para 21 and other issues raised by Members. There had also been a suggestion that issues could be taken up Agreement by Agreement. It would appear that “further reflection” is needed on both these.

Bryn also said that there had been a suggestion that a deadline should be fixed for reports by the subsidiary bodies, while some delegations preferred to allow sufficient time for these bodies to carry out their work adequately. “This is also a matter needing further reflection”.  However, the General Council could convey to the subordinate bodies the urgency attached to the work remitted to them.

There was also a need to develop and implement the continuing work programme as soon as possible, meaning at Special Sessions of the General Council. To be productive, such Special Sessions need to be well prepared, and this could be done through informal consultations by the General Council Chairman and the Director-General, with the consultations conducted “in full respect of transparency”.

“The next Special Session of the General Council and the informal process by which we will prepare for it would be the subject of informal consultations by his successor as soon as possible, Bryn added.

The Council took note of the statements and agreed to the course.

Earlier, the General Council agreed to set up a working party to deal with the application of the Yugoslav Federal Republic to join the WTO.

The former Yugoslavia, before its break-up, was a member of the old GATT and had been an active participant in the Uruguay Round. But the breakup and the conflicts in the Balkans put an end to that and now the Yugoslav Federation has to negotiate and accede to the WTO. - SUNS4833

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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