Service on WTO and Trade Issues (June09/06)
countries nix Lamy's two-track approach to
Geneva, 27 May (Kanaga Raja) -- Many developing countries appear to have opposed and/or voiced concerns over a suggestion by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy for work along "two simultaneous tracks", one on modalities in agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA) and another for commencing the scheduling exercise in both these areas.
Lamy's suggestion and opposition to it from several developing countries came at a meeting of the General Council - the first full formal session after Lamy's recent re-election.
to the suggestion from Lamy, many developing countries voiced their
concerns that the current multilateral process could be weakened as
a result of the bilateral/plurilateral approach (associated with the
scheduling exercise). They also stressed that the agenda of the
recent media reports in the
The Director-General's proposal for simultaneous two track-approach came in a statement that he made at the General Council in his capacity as Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee. Apart from his assessment of the current situation in the various negotiating groups, he also touched upon the two-track approach.
He told the Council: "I have been informed of the informal discussions which have been on-going amongst some of you - looking outside the current tool box of the negotiating process with a view to placing the talks on a more direct path, for commencing the scheduling of Agriculture and NAMA commitments.
"I am well aware that for some of you, the modalities approach is sacrosanct. It is an approach that makes clear to all what is on the table through the formula cuts in tariffs and the specific flexibilities that would be agreed. But others believe that while the modalities spell out the defensive elements of the agreement, through flexibilities, these flexibilities in themselves make it difficult to ascertain what new market access opportunities may emerge.
"If governments could indicate what products would be accorded more flexible treatment in the scheduling stage, whether on sensitive products, on special products, on Duty-Free-Quota-Free [market access] or on NAMA flexibilities, some countries believe it would lend greater clarity to the process.
"My own sense is that there is scope to work on these two areas along two simultaneous tracks. One would see technical engagement in the negotiating groups move to a higher gear to cover a number of technical issues as mentioned previously. Simultaneously, Members would start some sort of 'outcome testing', through bilateral or plurilateral discussions, where they would provide each other with greater clarity on the use of flexibilities and through it, on the value of the deal.
"This is, in my view doable, provided we see serious political engagement on the part of Members. In other words, provided Ministers give the necessary instructions for substantive work to happen on these two tracks," said Lamy.
Lamy concluded his statement by saying: "... while, according to some, we may be seeing the bottom of the economic crisis, we have not yet seen its full social impact which will inevitably trigger negative political pressures on the trade front.
"I personally believe, and I want to share this very openly with you, that the 'stress test' of the multilateral trading system is still to come. It is therefore crucial that we keep our monitoring system on the alert and that we advance towards the conclusion of the Round. A more solid house will resist the strong political winds which we unfortunately have to forecast."
According to trade officials, many developing countries voiced their concern that the multilateral process would be weakened and that the gains that may have accrued to them as a result of the negotiations so far could somehow be eroded through a parallel process in which they may not be participating. Concerns were also raised that the flexibility provisions that have been accorded to developing countries in agriculture and NAMA could also be eroded.
to a trade diplomat from a developing country, many developing countries
were against the two-track proposal put forward by the Director-General.
He said that the Lamy suggestion was what the
According to the trade diplomat, there is no room for bilateral/plurilateral consultations and that not all delegations have the capacity to negotiate.
to SUNS, Ambassador Roberto Azevedo of
In this context, he said, the flexibilities negotiated by the developing countries are an integral part of the landing zone, and re-negotiating the flexibilities is not a minor adjustment.
Finally, said the Brazilian envoy, "you cannot change the multilateral nature of the process. Having said that, we are open to talk to people and see how we can move the process forward."
Many countries spoke following the report of the Chair of the TNC.
to trade officials,
However, there should be no selective re-opening of the negotiations, and other issues should not be included in the agenda. Transparency is achieved, not through bilateral outcomes, but through the multilateral process. The negotiations should not be taken outside the multilateral process.
must be central,
Chinese Taipei said that there is need for a multilateral approach as a way of moving forward.
The EU said that there is need to conclude the round as soon as possible. A successful conclusion is the best insurance policy against protectionism. Referring to some suggesting changes to the process, it said that we need to step up the work being done, but there is no need to make dramatic changes.
Substantial work is needed in the negotiating groups, it said. Agriculture and NAMA modalities are not an end in themselves but a means to the end, the end being scheduling. We should look at some ways to move the round forward, it said, adding that it is open to exploring processes. But there is need to make sure that the agriculture and NAMA modalities are concluded.
It agreed with the EC's statement that modalities are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. This is even more true for specific modalities. The formula is not the only modality.
to what was agreed on five years ago as part of the July 2004 Framework,
"We need to look pragmatically at how we get to the finish line. This doesn't mean ignoring or dismissing progress we've made, but nor does it mean rigidly refusing to see if some modification of envisioned negotiating paths would be a more certain and effective path to get us there," said the US.
said that it is not making any specific proposals today. On the mandate,
Norway said that there is need to prepare for scheduling sooner or later, so why not start earlier if we really believe we want to end the round soon.
the G20 made a statement at the General Council expressing its deepest
concern in relation to the recent decision of the
It said that the measure shows the rising of "murky protectionism", not directly violating WTO obligations and yet potentially weakening the WTO system in a time of economic crisis.
further said that it is a worrisome sign that the
Director-General also informed the General Council that he has decided
to retain Alejandro Jara of