TWN Info Service on WTO Issues (July04/4)
13 July 2004
Third World Network
WTO Agriculture meeting postponed
Last week there were informal meetings among some WTO members on agriculture. A meeting on agriculture scheduled for 14-16 July was postponed by the chairperson of the agriculture negotiations. These developments were also in light of events that would take place over the weekend of 10-11 July in Paris (of the five interested parties in agriculture) and of the ACP and G90 countries in Mauritius.
Below is a report by Chakravarthi Raghavan, dated 9 July, on the developments at the end of last week in Geneva.
The report was published in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS), of which Mr Raghavan is Chief Editor, and is reproduced here with his permission. Permission for any further reproduction should be sought from Mr Raghavan at firstname.lastname@example.org
with best wishes
WTO Agriculture meeting postponed
Published in South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) 12 July 2004)
The chairman of the Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture (where the Doha negotiations on agriculture are taking place), Mr. Tim Groser of New Zealand has postponed the meetings of the Committee scheduled for 14-16 July.
In a note circulated to the members, Groser appears to have said that he decided to postpone the meeting after consultations with the General Council chairman, Shotaru Oshima of Japan and the WTO Director-General and chairman of the Trade Negotiations Committee, Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, and that Groser would first submit his draft framework text for the agricultural annex to Oshima and Supachai, and convene and hold the meeting of the Special Session.
Since that meeting would only be to enable Groser to describe the judgements underlying the draft framework text on agriculture, he has suggested in his letter, that members might decide not to bring their senior officials, who might reflect (in their capitals) on the draft he would present and then come to Geneva for discussions at a meeting he would convene.
The expectation is that Groser may convene such a one-day meeting on 19 July. The General Council is due to meet on 27 July to adopt a framework package, in effect to relaunch the Doha negotiations which crashed at Cancun.
Groser’s letter and postponement comes after this week’s meetings of the officials of the Five Interested Parties (Australia, Brazil, India, the EU and the US) among themselves, and their meetings later with the G10 , as also meetings with the coordinators of the G33 and another ‘green room’ type consultations of Oshima and Supachai (along with Groser) with the G90.
At the meeting of the FIPs with the G10, individual members of the FIPs explained their views on the framework, but there was no collective or common FIPs view.
There is no indication that the FIPs have been able to resolve or even find a modus vivendi for a July framework on agriculture and continued talk on several details later.
After the meeting of the G10 and FIPs, some of the G10 said that five had not come up with anything new, nor speak with one voice.
The officials of the FIPs meeting in Geneva have not reached any accord, but have been only able to identify various issues and questions to which their ministers at Paris could respond.
It was not at all clear, whether the Paris meeting would be able to agree on a draft framework, or even if for tactical reasons they don’t want to do so, whether they could indicate in sufficient detail what could be acceptable to them, and which Groser could put into his draft text.
It is possible of course that purely from a tactical point of view, rather than coming up with a draft of their own, the FIPs might just encourage or enable Groser to put forward his text which they may tacitly agree not to reject or oppose. But this appears less easy.
Some trade diplomats, on basis of briefings to them from out of this week’s meetings, said that there was probably in fact a widening of the gulf between the US and EU, as also the others.
In the meetings with Groser and the FIPs, the G33 have been pressing their demand for self-selective designation by each country of “Special Products” where they would not have to cut tariffs.
Trade diplomats of the G20 were also unclear and uncertain on Thursday, after the intense series of plurilateral official level meetings on agriculture this week (all of which Groser was present), and the ministerial meeting in Paris, whether these will in fact result in a framework.
After the talks, each one of the participants is fully aware of what the demandeurs want on the three pillars of agriculture reform (domestic support, export competitivity and market access) and what the other side would be willing to or able to accept at this point.
The Ministers of the FIPs are meeting in Paris this weekend to consider the agriculture issue, while in Mauritius meetings of the ACP ministers and then of the G90 are also scheduled - where not only agriculture, but the EC proposal for the weak developing countries (among the G90) not having to make any commitments on tariff cuts, and the Singapore issues and their future are to be considered.
The EC wants negotiations on Trade Facilitation, and to keep the three other Singapore issues (investment, competition policy, and government procurement) on the WTO agenda, but in a limbo outside the Single Undertaking.
The LDCs have said the other three issues should drop off the WTO agenda. A few others who had indicated willingness to negotiate Trade Facilitation, have made clear that this was on the basis of their understanding that the EC would drop the other three issues and take them off the agenda.
On the agenda of the Mauritius meeting is also the proposal of several of the G90 for provisions against erosion of their trade preferences - which in effect would mean the developed countries maintaining some level of tariffs, which would apply to other developing countries, but give the G90 a preferential margin - something that several others have not been willing to accept.
On the agenda of the Mauritius meeting is an item for the continuance in some form of the textiles and clothing quota regime that as of now will automatically end on 31 December 2004. The EU and the US publicly profess that they are against continuance of the quotas - though their own industries are campaigning and lobbying for it.
The quota regime cannot be continued without a consensus decision to extend the life of the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing, and it is difficult to envisage China, India, Pakistan and a few others agreeing to this.
On their part, the WTO leadership, and the EU are mobilising some of the ACP members to ensure that the Mauritius meeting agrees to “flexibility” on Singapore issues and agree to launch negotiations on Trade Facilitation, as part of the July framework package.
On the trade facilitation issue, several of the G90 countries, as also some others, want further clarificatory work before agreeing on modalities for negotiations - including on issues of dispute settlement, costs of administration etc. The LDCs and some others have said they would not again commit the mistake of the Uruguay Round and the Marrakesh Agreement, and any obligation would have to be linked upfront with funding for costs of administration and capacity building.
The EC says that all this could be ‘negotiated’ - a view that has not convinced the LDCs.
At the ‘green room’ meetings this week, some of the G90 countries pushed for the idea mooted by the EC Commissioner Pascal Lamy of no tariff cuts (in agriculture or non-agriculture products) by the G90, or the weak among them, in effect creating a special new group of developing countries for Special and Differential Treatment, and for preferences to them.
Several other developing countries from Latin America and Asia who are competitive suppliers and would be placed at a disadvantage were vehemently opposed.
Some of these countries whose export would be discriminated against through such EC preferences are equally poor, and some have large populations of the poor.
Another issue impinging on the July framework, is the problem raised by the four West African cotton producers - over the US subsidised production and exports of cotton. They want such subsidies to be eliminated, and pending that, they want to be compensated for their losses.