TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Aug05/4)

2 August 2005

WTO General Council ends meeting without outcome, 4 new deputy generals announced

The WTO's General Council meeting, which was to have marked a significant progress in the Doha negotiations, ended on Friday 29 July without adopting any texts or new agreements that could have been half-way to full agreements on "modalities of negotiations" at the Hongkong Ministerial in December.

In the absence of any substantive progress, the 29 July meeting's main highlight was teh announcement of four new deputy directors-general.

Below is a report of the final day of the meeting.

With best wishes
Martin Khor



By Martin Khor (TWN), Geneva, 29 July 2005

The WTO General Council meeting ended on 29 July without any of the anticipated results of additional agreements (or "first approximations") on key aspects of the Doha work programme - agriculture, non-agricultural market access, services and "development issues."

This non-outcome signified that the talks have fallen significantly behind the time-table for reaching important decisions by the Hong Kong Ministerial meeting in December and ending the negotiations by the end of 2006.

In the absence of substantive negotiations, the highlight of Friday's meeting was provided by the announcement that four new Deputy Directors-General had been appointed.

The announcement was made by the WTO Director-General designate, Pascal Lamy, who made a brief appearance in the morning. Meanwhile, the meeting also saw the present Director-General Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi making his last report, and members gave him a vote of thanks for his work as Director-General for the past three years.

The changeover at the top of the WTO secretariat takes place officially on 1 September. Sources said that Lamy and his team will start preparatory work on the WTO before that. Supachai will meanwhile assume the post of Secretary General at UNCTAD.

The new Deputy Directors-General are Chile's Ambassador to the WTO, Alejandro Jara, Rwanda's Ambassador to the WTO, Valentine Rugwabiza, Secretary of India's Telecom Regulatory Authority, Harsha Vardhana Singh, and Rufus Yerxa, former Deputy US Trade Representative.

Harsha Vardhana Singh had previously worked at the WTO Secretariat, while Yerxa has been a Deputy Director-General of the WTO since 2002.

The General Council also confirmed that New Zealand's new ambassador to the WTO Crawford Falconer would replace former New Zealand Ambassador, Tim Groser, as the chair of the Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture. Falconer's appointment had been proposed by the General Council chair Ambassador Amina Chawahir Mohamed of Kenya on the previous day at an informal heads-of-delegation meeting.

There was strong presence of Ministers of developed countries at the General Council meeting. Present were three ministers from Japan, as well as the US Trade Representative Robert Portman and the EC Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson. The Hong Kong Trade Minister was also present.

A meeting between Trade Ministers from the US, the EU, Brazil and India, which had been rumoured to have been planned for this weekend, after the General Council meeting, did not materialize. The Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath was in Geneva on Thursday but left Friday. The Brazilian Minister, Celso Amorim, did not come to Geneva.

At the end of the meeting, the General Council chair, Ambassador Amina, said progress in the talks had been much too slow, that there was no need yet to panic, but members needed to do three things if Hong Kong was to succeed: make more efficient use of time (including avoiding informal mini-Ministerials outside Geneva), improving transparency and participation (taking account of complaints of smaller members) and "real political will."

She indicated that there might be a Ministerial "stocktaking" meeting in the autumn for Ministers to assess whether progress is being made, without mentioning which Ministers would be involved or the venue.

At the start of the meeting, Supachai described the forthcoming Hong Kong Ministerial as the place where "we will start our conclusion of the Doha round." Lamy said that his only priority was the conclusion of the Round.

On his appointment of the Deputy Directors-General, Lamy said he had changed procedure so that the Director-General, not members, took the decision. Of the 80 applicants, 15 were interviewed. He added that they were appointed not on the basis of their countries, but their ability to work as a team, as well as the ability to work with him.

Since the scheduled main agenda item (the state of the Doha negotiations and the report of the Trade Negotiations Committee chair on this) had already been discussed at the TNC meeting on Thursday, there was only one substantive issue discussed at Friday's meeting - the work programme on special and differential treatment (SDT).

The work programme comprises two parts - discussions on outstanding agreement-specific proposals in the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) and discussions at other WTO bodies to which other SDT proposals had been referred.

Ambassador Amina referred to the decision in the July 2004 framework, i. e. that the CTD and other bodies would expeditiously complete the review of the SDT proposals and report to the General Council by July 2005 with clear recommendations for a decision.

It was clear, when reports were presented, that agreements had not been reached on the SDT proposals, whether at the CTD or other bodies, and the deadline for making a decision on them was thus missed.

The Chair of the CTD Special Session, Ambassador Faizel Ismail of South Africa, referred to his report to the TNC (TN/CTD/12). According to this, of the outstanding agreement-specific proposals, work had focused on five SDT proposals relating to LDCs. Some issues remain unresolved and consequently and he was not in a position to make recommendations on any of the proposals.

