TWN Info Service on WTO Issues (Apr03/1)
Geneva 10 April 2003


The WTO’s Trade Negotiations Committee (which coordinates the negotiations arising from the Doha Ministerial) met for three days of meetings on 2-4 April.

The meetings saw sharp divisions of views between developing countries (who expressed disillusionment for lack of progress on TRIPS and health, special and differential treatment, implementation issues, and agriculture) and developed countries (which demanded that developing countries give way and accept “new issues” if they wanted their issues to be resolved).

Many developing countries said they should not be asked to accept these “new issues” in exchange for what had anyway already been promised.

Attached below is a report of the TNC meetings, written by Tetteh Hormeku, who is a senior staff at the Third World Network Africa regional secretariat based in Accra, Ghana. Tetteh was in Geneva during the TNC meetings.

This report has been published in the Africa Trade Agenda, a regular bulletin of the Africa Trade Network.

With best wishes
Martin Khor, TWN



Report of the meetings of the WTO’s Trade Negotiating Committee by Tetteh Hormeku, Third World Network (Africa).

Three days of consultations held by the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) of the World Trade Organisation on 2-4 April in Geneva were characterised by widespread disappointment by developing countries at the failure to meet important negotiating deadlines on issues that are important to them. The TNC meeting ended with African and other developing countries making it clear that issues of concern to them were not be “traded away” for other issues in a package to be decided at the Cancun WTO Ministerial Conference or thereafter.

This came amidst strong signals from some of the major developed-country members of the WTO that progress on the Doha negotiating agenda will turn on decisions in Cancun linking critical elements of the development-related issues (which should have been settled by now) with other issues (particularly the Singapore Issues) to which many developing countries are opposed. The TNC is the powerful body of the WTO that coordinates the negotiations arising from the work programme decided by the Doha Ministerial Conference of November 2001.  It is chaired by the WTO director-general Dr Supachai.

In a statement during the consultations, Kenya emphasised that the challenge facing WTO members was to turn the words of the Doha declaration into reality and deliver a true development round.  Underscoring a number of positions presented by Morocco on behalf of the group of African countries in the WTO, Kenya stated that development related issues should be the top priority of the WTO.

“These issues in our view are not supposed to be issues that are “tradeable” or to be obtained at Cancun or after Cancun as part of a package of all issues”.  In the view of Kenya, these were “separate issues that are to be settled on their own and not as something that should be settled in response to another set of ‘sensitive issues’ that some members would like to obtain”.

At the formal session of the consultations, Ambassador Toufik Ali of Bangladesh, speaking on behalf of the group of Least-Developed Countries, re-stated the long-standing demand of many developing countries.  Rather than  start negotiations on the so-called Singapore issues - investment, competition, government procurement and trade facilitation—the WTO should focus first on addressing the problems faced by the least developed and developing country members of the WTO.

“Almost all delegations, large or small, have expressed their views on the pre-occupation with the current agenda,” said Ambassador Ali, adding that “in our view it would not desirable to bring new items into the negotiating agenda until we have achieved significant progress on those that we are currently grappling with”.

By contrast, the European Union maintained that discussions to make good on the missed deadlines of the Doha declaration should be based on the “principles of single undertaking, with positive outcomes for all”.  The EU representative, Mr Peter Carl, outlined seven areas on which EU expects the Cancun Ministerial to focus with equal importance.  These included agriculture, industrial tariff, the Singapore Issues, special and differential treatment for developing countries.  Others were geographical indications, dispute settlement, and the question as to whether Multilateral Environment Agencies be granted observer status in the WTO.

While it was prepared to work towards some early results on some issues before Cancun, the EU made it clear that it saw the WTO ministerial as the key place for definitive decisions.  Even in the area of Special and Differential treatment, where decisions should have reached at the end of 2002, the EU suggestion is to the effect that some of those elements that developing countries regard as most meaningful will  have to be decided on in Cancun, with negotiations to address the rest taking place after that.

