BACK TO MAIN  |  ONLINE BOOKSTORE  |  HOW TO ORDER

TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb06/04)

11 Feb 2006
 

Concerns about "timelines" paper voiced at WTO's meeting


The Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) of the WTO met for the first time since the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference on 7 February with its Chair Pascal Lamy urging WTO members to intensify negotiations if agreement is to conclude on schedule.

"It is now urgently necessary to move to negotiating elements of texts and to flesh out discussions on generally applicable provisions and formulae with bilateral consideration of concrete and specific trade effects," he said.

Lamy also referred to a document on timelines for the post-Hong Kong negotiations, that had come out from the mini-Ministerial meeting of about

20 Ministers at Davos at the end of January. The document, Timelines 2006, has been distributed as a WTO informal document (JOB 6/13).

During the debate, Venezuela questioned the legitimacy of this document, saying that it had introduced new obligations that had not been agreed to in Hong Kong, and that it was thus not obliged to recognize or follow the deadlines in the paper. A number of other developing countries also raised concerns about the paper.

Below is a report of the TNC meeting. It was published in the SUNS on 8 February.


With best wishes
Martin Khor
TWN

-----------------------------------

Concerns about "timelines" paper at TNC meeting

By Kanaga Raja*
South North Development Monitor
Geneva 7 Feb 2006

The Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) of the WTO met for the first time since the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference on 7 February, with its Chair Pascal Lamy urging WTO members to intensify negotiations if agreement is to conclude on schedule.

"It is now urgently necessary to move to negotiating elements of texts and to flesh out discussions on generally applicable provisions and formulae with bilateral consideration of concrete and specific trade effects," he said.

Lamy also referred to a document on timelines for the post-Hong Kong negotiations, that had come out from the mini-Ministerial meeting of about 20 Ministers at Davos at the end of January. The document, Timelines 2006, has been distributed as a WTO informal document (JOB 6/13).

During the debate, Venezuela questioned the legitimacy of this document, saying that it had introduced new obligations that had not been agreed to in Hong Kong, and that it was thus not obliged to recognize or follow the deadlines in the paper. A number of other developing countries also raised concerns about the paper.

Lamy, who is also the WTO Director-General, told members that he had been pursuing his contacts with many members, at various different levels and in various locations.

These included meetings with various groupings (African Group, the ACP Group, the LDCs, GRULAC and G20) and Ambassadors in Geneva and with a number of Ministers, including at Davos.

From this, he had received three clear messages: that there is widespread commitment to making good on what was agreed at Hong Kong; that there is a shared intention to move ahead across the whole of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), making progress on all issues; and that all interlocutors understand that they will all have to move from their current positions and are willing to do so by moving 'in concert'.

Using a maritime analogy, Lamy said that agriculture, particularly in market access and domestic support, and NAMA remain the flagships of the convoy, and that the convoy is a large one. These issues have an important role in leading the convoy to port, but all members know that the convoy must arrive together, he added.

Lamy pointed out that members are working on ten separate areas beyond agriculture and NAMA, just under the TNC alone, including services, rules, TRIPS, environment, trade facilitation, DSU, S&D and implementation issues.

On services, Lamy said that "the Hong Kong declaration opened the door for plurilateral negotiations, which will be to a great extent demand driven. For the negotiations to achieve real progress over the next weeks, the request/offer negotiations must be intensified."

In the other areas of the DDA, which are under the General Council, Lamy noted a "long list of very important issues" like small economies, e-commerce and commodities.

"Even a quick look at the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration illustrates the size of the task ahead of us," he said, adding that the Declaration includes a number of firm deadlines, together with instructions in other areas.

Lamy also referred to a paper that members had received setting out the various time-lines for work this year.

[This paper had been produced at the end of the informal mini-Ministerial meeting held on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos at the end of January. (See SUNS #5955 dated 31 Jan 2006). It has been distributed as an informal WTO paper, JOB 6/13].

Lamy said the paper repeats the very detailed time-lines in the Hong Kong Declaration on agriculture, NAMA and services, and fleshes out with greater precision the work ahead in areas where the Declaration is more general.

He said that the paper is not intended as an item of discussion, or negotiation in its own right. It does not alter the balance achieved in the Hong Kong Declaration. "It is simply a tool to assist you, as well as the Chairs of the negotiating groups, in keeping an overview of the progress that is needed to advance the negotiations as a whole, and in making sure that no issue slips behind," he said.

As to the process, Lamy maintained that the process pre-Hong Kong served members well. "We should therefore maintain and, of course, improve on it," he said. The work must also continue to be integrated in a coherent way, across both the subjects and the different levels of negotiations.

"This means we clearly need not only to intensify the work in the negotiating groups, but also at the level of capital-based officials and of Ministers." Lamy however stressed that the Geneva process remains the backbone of the negotiations.

