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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (April06/1)

3 April 2006
 

WTO Ministerial "Green Room" planned for end-April


The WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy tried on Tuesday 28 March to get the WTO membership to take seriously the deadline of the end of April to agree to modalities on negotiations on agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA).

At a meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee on Tuesday, and at a "Green Room" meeting the day before, he put forward the position that achieving the end-April deadline was a "make or break" issue, and that it would be the "moment of truth."

Lamy has also quietly floated the possibility of the WTO holding a "mini Ministerial" meeting in Geneva at the end of April which might give the political boost to conclude the modalities.

The dates being mentioned are 29 April to 2 May, and the Ministers of some 30 countries could be invited, in a kind of resumption of the "Green Room" held at the Hong Kong Ministerial. In this scenario, a General Council meeting could be convened around that period to receive and endorse what is decided by the Green Room.

However, the decision whether to convene a "Ministerial Green Room" may depend on whether there is significant progress in the next weeks.

The WTO's Hong Kong Ministerial last December had decided that the modalities for agriculture and NAMA would be established "no later than 30 April." However, due to the lack of concrete progress in the negotiations, and particularly after the perceived failure of the Group of 6 Ministerial meeting in London earlier this month, there has been a widespread assumption that the end-April deadline would be missed and that the new unwritten deadline was now the end of July.

Please see the full report below, which was published in the SUNS of 29 March.


With best wishes
Martin Khor
TWN

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WTO Ministerial "Green Room" planned for end-April

By Martin Khor (TWN), Geneva, 28 March 2006


The WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy tried on 28 March to get the WTO membership to take seriously the deadline of the end of April to agree to modalities on negotiations on agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA).

At a meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee 28 March, and at a "Green Room" meeting the day before, he put forward the position that achieving the end-April deadline was a "make or break" issue, and that it would be the "moment of truth."

Lamy has also quietly floated the possibility of the WTO holding a "mini Ministerial" meeting in Geneva at the end of April which might give the political boost to conclude the modalities.

The dates being mentioned are 29 April to 2 May, and the Ministers of some 30 countries could be invited, in a kind of resumption of the "Green Room" held at the Hong Kong Ministerial. In this scenario, a General Council meeting could be convened around that period to receive and endorse what is decided by the Green Room.

However, the decision whether to convene a "Ministerial Green Room" may depend on whether there is significant progress in the next weeks. Lamy told a press conference Tuesday that the week starting 17 April, when negotiations will take place on both agriculture and NAMA, would be important to "provide the ground for the end of April discussion."

"If there is no progress by then, there is little point to the Ministers coming," said a WTO official.

The WTO's Hong Kong Ministerial last December had decided that the modalities for agriculture and NAMA would be established "no later than 30 April." However, due to the lack of concrete progress in the negotiations, and particularly after the perceived failure of the Group of 6 Ministerial meeting in London earlier this month, there has been a widespread assumption that the end-April deadline would be missed and that the new unwritten deadline was now the end of July.

The belief is that the end of July is really the last possible date to finalise the modalities for the two issues, as several months are needed to prepare the schedules of commitments, in order to finalise the Round at the end of the year.

The December deadline is in turn required in order to take advantage of the fast track authority that the US Congress has given to the US President, which expires in July 2007. Without the fast track authority, it is difficult to have Congress ratify the outcome of the Round.

Some diplomats had been prepared for the ground to be laid at this TNC meeting for the postponement of the deadline to July. Instead, Lamy told the TNC that it would be a huge mistake "if we thought we could postpone the establishment of modalities by the end of April."

To make the point, the board in the conference hall where the TNC was held carried the words in large print: "33 days to April modalities, 278 days to the end of the Round."

Diplomats are divided on whether there is enough commonality of views to meet the deadlines. Most feel that little more headway can be made at the technical level of diplomats, and that the impetus must come from Ministers.

On the other hand, there have been few signs of progress in the mini-Ministerial process of the G6 countries (US, EU, Brazil, India, Japan, Australia). One senior diplomat from a G6 country said today: "We realise there are limits to how much the G6 meetings can go, and the limits seem to be reached."

Everyone seems to agree that the talks in Geneva since Hong Kong have been useful to clarify positions and to enable better awareness of the views of various Parties. But there has not been any real narrowing of differences and wide chasms still exist in all the major issues.

In some areas, the chasm may even have widened, as in the case of NAMA where several developing countries are increasingly disturbed that the developed countries are aggressively insisting on reducing the already low level of flexibilities for developing countries, on very high tariff cuts for developing countries (represented by their taking on a low coefficient in the Swiss formula), and on not accepting the "less than full reciprocity" principle.

Given the differences in each area, and then the differences in interpreting how to link the negotiations in the various areas (especially agriculture and NAMA), the Doha talks are now caught in a complex set of webs, which is very difficult to extricate from.

Very few diplomats or trade analysts (if any) believe that "full modalities" (i. e. formulae and numbers in the formulae for cutting subsidies and tariffs in agriculture and for cutting tariffs in NAMA, plus numbers for flexibilities such as treatment of sensitive and special products in agriculture, and for exemptions from the formula in NAMA) can be arrived at by the end of April.

In his statement to the TNC and at the press conference, Lamy mentioned the need to get "modalities" by end-April. Indeed the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration also uses the term "modalities."

Some diplomats, speaking outside the TNC meeting, seem to think that while "full modalities" are next to impossible to obtain by end-April, it might be possible to aim at getting agreement on "some extent of modalities", with some figures or ranges of figures, around the treatment of some key issues.

This could then be used to pave the way towards "full modalities" later, with a new deadline needed for these "full modalities." Thus, Lamy's insistence on getting modalities in April, but his not mentioning full modalities.

Others are more concerned about the content of the agreements that are being negotiated, rather than measuring success by the meeting of deadlines. "What is the point of getting a deal when it does not have development content, or worse still, if it will hamper our development efforts?" said one senior developing country diplomat.

 


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