TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec05/23)

17 Dec 2005

Review of Day 4 of Ministerial


By Martin Khor, Hong Kong, 16 December 2005

At the end of the fourth day of the WTO Ministerial Conference, there has hardly been agreement reached on the key issues, and time is almost running out on attempts to get any “value added” out of the meeting.

A revised Ministerial Declaration is due out Saturday “mid-day”.  The facilitators of the various issues (agriculture, NAMA, services, development issues, etc) have been given a deadline of 6.00 a.m. Saturday to submit inputs to the conference chairman.

Despite a series of Green Room meetings that meet every night, sometimes to 3 a.m., there has been no agreement on any significant issue as of Friday late night. 

According to sources, early on Saturday morning, Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim decided to leave the Green Room early because he was so frustrated by the lack of progress in agriculture. When one important developed country Trade Minister said he had no mandate to improve his offer, which is generally considered inadequate, Amorim was reported to have responded what then are we doing here, we are just wasting our time.   He then left, in a gesture of frustration.  “This situation does not look good,” said one trade official at 3 a.m. Saturday morning.  

At a heads-of-delegation (HOD) meeting, it was reported to delegates that the previous days’ work on agriculture had been largely on export competition.  While many members wanted to name an end-date to export subsidies in all its forms, some brought up the need to link this to resolving how to treat the indirect subsidies first.

They were also told that there are significant gaps in agriculture and NAMA.  Though  “there is no breakthrough, there is also no breakdown.”   On the LDC issue, (how to secure duty and quota free market access for LDC products), the discussion is constructive but more work needs to be done, the delegates were told.

The Kenyan Trade Minister, Mr. Mukhisa Kituyi, urged groups to narrow their differences. On cotton, preference erosion, end-date of export subsidies and attainment of “parallelism”, there has been no progress.   Significant differences exist on how to address the preference erosion problem.

On NAMA, there was no progress to report.  On development-specific issues, the facilitator, Guyana Minister Clement Rohee, said there had been some progress. On  Wednesday night, some language had been issued to try to bridge the differences on the LDC market access issue, which was being considered.

The facilitator for services, Korean Minister Hyung Chong Kim, was not present to present his report. It could be because the services meeting he was chairing was still going on.

It was a rather stormy meeting, as a large number of developing countries who have problems with the services text (paragraph 21 in the main text and Annex C) became visibly upset with what they felt as a marginalization of their views and concerns.

The manner in which the draft text on services was brought to Hong Kong, and how the services meetings have been conducted, was a stark reminder of the untransparent and unsavory ways in which drafting and decision-making were done in previous Ministerials, such as in Seattle, Doha and Cancun.

The services situation has reached crisis point, with many developing-country delegations quite outraged at how the contested and unpopular Annex C  retains its position, despite repeated formal and informal appeals to have key aspects amended. How this crisis is handled could well determine the fate of the Ministerial.  (See separate story on services).

On a day when there was no positive news on the negotiations, the political highlight was an unprecedented press conference jointly held by the leaders and members of leadng developing country groupings operating in the WTO -- the G20, G33, ACP, LDCs, Africa Group, and the Small Economies.

In a large theatre room packed full of people, the coordinators of these groups proclaimed to the public their new concrete attempt at unity, with the aim of harmonizing the position of the developing world in WTO negotiations.

Mauritius Minister Mallum Dulloo, coordinator of the ACP Group, described it as a historic meeting.  “We are here to harmonise our positions to ensure that we leave here with a basis for continued negotiations that help us to realize the development dimension,” he said.

Brazilian Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim, the G20 coordinator, referred to the Joint Statement of the various groupings that was distributed.  The platform included the fight against agricultural subsidies, the issues of SPs and SSM, the need to tackle the preference erosion problem head on, cotton and the problems of small economies.

As a grouping, we recognize the diversity of our groups and members, especially our different levels of development, said Amorim.  “But we want to address these differences ourselves, rather than allow ourselves to be used in ways that divide us by the developed countries. “This is historic because for the first time, instead of just rhetoric, we are finding concrete ways to address concrete problems of the developing countries.”

Kamal Nath, Commerce Minister of India, which is a prominent member of the G20 and G33, said that “a bonding among the groups is taking place, that did not take place in Doha.  It is formed by a desire that the inequities of world trade will not be perpetuated.  We have been working for some months now.  We realized that these inequities will take place in Hong Kong unless positions of the developing world are harmonized.

“We have been seeing an amazing development in the discussions in Hong Kong whereby the developed countries talk in the plenary halls of a Round for Free for developing countries.  Then they move into the Green Room and continue to ask for a Round for Free, this time for themselves.”

Muhammed Rachid, Trade Minister of Egypt, which coordinates the Africa Group, said that Africa has a lot of expectations in this Round.  “We are coming together to work out our differences instead of letting others do that for us.”

Mari Pangestu, Trade Minister of Indonesia, which coordinates the G33, said the group was happy to be part of this grouping.  There is need to ensure that SPs and SSMs that are important for the G33 also become important gateway issues in this Ministerial, she said.

The new political alliance of the South in the WTO will have its work cut out in the final two days of this Conference, as the fight to get points in the revised draft favourable to the South will continue till Saturday afternoon.  Following that will be the challenge of responding to the new text, and the battle to have he correct procedures for transferring the text to Geneva and planning the work in the crucial first months of 2006.