Lamy reported that he had intensified his consultations with delegations in Geneva and capitals, including regular meetings with coordinators of the regional groupings.

Lamy told the meeting that Ministers had given him a long 'to do' list: chairing the TNC, intensifying work on implementation, providing updates on the development assistance aspects of cotton and working on Aid-for-Trade.

He was now ready to establish the aid for trade task force and start consulting on appropriate mechanisms to increase financial resources for Aid-for-Trade, with the aim that the programme is operational this year.

Reporting on implementation issues, Lamy said that Ministers had asked him to intensify his consultative process on all outstanding implementation issues under paragraph 12(b) of the Doha Ministerial Declaration. He is to report to each regular meeting of the TNC and the General Council, and the Council is to review progress and take any appropriate action no later than

31 July 2006.

Lamy said he had already started intensifying the consultative process, with the assistance of a number of the Chairpersons of concerned WTO bodies acting as his Friends and two of his Deputy Directors-General, Valentine Rugwabiza who will take up the TRIMs issues, and Rufus Yerxa for issues of GIs and TRIPS/CBD.

Lamy recalled that his report on these issues at the last TNC meeting last November showed that the situation had not evolved significantly since July. Members will need both flexibility and creativity in their approaches to these issues, Lamy said, to be able to respect the mandate.

Under the agenda item "Members' Presentations", the Venezuela delegation referred to the Timelines 2006 paper (JOB 6/13) and said it did not consider this to be a legitimate document.

Venezuela said that despite what the chapeau says, that "this paper does not in any way reinterpret or modify the decisions taken by Ministers at Hong Kong and is without prejudice to the positions of participants on any issue under the Doha Development Agenda", this paper could not be taken as a complementary document to the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration. The paper interprets the declaration and introduces new commitments, said Venezuela.

Ambassador Oscar Carvallo of Venezuela also referred to the reservation its delegation had made at the final plenary session of the Hong Kong ministerial meeting which adopted the declaration, and stated that it is therefore not bound by the deadlines relating to the services negotiations contained in Annex C of the Ministerial Declaration. Nor would it be obliged to adhere to the new dates contained in document JOB 6/13, "Timelines for 2006".

Venezuela added that it had felt compelled to make the reservation in the first place because the Hong Kong ministerial declaration was an imbalanced text. Now with the new deadlines proposed on geographical indications, rules and Trade and Environment, which are issues of interest to the developed countries and in particular the EU, this imbalance will be aggravated.

On the other hand, issues of concern to the developing countries such as Aid for Trade and special and different treatment are relegated to the latter part of the year. There is a problem with how this document on timelines have sequenced the deadlines for the various issues, stressed Venezuela.

This document is another example of how the negotiating process is becoming less and less transparent, Ambassador Carvallo said.

He pointed out that it is the various negotiating groups that have the responsibility for operationalising the mandate from Hong Kong.

As such, the Venezuelan Ambassador insisted that it would not be bound to comply with any new deadlines contained in this document.

According to diplomatic sources, several other developing countries also raised concerns with process and transparency, in relation to the Timelines document.

At a press briefing after the TNC meeting, Lamy said that since a fortnight ago the negotiating groups have resumed their work, as well as a series of bilateral discussions and consultations among members to test numbers in agriculture (domestic support and market access) and NAMA. This testing period has started.

Elaborating on the testing period, Lamy gave the example of the NAMA negotiations, where he said there are a few numbers that need to be agreed to in order to reach the modalities stage. These are the number of coefficients; the distance and relationship between two coefficients, if there are to be two coefficients; the value of these coefficients; and flexibilities in paragraph 8 of the NAMA framework with respect to developing countries. These parameters need to be tested, he said.

Asked as to whether the deadline of 30 April for full modalities in agriculture and NAMA can be achieved, Lamy recalled that the ministers at Hong Kong had agreed to a series of deadlines, some of them in February, some in April, some in July and some at the end of the year.

While it's a useful guide, deadlines in themselves are not the essential. What is essential is narrowing the differences on the numbers (with respect to the formulae) and the texts, which is what the negotiations is about. According to Lamy, so far he has had no indication that narrowing the differences to the point of agreeing to modalities would not be possible by the end of April.

When asked to elaborate on what the US needed to do with respect to domestic support in agriculture, Lamy pointed to the proposal tabled by the US last year on domestic support, saying that the proposal leaves open a number of details. In this context, he cited the criteria for the Blue Box, the numbers for de minimis support and product caps as areas that will require greater precision in the negotiations.

(* With inputs from Goh Chien Yen.)

 


BACK TO MAIN  |  ONLINE BOOKSTORE  |  HOW TO ORDER