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Supachai warns against too many amendments in draft text

Geneva, 20 Jul (Kanaga Raja) - There cannot be too many divergences or too many amendments in the draft text of the July package, the WTO Director-General Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi said Tuesday, adding that in some areas of the text some countries seem to be putting up many demands.

The Director-General made these remarks at a media briefing after the conclusion of two days’ of talks at the WTO at the level of Heads of Delegation over the July framework package that both he and the General Council Chair Shotaro Oshima presented to delegations last week.

The Director-General was confident that the draft text that he and Oshima had presented to delegations is “an accurate and balanced reflection of the positions of the members,” and has been given by the members themselves to the Chairmen of the respective negotiating bodies.

Supachai said that the discussions in the last two days have been well balanced, but disappointing in some areas in which some countries “seem to be still putting up so many demands that certainly all these will have to be met will take a few more months if not a few more days.”

He hoped that the responses of delegations, over the last two days, to the draft text of the July package are only the initial reactions to the draft text and not really the final position.

The final positions, he said, are yet to come from capitals and so in the next few days, both he and Oshima will be holding consultations in order to obtain a more accurate picture of what is going to emerge as the final text.

[According to some unconfirmed reports at the WTO, a number of key ministers, whose agreement may be essential for an Agricultural and overall package, would be here on hand later this week. These reports said it might include USTR Robert Zoellick, EC Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath and the Mauritius Trade Minister, Mr.Cuttaree.]

While more work in detail is needed to put the text to some test, Supachai said that the expectation is that there cannot be too many divergences in the text or too many amendments to be made in the next couple of days. While claiming the text to be “a well-balanced document”, he admitted that some “fine-tuning” will have to be done.

The Director-General did not think that “we can accommodate all the demands in the next couple of days because some of these demands and propositions are meant to be discussed in more detail after the July framework package.”

“We just cannot do it in time,” he stressed.

Supachai said that the way they were going to work was to start off from the firm background of discussions on agriculture, with more time spent there on ‘fine-tuning’. Other key areas such as NAMA, Singapore Issues will also be subject to fine-tuning, he added.

The General Council Chair Shotaro Oshima said that the draft text that both he and the Director General put forward to delegations last week did not represent an agreed text and expected it to evolve during the course of the negotiations.

He stressed that in both their views, this text “represents an approximation of what we consider the best hope in forging consensus.”

From the initial round of consultations among the heads of delegation, Oshima said that there was divergence in positions as members responded in preliminary observations to the text. He hoped that these divergences would eventually find convergence. If there is too much divergence, “we will have difficulty in finding success at the end of this process.”

Oshima said that he intended to follow up with intensive consultations in the days ahead and stressed that the 30 July date “will be the drop-dead deadline and we will find out whether we will be able to come to convergence at that time.” There would be second draft text at some point in time and that timing would depend on the deepening of the negotiations.

In his statement to the informal HOD meeting Monday, Oshima said that the text “is based on the widely-shared understanding that our work under the DDA in the first half of this year should result in an outcome by end-July that would unlock key issues and provide momentum and direction to guide our work across all fronts after July.”

Oshima also explained in detail the rationale behind his proposal on trade facilitation in annex D of the draft text as well as the three remaining Singapore issues.

He said that he sensed a need to address unanswered concerns, especially with respect to capacity constraints and different levels of development and that special emphasis was given to technical assistance and capacity building. The text on trade facilitation also addressed the special needs and sensitivities of developing and least-developed countries, in particular on both the timing and the extent of commitments to capacity constraints. This has great significance for the structure and balance of the final agreement, he said.

He also said that he had proposed an approach to the handling of issues related to costs during the negotiating process. In order to address the concerns of some members over the costs of implementation, this problem must be dealt with by treating costs as an integral part of the negotiations, he added.

With respect to the remaining three issues of investment, competition and transparency in government procurement, Oshima said that it had struck him that members on all sides have changed their positions significantly on these three issues since the pre-Cancun phase of the discussions and that the debate has become more and more volatile as the ground has shifted and “we have allowed the situation to become too politicized and polarized.”

He added that the formulation that he had proposed would enable members to finally put this “frustrating debate behind us and move on with the important work of the Doha Round.

With regards to the process, Oshima said that following the HOD meeting Monday, he and the Director-General plan to organize further consultations in various formats during the week in order to facilitate further convergence on the text that will finally be put to the General Council next week.

This work, he said, would be carried out in a variety of formats. He also said that there were no plans to convene a formal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee before the General Council meeting starting July 27.

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