TWN Info Service on WTO Issues (Feb 04/1)

14 February 2004


Dear friends and colleagues

At the WTO's General Council meeting on 11 February, new chairpersons were appointed for the General Council itself as well as the subsidiary bodies of the WTO.

However, no new Chairpersons were appointed for the working groups on three Singapore issues -- investment, competition and transparency in government procurement.   The fourth issue is trade facilitation, which is discussed as a special agenda item under the Good Council.

The non-appointment of chairs for the working groups is significant as it indicates that these working groups will not be meeting, at least not for now.  It also indicates that the Singapore issues are to be put on the back burner.

However the General Council's outgoing Chair also announced that informal consultations will continue, at the level of the General Council on the

Singapore issues.

Below is a TWN report by Goh Chien Yen on the General Council meeting.

With best wishes

Martin Khor



No Chairpersons for Working Groups on Singapore Issues Announced at WTO General Council meeting

By Goh Chien Yen, Third World Network, Geneva 11 Feb 2004

A major development at the WTO General Council meeting on 11 February was that the new chairpersons were announced for the General Council and many other bodies of the WTO, but the General Council did not appoint Chairpersons for the working groups on the Singapore Issues.  There are three working groups, on invdestment, competition and transparency in government procurement.

The implication is that these working groups will not be meeting, at least for the time being.

According to trade officials, after making the announcement of the Chairs for the regular bodies, the outgoing Chairman of the General Council Ambassador Carlos Perez del Castillo said: “You see that I have not made any suggestions for the Chairpersons of the Working Groups on the Singapore Issues. This is for practical reasons so as not to complicate agreement on the entire slate of Chairpersons, and since all delegates have no convergence on the substantive areas of these issues.”

However, he also said that “by not making the appointment of the chairpersons at this time is without prejudice to these working groups or to the member countries’ positions on this question.”

He then reminded everyone of what he had said on the Singapore Issues during the last General Council in Dec 2003. According to Amb Castillo, work that has started on the Singapore Issues will continue. “We will continue to explore the possibilities of an agreement of a multilateral approach to the issues of Trade Facilitation and Transparency in Government Procurement and that this work will take place in the General Council with the assistance of the Director-General and Deputy Director General [Yerxa.]”

On the issues of investment and competition, he said:  “These consultations could also offer at the appropriate point an opportunity to take up the question of what treatment they might receive in the future.” He also made clear that these consultations would not prejudice the positions of members nor the outcomes.

A new slate of chairpersons for the Bodies established under the Trade Negotiations Committee, have been officially appointed during the General Council meeting this morning. They include Amb. Stefan Johannesson of Iceland for the Negotiating Group on Non-Agriculture Market Access; Amb. Alejandro Jara of Chile for the Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services; Amb. Manzoor Ahmad of Pakistan for the Special Session of the Council for TRIPS; Amb. Tim Groser of New Zealand for the Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture; Amb. Toufiq Ali of Bangladesh for the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Environment; and Mr Faizel Ismail of South Africa for the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development. They will serve till the 6th Ministerial Meeting.

The General Council also formally welcomed its new chairperson for 2004, Amb. Shotaro Oshima of Japan. Taking over the Chairmanship from Amb Castillo of Uruguay, he assured the member countries of the WTO that he will be guided by the principles of transparency, inclusiveness and fairness and that he will conduct “business in a business like manner”. He also urged members to have “warm hearts and cool heads” when they negotiate. 

There was also a lengthy discussion on whether a decision on could be taken on having the 6th Ministerial Conference later this year. Countries in favour of this such as the US, Canada, Morocco, Singapore, Thailand and others felt that by fixing a date now for the next Ministerial meeting would exert a positive pressure on the negotiations to produce concrete outcomes for the Ministerial. Others including, Cuba, China and Jamaica pointed out that it would be premature to set a date for the next Ministerial given the fact that negotiations have not started and it would therefore be difficult to gauge whether there would be sufficient progress to justify a ministerial. The EC while agreeing that the Ministerial Conference should be based on progress made would like to have the meeting before December 2004.

In any case, Hong Kong, China pointed out that it would require a decision by the members today, if they were to host the Ministerial. Hong Kong, China informed the members that they would need at least ten months to prepare for the Ministerial Conference.

While the formal negotiations under the auspices of the WTO will only begin later since the Chairpersons have just been appointed, according to senior trade diplomats meetings between the major groupings and developed country members will be taking place in Geneva over the rest of the week. High level officials from the capitals including Peter Carl, General Director of Trade for the EC and Deputy US Trade Representative Peter Allgeier are in Geneva to meet with the G20.