TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec06/07)

8 December 2006

NAMA talks to resume despite lack of movement

The NAMA negotiating group held an informal meeting at the WTO on 1 December, its first meeting since the suspension of the Doha talks at the end of July.

Below is a report on the meeting.  It was published in SUNS on 5 December.

Best wishes
Martin Khor


NAMA Talks to Resume, despite the lack of movement

By Goh Chien Yen; Geneva 4 December 2006

The Negotiating Group on Non- Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) met on 1 December, for the first time since the suspension of the Doha talks at the end of July this year.

The NAMA meeting follows the recent "soft" resumption of the trade negotiations agreed to by the member countries at an informal Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) meeting on November 16.

However, Ambassador Don Stephenson of Canada, who chairs the NAMA negotiations, told members that during his consultations he had failed to notice any signs of flexibility among the delegates. While most of the members he spoke to have indicated willingness to engage, there is very little indication on movements from their entrenched positions, he added.

Participants at the Friday meeting did not react to this observation from the Chair, except for Pakistan which said that it stood ready to be flexible if other delegates were also willing to do so.

Stephenson had conducted 13 bilateral and small group consultations since the last TNC meeting to 27 November.

Reporting back to the members on his consultations at the informal NAMA meeting, he said that many countries felt that the NAMA negotiations should trail "two steps behind" the agriculture negotiations.

Several delegations, such as the EU, US and Australia however disagreed. The EU said emphatically that "NAMA needs to keep pace with agriculture, and should not lag 2 steps behind."

Expressing similar views, the US said that they wanted to see comparable progress in all areas of negotiations in agriculture, NAMA and services. The US reiterated its position of not wanting a weak package in NAMA, and that agriculture alone will not carry the day.

Argentina said that notwithstanding the issue of sequencing and pacing the NAMA negotiations with the agriculture talks, it would need to assess the substantive balance between the two. Argentina, in this respect, wanted a joint, horizontal meeting on agriculture and NAMA.

Several other delegations said that there was no need to address the issue of sequencing right now. They said that whatever process is taking place in the NAMA negotiations will invariably have to take into account the agriculture negotiations.

The Chair had also solicited the members' opinions on using the text which he had prepared for the July negotiations this year on NAMA, during his consultations.

Members at the informal NAMA meeting and during the consultations (according to the Chair) are in broad agreement that the Chair's July text could be a helpful working document for the way forward. Nonetheless, most of the delegates made clear that this is not a consensual text and neither has it been adopted, which therefore does not reflect their various positions.

The Chair at the informal NAMA meeting presented to members his proposal on how to proceed in the negotiations for the coming two months. This, he made clear, was not set in stone and the purpose was simply to get the ball rolling in the negotiations.

He told members that it was up to them when they wanted to resume full- fledged negotiations, and his suggestions were intended to give "some impetus to the process."

He informed members that he would begin consultations this week from 5 December on the issues of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) and ad valorem equivalent (AVE). This would be followed by an open ended session on NTBs and AVE on 12 December. At this meeting, the WTO secretariat's papers on these two issues will be discussed, and he urged members to come prepared for it.

This will be followed by another informal transparency meeting on 13 December, as he will concurrently be organizing "fireside chats" to encourage a frank exchange of views among members. These small group meetings will be very informal and no notes will be taken, he informed the members.

The Chair said that he is also tentatively scheduling in the new year, from 22-24 January 2007, to hold meetings on NTBs and AVE, which would either be formal or informal depending on members. He shared with members his hope that by the end of January 2007, they could begin their discussions on the core issues.

He assured members that he would adhere to the principles of inclusivity and transparency in all his consultations.

Many members that took the floor voiced their support for the Chair's proposed road map, such as the US which said that they were happy with the Chair's program and with the identification of issues and priorities and would work in whatever format the Chair was suggesting.

However, several developing countries raised concerns. Cuba in its intervention pointed out that while the Chair had identified some issues, there are fundamental issues of concern to the developing countries that should be taken on board at this stage as well, and those issues have not been mentioned in the way forward.

Barbados, speaking on behalf of the Small and Vulnerable Economies (SVEs), wanted to know from the Chair when the issue of flexibilities for developing countries as mentioned in the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration would be discussed.

Bangladesh, on behalf of the LDCs, raised the issue of duty-free and quota- free market access for the least developed countries and also wanted the issue of LDCs in the sectoral negotiations to be discussed.

According to a trade diplomat at the meeting, China said that there is no full support for the Chair's proposal of work. Support for the Chair's road map is contingent upon China being treated as a recently acceded member

(RAM), and that there is appropriate treatment for RAMs.

Croatia, speaking on behalf of RAMs, formally introduced the 15-country member grouping which included China.

Singapore took the opportunity of the meeting to inform members of a recently convened meeting among the co-sponsors of the sectoral initiative. This is the first meeting they have had since the suspension of the negotiations in July. Singapore said that there was broad recognition at the meeting that the sectoral approach is a key modality of the NAMA negotiations, and that they are ready to speak to non-participating members.

However, the EU said that in relation to the sectoral initiatives, the formula for making tariff reductions remains the key issue and priority.