TWN Info Service on WTO Issues (Oct03/5)

23 October 2003

Third World Network


Dear friends and colleagues


Below please find a report of the WTO General Council meeting that was held on 21 October.  It was a quiet meeting lasting only an hour.  There was no substantive discussion on negotiating issues.  Hong Kong’s offer to host the next Ministerial was accepted. 

with best wishes

Martin Khor






General Council has quiet meeting, Hong Kong to host next Ministerial

TWN Report by Martin Khor, Geneva, 21 Oct 2003


The WTO’s General Council held a formal meeting on 21 October but did not deal with any substantive issues as the work of negotiating bodies remain in suspension in the wake of the failure of last month’s Cancun Ministerial Conference.

The Council accepted the offer of Hong Kong, China to host the next WTO Ministerial Conference.  It also decided to retain the present Chairpersons of the negotiating bodies until the first General Council meeting next year.  And discussion on the cotton initiative, which was on the agenda, was postponed.

There was no discussion on the substantive issues of the Doha Work Programme.  Neither did the General Council Chair, Uruguayan Ambassador Carlos Perez del Castillo provide feedback on the consultations he has been having with delegations.

The quietness of the General Council meeting, the first since Cancun, underscores that the process of negotiations or discussions is proceeding slowly and behind the scenes.

At the informal heads-of-delegation meeting on 14 October, it was agreed that Perez del Castillo and WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, would conduct consultations with members, starting with agriculture, the cotton initiative, non-agriculture market access, and the Singapore Issues.

The work of negotiating bodies and the working groups has been suspended, and the scheduled meetings were cancelled.

At the General Council meeting on Tuesday, the offer by Hong Kong, China to host the Sixth Ministerial Conference was accepted.  The offer had been made in August and was expected to have been accepted at Cancun, but that Conference ended without a decision being taken on it.

The timing of the next Ministerial was not decided, and it is understood that this will be tied to how the negotiations proceed from now.

Regarding the terms of the chairs of the negotiating groups, it had been proposed in August that they be extended until the first General Council meeting after the Cancun Ministerial.  At Tuesday’s meeting, Perez del Castillo’s proposal that they now be extended to the first General Council meeting in 2004, when the chairpersonships would be reviewed, was adopted.

The cotton initiative was placed on Tuesday’s agenda by Benin.  However, at the meeting, Benin said that because of consultations currently under way, the co-sponsors of the initiative were prepared to have the issue taken up at a later date.  However, they wanted a decision to be taken by the General Council at its meeting starting on 15 December.

Benin had submitted a paper, dated 7 October, putting forward new text prepared by the co-sponsors of the cotton initiative, as a replacement for para 27 of the Draft Ministerial Text of 13 September.

The proposed new text says:

“We recognize the importance of cotton for the development of a number of developing countries and the need for urgent action to address distortions related to the international trade of this product. To that end, we take note of the proposal submitted by Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali entitled ‘Poverty Reduction:

Sectoral Initiative in Favour of Cotton’ and agree to take, within three months, specific measures concerning cotton. These specific measures include the complete elimination of export subsidies over a period of three years, and the elimination of production-related domestic support over a period of four years, in each case as from 1 January 2005.

Furthermore, we decide to set up a transitional cotton sector support fund in favour of LDC cotton producers and net exporters, and mandate the WTO Director-General to create a working group to draw up practical modalities for supplying and implementing this fund. The fund shall remain in place until subsidies relating to the production and export of cotton have been completely eliminated.”

It was agreed that the final General Council meeting this year would be held on 15, 16 and 18 December.  This meeting would fulfil the deadline that Ministers had set in Cancun; that a General Council meeting be held at the level of senior officials, to take decisions that the Cancun Ministerial was unable to do.