On the the Singapore issues, and as an example of showing flexibility in order to achieve positive outcomes, the EU re-stated its now controversial approach to the modalities for negotiations which focused on procedural issues about how to organise the negotiations rather than issues of substance which many believe were a necessary part of any discussions on modalities.  This had already been denounced by some members as seeking to manufacture consensus where there is none.

“There is no reason why decisions cannot be taken at Cancun... It is not a question of time or the alleged complexity of issues but of focus and compromise” stated Carl.

On its part the United Stated made it clear it expected Cancun to agree on modalities to start negotiations on the Singapore issues.  In bilateral discussions with some developing country delegations, the US explained that its primary purpose in agreeing to put investment and other Singapore issues on the Doha agenda was to respond to EC’s demand for a balanced agenda, in exchange for EU making meaningful moves in agriculture.

The US therefore strongly disagreed with the view expressed by some countries during the consultations that the Cancun ministerial should be limited to a review of the on-going negotiations in which Ministers took stock and provided guidance for the way forward, without taking new decisions.

The consultations started on 2 April with a day of informal meeting of all delegates which was meant to allow members to speak their minds freely and frankly.  This was followed by a day of bilateral discussions, during which the US met with about 28 countries, and the EU with 30.  Members of the Like Minded Group of developing countries also had their own meetings.  The final day was taken up a formal meeting of the members.  Senior officials based in the capitals of some member countries were in Geneva to participate in all three parts of the consultations.

Another meeting of the TNC is planned for June.  In addition, Egypt is said to be intending to hold a mini- ministerial in June/July, and the OECD trade ministers would meet in July to review issues involved in the Doha negotiations.

The consultations were designed to address three questions which WTO Director-General and Chair of the TNC, Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, had circulated before the meeting, namely:  a) ways in which members could show greater flexibility in the negotiations; (b) what members thought were key to making progress; and c) how to make Cancun a success.

Supachai’s hope, in setting these questions, was for WTO members to move forward beyond the undeniable disappointment with the failures of the negotiations so far. As he told members on opening the informal meeting on the first day, “we can not allow disappointment to distract us from the tasks before us across the whole range of the Doha agenda, nor let it weaken our determination to arrive at a balanced and positive outcome.”

He exhorted members not be “dazzled by speculation about prospects for success or failure at Cancun.  It is success or failure of the Round itself that should be our primary concern.  Cancun will be part - a very important part - of the successful continuation of our work programme.”

He then gave a broad over-view of the situation in various areas of the negotiations so far—including agriculture, services,  non-agricultural (industrial) market access, TRIPS, special and differential treatment, dispute settlement, and trade and environment.  In most of these, whatever positive signal he noted was threatened by grave obtstacles.  Some of these had, as he put it, “serious consequences for the Doha development agenda as a whole”.

However, he warned members to guard against the temptation of passing around blame and finger-pointing, as well as making negative linkages.  He invited them instead to go beyond talking about positive linkages and actually start constructing them, pointing to the example of those making demands in agriculture now embarking on comprehensive offers in services in exchange, all in the spirit and as part of the principle of Single Undertaking.

Finally he urged “all delegations to avoid re-stating well known positions, or repeating what they have said in previous TNC meetings”.

If Supachai was hoping by this to strike a positive tone for the discussions, he was not particularly lucky in terms of what followed.  In the discussions that ensued, members basically listed the issues and activities of interest to them, and re-stated their positions on each of these.  This format was repeated in both the bilateral discussions that followed, up to the final day of the consultations in which delegations formally stated their positions.

Take a few examples.  Korea was of the view that the negotiations, in particular, agriculture should not be hurried, but must be grounded in reality. Meanwhile all issues linked to development be settled soon.    The Czech Republic urged members not to give up, in spite of the missed deadlines, and to tackle the development issues first.  Switzerland complained that some members approach trade liberalisation as a case of others opening up their markets while they protected theirs.

The US was committed to finding a solution to the impasse on TRIPs and access to essential medicines before Cancun, but stated that, in this regard, governments would have to work with pharmaceutical companies to find a workable solution.  In addition, it saw progress in the negotiations in agriculture as key to movement forward, emphasising the need to settle the question on modalities.  The US urged members to keep their ambitions high, noting that there was nothing more inspiring to progress that when people felt they were being left behind.  It viewed technical assistance to developing countries as an important part of this process, and was  taking action in this regard, including making a $1 million contribution to the Global Trust Fund (which provided funding for regional capacity building seminars and the like).

