TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Aug05/1)
1 August 2005
At a meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee on 28 July (sandwiched between the General Council meeting on 27 and 29 July), the WTO director general Dr Supachai (who is also chair of the TNC) gave his assessment of the state of the Doha negotiations.
The same report was also provided by Dr Supachai the following day at the General Council.
Below is a report of what Dr Supachai said. It was published in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS).
WTO SITUATION DISAPPOINTING BUT NOT DISASTROUS, SAYS SUPACHAI
By Kanaga Raja, Geneva 28 July 2005
Published in SUNS (South North Development Monitor) 29 July 2005
The Chair of the WTO Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, at a meeting of the TNC on 28 July, summed up the situation in the negotiations on the Doha work programme as "disappointing but not disastrous".
In a report to the TNC produced under his own responsibility as TNC Chair, Supachai painted a rather mixed overall picture of where members currently stand in the negotiations on the Doha work programme.
"The picture remains a mixed one overall," Supachai said, in his assessment after the Chairs of the various bodies under the TNC had presented their reports.
"There has been progress, but we are clearly far from the kind of progress we would all have liked to achieve by the end of July. Nonetheless, there has been constructive engagement and some positive signals and we have narrowed differences, even if we have not yet resolved them," he said.
"I would sum up the situation as disappointing but not disastrous," he said, adding that much substantive work has been done over the last few months.
"The situation we are in makes Hong Kong harder but not impossible," he added.
The TNC meeting was held in order for Supachai to present his overall assessment of the state of play in the negotiations so far. The General Council meets Friday where the TNC Chair's full written report will be discussed.
According to the TNC Chair, his full report to the General Council is aimed to help provide a focus for the intensive work which will be before members when they return in autumn.
"We are finishing the intensive work this month without major breakthroughs but with a much sharper sense of the key issues for urgent decision and the links between them. We are also finishing this month with a renewed sense of the absolute necessity to resolve these issues rapidly if our essential ambitions for Hong Kong are to be realized," he said.
In agriculture, Supachai said that it has not proved possible so far to resolve the outstanding major difficulties, particularly in the market access pillar, but also in domestic support. Nonetheless, some useful further work has been done and it is also certainly true that the main outstanding issues on which decisions are urgently needed have been more clearly identified.
In non-agricultural market access (NAMA), Supachai said that some useful additional progress has been made on issues concerning the formula and the treatment of unbound tariffs, but here too, it is clear that members do not have major decisions yet.
In the work on special and differential treatment (SDT), Supachai reported that despite some positive signals concerning the LDC Agreement-specific proposals, it has not been possible to harvest a solution now. Some very good progress has been made, however, and he hoped that the work on these proposals, as well as the others, will move ahead rapidly in the autumn.
Supachai cautioned that if the necessary breakthroughs are not forthcoming early in autumn, the possibility of the substantive results at Hong Kong which are essential to conclude the Round will be inevitably put in jeopardy.
"The alarm I sounded earlier this month is still ringing, and I urge everyone to hear the warning. It must be a real wake-up call for all participants."
Supachai said that in his full report, he had set out some key issues that he believed are absolutely necessary to resolve urgently in order to unlock progress not only in the area concerned, but also across the broader range of the negotiations. This is far from being an exhaustive list of the elements that will have to go into a balanced package for Hong Kong, but it is an attempt to help members focus on the most urgent of them.
The TNC Chair also underlined the need for the Development Dimension to remain at the centre stage in all areas.
Looking to the work ahead, Supachai said that all members must make the most productive use possible of the very short time remaining in which to prepare the Ministerial. He added that substance must drive the process, not vice versa.
He urged members not to see the critical path to Hong Kong in terms of the number, location or format of meetings at whatever level, but instead to keep their attention fixed firmly on what needs to be done and the most effective way to do it.
The TNC Chair suggested that appropriate checkpoints might need to be set along the three-month period before the Ministerial. What form these might take and at what level they might be convened is for further consideration.
However, they should not become deadlines in themselves, but rather reality checks of progress made along a continuum towards Hong Kong, he said, adding that the first such checkpoint should be no later than mid-October.
The TNC Chair also believed that as far as possible, this important exercise and all the remaining preparatory work for Hong Kong should take place in Geneva. Meetings in other locations have an undeniable value, but they can also involve costs in terms of resources, time and transparency.
"What we need urgently is not just a change of gear in these negotiations but also a change of attitude and approach," he said.
There is an urgent need in most negotiating areas to move rapidly to text-based discussions, he said, urging members "to engage directly with each other to produce such texts, not wait for Chairs to work miracles."