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No convergence of views on Doha agenda or new round

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 14 July 2001 - - The informal consultations and discussions led by the Chairman of the General Council on the Doha Ministerial Conference have not narrowed the differences among WTO members on a new round and its agenda, and “we are still far away from any significant convergence of positions”, in the assessment of the overall situation by GC Chair, Mr. Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong China.

Pakistan, India and a number of the developing countries, members of the Like-Minded Group, made clear that lack of progress on implementation issues, including on textiles and anti-dumping questions, would have a negative impact on other areas.

Trade officials in briefing the media, said that everyone was now seriously engaged in addressing implementation issues, it was also becoming clear that thee could be successfully addressed only in the context of a new round and there was now a ‘broad consensus’ on a new round.

This view appeared to be part of the WTO Director-General and secretariat’s campaign in promoting the launching of a new round, and the attempts of the Quad (Canada, EC, Japan and the US) to make some positive noises about resolving implementation issues in the context of a new round of negotiations, and of Japan and the EC to put the new issues in such a round.

But it was apparent, both in the brief comments and views of some of the developing countries at the General Council, as well as elsewhere, that this has not resulted in bridging the differences and gaps.

In a statement at the informal General Council meeting Friday, Harbinson reported on the open-ended informal consultations he had been holding in some areas, and the other (clearly less open-ended) meetings and consultations conducted by the WTO Director-General and his deputies, and, while suggesting some movement on the issues, Harbinson summed up the overall situation:

“Everyone is working very hard, but on too many of the issues before us we are still too faraway from any significant convergence of positions.”

With only 55 working days left before Doha (4th Ministerial Conference), and the ‘reality check’ on the preparations for the declaration to be made at another senior official level meeting of the General Council to be undertaken end of July, said Mr. Harbinson, “we still seem to be lacking that sense of the positive connections among issues which is necessary to arrive at a generally acceptable package.”

In some detailed assessments, Harbinson said that he had held consultations on TRIPS-related issues, investment, competition policy, other elements of the WTO work programme, Ministers views on current issues and on technical cooperation and capacity-building.

While all these were useful and constructive, “the differences between positions have narrowed little, if at all, on the more difficult issues.”

On the subject of market access negotiations for non-agricultural products, where the WTO deputy director- general Mr. Andy Stoler, has been holding consultations, Mr.Harbinson said that the consultations revealed that without prejudice to linkages drawn with other questions, ‘most’ delegations were ready to treat them on their own merits, and that if other linkages and issues were successfully addressed, “there would appear to be a broad consensus” on how this question could be treated at Doha - in terms of coverage, objectives, modalities and special and differential treatment.

The elements of ‘broad consensus’ included:

        coverage should be comprehensive and without a priori conclusions, with tariff and non-tariff measures included in the scope of the negotiations;

        among the objectives of the negotiations would be the substantial reduction or elimination of tariff and non- tariff barriers, with ‘many’ delegations drawing attention to the need to address tariff peaks and tariff escalations;

. everyone acknowledged that developing countries’ interests would require inclusion of special and differential treatment consultations, such as absence of full reciprocity; and

        in terms of a negotiating mandate, delegations seemed to be in favour of leaving agreement on details of modalities for post-Doha.

However, in comments on the issue, both India and Turkey made clear they had reservations on negotiating this issue separately in a new round, and their positions had not changed.

On a review/amendment of the DSU, Harbinson said there was a need for further reflection - both on the draft amendments put forward by (EC and Japan and others) as well as other options. The consultations conducted by New Zealand’s Amb. Farrell, showed there was no consensus. While some members wanted pre-Doha agreement on draft amendments circulated (Japan and the EC are among those who have put forward some formal and procedural changes), others felt the drafts were not suitable and could not be fixed with limited changes. A number of delegations were ready to consider idea of a mandated review of the DSU post-Doha, but with certain conditions - such as clear time frame, prioritization of issues, and the review seen as a systemic matter, separate from any idea of a single undertaking.

On agriculture (consultations by the deputy Director-General Miguel Rodriguez) where the Cairns Group wants the negotiations to go beyond that envisaged in Art. 20 of the Agreement on Agriculture (and the EC, Japan, Korea etc are opposed), the consultations so far had not indicated much change in position.

On implementation, Harbinson said he had holding consultations on the basis of proposals put forward by ‘seven delegations’ (with Uruguay taking the lead), and that in his view there was a “sense of constructive engagement and a shared desire to find solutions”, and that a special session of the General Council will meet on 20 July on this issue.

Argentina, Morocco, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Thailand and Uruguay have put forward a paper (which is described at the WTO as the ‘submarine group proposal’) identifying issues on which agreement could be reached on the basis of some compromises suggested by them, others where issues had been clarified in the subsidiary bodies and no further action seemed necessary for the time being, the issues referred to the subsidiary bodies and being discussed but should be brought back to the General Council for reconsideration, and a fourth set of issues that could be addressed only in the context of negotiations on the basis of an appropriate mandate.

[The Quad countries have also put forward some ideas on this which have an even more minimalist approach]

While Mr.Harbinson’s report left the impression of progress and optimism that a solution would be found, the members of the like-minded group said in comments that the proposals of the ‘submarine group’ were not sufficient. India, presumably in a reference to the Quad package, said that any proposals on implementation should have an added value.

India and Pakistan noted that there had not even been any consultations by the GC chair on the textiles and anti- dumping issues raised in the implementation proposals. They thought the chair’s assessment was too optimistic. These issues, India said, had been before the WTO for at least 3-4 years, and “having waited this long,” India was willing to wait for a fortnight more (the ‘reality check’ to be done at the end of July). But progress made so far on the issue was not sufficient.

Pakistan underlined that the discussions so far had not even touched the issues of textiles and anti-dumping issues and wondered when the GC chair would hold consultations on them.

The progress or lack of progress on the implementation issues, and including textiles and anti-dumping would impact on other areas of preparations for Doha.

India was ‘less sanguine’ that Harbinson on the outcome of the consultations. – SUNS4937

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

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