Some work had also been done on the remaining agreement-specific proposals but there is a wide divergence of views on most of the proposals.

In response, Cuba said it was concerned that "we are not moving forward and if we don't move on development, we will not be able to move on other issues."

Progress reports on SDT proposals were also given by the Chairs of other WTO bodies, including the Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture, and the bodies dealing with agriculture, services, TRIMs, TRIPS, dispute settlement and rules.

From the reports, it was clear that none of the SDT proposals referred to the bodies had been resolved.

Responding to the reports, Kenya said that the July 2004 decision on SDT was clear, that there should be clear recommendations presented to this General Council meeting for a decision. "We are very far from that," said Kenya, and many of the issues had not even come up for proper discussion.

It added that one of the main problems is that the process itself was not appropriate. The Ministers at Doha had given instructions on SDT in para 44 of the Doha Declaration, but "we had been diverted to discussions on 'underlying concerns' instead of solving the specific issues."

Kenya asked for a consideration whether the method of work is working, and proposed that the SDT proposals be all brought back to the Committee on Trade and Development (in Special Session) to be dealt with there.

India agreed with Kenya's concerns, as did Bangladesh and Cuba. Bangladesh said the SDT issue was very important for LDCs. For a balanced outcome, the issues had to be settled, or else there could not be progress on other areas.

Kenya said that its suggestion (of moving the SDT issues to the CTD) had received some support and asked that a decision be taken.

The General Council Chair Ambassador Amina said she would consult with members before action is taken.

Dr Supachai, in his capacity as TNC chair, then briefly presented the report (TN/C/5) of the TNC to the General Council.

Venezuela remarked that the report, and other reports by Chairs of various negotiating processes (referring especially to the reports on NAMA and services) could not be taken as the basis for negotiations.

[The previous day, at the TNC meeting, Venezuela had been critical of the reports by the Chairs on the NAMA and services negotiations.]

The US Trade Representative Bob Portman, who had come to Geneva after the Congressional vote on CAFTA, said that after the approval of CAFTA, the US could be more aggressive on trade liberalization, and fulfil a commitment that the US would continue to take the lead in the WTO process.

On the final agenda item, preparations for the Hong Kong Ministerial, the US and Israel recorded reservations to the League of Arab States being accorded observer status for the Ministerial.

Egypt regretted this, and said that the Arab League had fulfilled all the conditions since 1999 and yet the issue of its observer status had not been solved till now.

The Council then appointed Ministers as officers for the Ministerial, with Hong Kong as the chair, and Austria, Barbados and Nigeria as vice-chairs.

The General Council Chair Ambassador Amina then made a brief statement, that it would certainly be fair to say that members aren't where they wanted to be and that while some progress has been made on some issues, far too many remain to be resolved.

Moreover, the progress that has been made has been slow - much too slow.

Saying "we need not press the panic button", she added that three things would be needed if members are to succeed in Hong Kong. Firstly, members will have to make the most efficient, rational use of time. This could mean:

* reducing the work of regular bodies, other than the Dispute Settlement and the Trade Policy Review Bodies, to essential business only - to allow members to focus their resources on the negotiating bodies.

* avoiding informal Ministerial meetings outside Geneva that conflict with the negotiating agenda and take negotiators away from Geneva for extended periods.

* ensuring more frequent and active participation of senior officials in the Geneva process.

* ensuring that ministers are on call to provide political guidance on a continuous basis, including by travelling to Geneva to consult each other.

* It may be useful to provide a stocktaking exercise early in the Fall for ministers to assess whether progress is being made.

* More coherent, integrated, centralized and continuous management of the negotiating process is needed. It is now critical to begin pulling the different threads of the negotiations together, which have, quite often, run on separate tracks.

Secondly, transparency and effective participation in the negotiations are issues on which Ambassador Amina said that she had received countless petitions from the smaller members.

She said that transparency and effective participation could be achieved in a number of ways. There can also be more frequent TNC meetings, informal Heads of Delegation meetings and effective integration and participation of Regional Coordinators in formal and informal consultations.

Third, and most importantly, there is a need for real political will. Not political speeches, but political action and political courage. Ultimately it will be political will that will determine whether members succeed in Hong Kong.

She said that the objectives for Hong Kong remain the same - modalities for agriculture and NAMA, a critical mass of high quality offers in services, an agreed negotiating agenda in the area of rules, including trade facilitation and a meaningful contribution to development in all aspects of the negotiations.

She also referred to the importance attached by African members, LDCs and the ACP to progress on cotton.

At a joint press briefing later of the Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi and Ambassador Amina, while Supachai felt that the Doha Development Agenda negotiations were not in big trouble, the General Council Chair on the other hand said "we are in trouble" but with political will members would still be able to move beyond the trouble that they are in today.

(* With inputs from Kanaga Raja.)