The EU did not believe that negotiations were at a standstill; merely that negotiations have only just begun.  Achieving  a successful conclusion of the negotiations would require more than “mere wishful thinking and rhetorical exhortations for ‘political will’”.  Members should approach the negotiations in the spirit of seeking positive outcomes for all, based on the fundamental principle of single undertaking.  For this it was prepared to be flexible in all areas.    It then listed a number areas as equally important for decision in Cancun, linking the Singapore issues with progress in areas such as agriculture and special and differential treatment for developing countries.

Brazil, like many other developing countries, decried the fact that the areas in which the deadlines were missed were in areas of concern to developing countries, and urged that movement on these areas in necessary before Cancun.  It also announced that it will be handing its offers on services soon to the WTO secretariat.  (14 countries have already handed in offers)

India also expressed concern about the missed deadlines, denouncing furthermore as gravely mistaken the views by some countries that developing country concern with special and differential treatment as well as implementation were simply a reflection of  ideological positions.

Speaking for the Africa group, Morocco recorded their disappointment with the missed deadlines, and stated that African countries can not be expected to arrive at Cancun empty-handed, which is what is implied in the failures in the areas of  Agriculture, S&D, Implementation issues and TRIPS, all areas of key concern for Africa.  These failures, Morocco added, signify an abandonment of the principal elements which made the Doha agenda a development agenda.

Kenya was even more forthright in this regard.  Reminding delegates that the Doha committed members to put development at the heart of the trade negotiations, it stated that the failure to meet the deadlines in the crucial areas questions the commitment of members “to making international trade rules fairer so that those at the lower levels of development can have the chance to improve their lives”.    To avoid failure at Cancun, Kenya urged that members should first and foremost address development issues that are of prime importance to developing country members.

A statement presented behalf of the LDCs by Bangladesh essentially backed up all these concerns in different ways. Supachai had exhorted delegates not be dazzled by prospects around Cancun.

However, what to do at Cancun produced some of the sharpest differences of perspectives.  At one end, China was of the view that Cancun should be approached as a stock-taking and mid-term review meeting, rather one in which new agreements would be reached.  In the view of China, possible decisions could be limited such matters as to ensuring the quick accession of least. At the other end, the US, openly  disagreed with this view point, insisted that Cancun would have to agree on modalities to start negotiations on the Singapore Issues, with the explanation, as stated earlier, that this was key to getting the EU to make positive moves in the area of agriculture. For the EU,  of course, decision on the Singapore issues in Cancun was a necessary part of the package of decisions to be taken, including in agriculture, special and differential treatment. In between these opposite ends, different countries focused on the agreements that needed to be reached before Cancun. All in all then, the consultations did not seem to have proceeded that much according to Supachai’s ‘road-map’. 

Even on his exhortation on finger-pointing, not all members could help stating their positions in a manner that exposed a finger or two.  The EU delegate declared himself at once amused, perplexed and concerned at a suggestion from some quarters that progress on agricultural negotiations could be linked to EU’s on-going review of its CAP, and suggested that this could only come from people at a loss for ideas on substance.  Later at a press briefing, he dismissed as absurd claims by the Cairns group and others that the EU was holding things up.

Nevertheless, at a press conference to mark the end of the consultations, Supachai stated that in spite of the missed deadlines, members had emerged from the consultations renewed in their commitment to complete the negotiations on schedule.  How much of this was shared by the generality of the members of the WTO remains to be seen.

However, some of the senior officials invited from the capitals of the WTO member countries to participate in the consultations could not be said to have been that much inspired.   As early as the closing stages of the first day, a diplomat from a leading African country indicated that the official from his country was getting ready to abandon what was becoming a charade and go back, saying that he could not justify the expense involved in his staying in Geneva only to hear repeated the same old stories which masked the unwillingness of developed countries to address the issues of concern to his country and people.