TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jul05/10)

23 July 2005


The WTO enters an important week of activities on Monday 25 July.  A meeting of the General Council on 27 and 29 July was scheduled to produce "first approximations" of modalities in key issues such as agriculture, non-agriculture market access (NAMA) and trade facilitation, and to make progress on services and "development issues."

However, this timetable has now been found to be too ambitious as significant differences are evident in all the major areas.

Below is a brief preview of the activities that have been taking place in the past few days at the WTO and a preview of what is expected to take place next week.

With best wishes
Martin Khor


Preview of WTO activities in the week starting Monday 25 July
Martin Khor, Third World Network
Geneva:  22 July 2005

The final working week of July, starting 25 July, will see a spurt of activity at the World Trade Organisation as members try to reach as much agreement as possible on a number of issues. 

Hopes that key decisions will be taken on agriculture and non-agriculture market access (NAMA) have been dimmed by the lack of ability so far to reach agreement on a range of issues, especially market access in agriculture and a formula on NAMA.

At a meeting of the WTO's Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on Thursday 21 July, the WTO Director General, Dr. Supachai,  pressed the "alarm bell" that the negotiations are in trouble, indicating that there had been little progress in reaching consensus on most issues.

The "mini-Ministerial" meeting in Dalian, China last week had also not produced agreement, as confirmed by Dr Supachai.   This is in spite of the glowing report of the Co-Chairs of that meeting, which "exaggerated the amount of convergence that was achieved, since there was actually disagreements on practically all issues," according to one diplomat who was present.  

The TNC meeting was surprisingly suspended after about only an hour, because it was not possible to produce a report with anything new that was positive, especially on agriculture.   Meetings have since been going on, at an informal level, involving small groups of countries, in a last minute attempt to get some agreement on some issues. 

Starting on Thursday (21 July) night, a small group of 12 to 14 members have been meeting outside the WTO building to try to agree on a tariff-reduction formula.  The meeting also continued on Friday and is expected to also meet on Saturday and Monday..

Chaired by the agriculture special session Chairman, Tim Grosser, the meeting participants include the FIPS (five interested parties) - the US, EC, Australia, India and Brazil - as well as Japan., Switzerland, Canada, Malaysia, China, Argentina and Indonesia.  According to some reports, Korea and Benin were also present.

This group is termed "extended FIPS" by some. The extended FIPS group discussed the formula and the Blue Box issues on Thursday night, sensitive and special products on Friday, and is expected to discuss food aid and state trading enterprises on Saturday, as well as domestic support on Monday.  

Others who are not invited are waiting for information and for other negotiating processes to start.  Discussions on NAMA that were supposed to start this week have been postponed to early in the week of 25 July, to see what happens first on agriculture this weekend.  If there is a "deal" in agriculture, this could smoothen the talks in NAMA.

It looks like a repeat of July 2004, when the FIPs met among themselves prior to the General Council meeting and even after the General Council began its meeting.  The rest of the WTO membership were kept waiting and wondering what was happening in the FIPS meeting.  When the FIPs reached a tentative agreement and announced it, the negotiations on other issues (especially NAMA) were rushed through in a matter of hours to make up the so-called July Package.

The result was an agriculture text that most people did not understand, it being very complex technically, and a text on NAMA that most countries had rejected just a few weeks previously (namely the ACP, Africa and LDC Ministers at a meeting in Mauritius in early July).

The following are some of the expected events in the coming week:

On Monday 25 July:  The informal consultations of the "extended FIPS" will continue to meet, to discuss domestic support and perhaps other issues left over from their weekend meeting.

On Monday 25 July, morning:  The chair of the special session on Trade and Development committee, Faizal Ismail of South Africa, is scheduled to come up with  a document on proposed language on agreement-specific special and differential treatment  relating to LDCs;  

On Tuesday 26 July, at 3.00pm:  The agriculture negotiations Chair, Tim Groser, is scheduled to brief an informal heads of delegation meeting on the results of his consultation on agriculture

On Monday or Tuesday also:   It is expected that informal consultations will take place on NAMA.   This may also take place later, if there is little progress on agriculture.

On Wednesday 27 July at 10.00am:  The General Council meeting begins at 10.00 a.m.  Out of the 10 items on the agenda, it is expected to deal with 8 items on that day (TRIPS and public health; rules of origin; non-recognition of rights under articles XXIV:6 and XXVIII of Gatt 1994; waivers under article IX of WTO agreement; requests by US for waivers for AGOA; review of waivers pursuant to article IX:4 of WTO agreement; budget and finance committee recommendations; small economies work programme; report of Director General on implementation issues.

On Friday 29 July: The General Council is expected to resume its formal meeting, with the main agenda item, "Report by Chairman of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC)."    Before this item is discussed, the TNC is expected to have a formal meeting to listen to reports on progress of negotiations on agriculture, NAMA, SDT, services, etc.

It is unclear what the Council will do, whether to give feedback on the reports of the Chairs, and take note of them, or to endorse them.

The General Council chair, Ambassador Amina Mohamad of Kenya, has downplayed the political level of the General Council meeting.  In a letter to delegations on 20 July, she reiterated that "the 27 and 29 July Council meeting will be a regular meeting, and that it is not being convened either at the senior official or Ministerial level."

She has also indicated that there will not be any extension of the meeting.  "Also, I intend to conclude the Council meeting on 29 July", states her letter.

However, it is known that some Ministers are prepared to come to Geneva in the event they are needed.  These are especially Ministers from developed countries, such as from Europe, Japan, etc.

Last year, delegations were also told by the Secretariat to inform their Ministers that they are not required to come to the General Council meeting.  Most developing countries did not send their Ministers.  However, eventually the Ministers of almost all the developed countries came to Geneva.   An "Green Room" meeting, to which mainly the Ministers present were invited, eventually made the major decisions.

There is some talk that the agriculture Chair, Tim Groser, might want to hold further meetings on agriculture on 30 and 31 July, if there is no conclusion by 29 July.  It is unclear however under what mandate such talks would be held, or whether there can be endorsement of any decisions taken there, before the summer break.