TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Aug09/05)
4 August July 2009
Third World Network

General Council Chair reports on upcoming 7th Ministerial Conference
Published in SUNS #6748 dated 24 July 2009

Geneva, 23 Jul (Kanaga Raja) -- The Chair of the General Council of the World Trade Organization (WTO), at an informal heads of delegation-level meeting of the Council on Wednesday, reported on his consultations concerning the upcoming seventh Ministerial Conference.

At its meeting on 26 May, the General Council decided to convene its seventh Ministerial Conference in Geneva from 30 November to 2 December, four years after its last conference in Hong Kong-China in 2005.

The general theme for discussion at the forthcoming Conference is "The WTO, the Multilateral Trading System and the Current Global Economic Environment."

At the meeting in May, General Council Chair Ambassador Mario Matus of Chile had said that the conference is not intended to be a negotiating session, and that the Doha Development Agenda negotiations are on a separate track.

(Negotiations in the two key areas of the Doha Agenda, namely, agriculture and non-agricultural market access, have gone into technical mode, with agriculture negotiators starting work this week on identifying data that will be needed for them to eventually draft their schedules of commitments. This is expected to go on through the autumn. In NAMA, negotiators held a week of discussions on 13-17 July, most of which was devoted to a technical scheduling workshop.

(According to media reports, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, in a meeting with some key delegations last Friday, suggested that Members step up their discussions on the other issues in the Doha Agenda such as rules, trade facilitation and services, which have lagged behind the discussions on the two key issues of agriculture and NAMA. Lamy's suggestion is expected to be discussed at a meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee on Friday.)

At the informal General Council meeting on Wednesday, the Chair was updating Members on progress on the organizational side of the Conference.

According to trade diplomats, the Chair said that he had consulted with a wide range of Members. He reminded Members at the informal meeting of the understanding reached at the May General Council on the dates and theme of the Conference, and that it is not intended to be a negotiating meeting.

Reporting on his consultations so far, the Chair said that delegations have shown willingness to temper ambition with realism.

According to trade diplomats, the Chair outlined areas of clarity/convergence as a result of his consultations. These relate to the timing and duration of the meeting, the venue of the meeting (at the Geneva International Conference Centre - CICG), and the election of the officers.

According to the Chair, there was convergence around the idea that this Conference only, without establishing a precedent, will be chaired by the Minister of the Member providing the General Council Chairmanship (meaning in this case, a Minister from Chile).

On the question of the Vice-Chairs, assuming that the issue of the Conference Chair is agreed, the Vice-Chairs would come, as in the past, from the remaining broad groups or regions (this would be from Africa, Asia and the developed countries).

According to trade diplomats, Ambassador Matus said that he had made "significant progress" on the structure of the Ministerial Conference.

According to him, there is convergence on six basic principles which apply to the Conference itself and to its preparation.

Firstly, the Chair summed up the acronym "FIT" - full participation, inclusiveness and transparency; secondly, hold a regular Ministerial Conference (it should not be structured around negotiating processes); thirdly, not to overload the agenda; fourthly, preparatory work should not divert energy from the Doha Development Agenda; fifthly, any issue for action or decision by Ministers proposed by the Members should be developed in line with the consensus principle; and sixthly, any issue for action or decision by Ministers should be agreed well before the Conference.

(According to trade diplomats, in reference to the Chair's remark about not diverting energy away from the Doha Agenda, India said later that there is no danger of diverting energy since there is hardly any energy being used on the Doha Development Agenda.)

On the meeting's structure, the Chair referred to working sessions running in parallel to plenary sessions.

Trade diplomats said that there are two working sessions, which provide a forum for discussion for Ministers under two broad sub-themes. These are review of WTO activities including the Doha Work Programme, and the WTO's contribution to recovery, growth and development.

The Chair said that there will be full records of the discussions of the working sessions, which will be produced after the Conference.

According to trade diplomats, Ambassador Matus said that there also appears to be wide support for other sorts of outcomes such as a Chairperson's summary on his/her own responsibility. Another option raised was a brief agreed communique.

On the substance of the Ministerial Conference, the Chair said that Members have specific tasks in eight areas mandated by the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in 2005.

Trade diplomats said that these areas relate to cotton; the Small and Vulnerable Economies (SVEs); trade, debt and finance; trade and transfer of technology; work under paragraph 19 of Doha Declaration on TRIPS issues; coherence; moratorium on e-commerce duties; and moratorium on TRIPS non-violation complaints.

The Chair also said that the two sub-themes were broad enough to accommodate issues such as Aid for Trade and LDC issues etc.

According to trade diplomats, he also referred to possible issues for decisions, where Members have every right to raise issues for decision by Ministers. In this regard, the Chair said that the formal proposal tabled by India (on strengthening the WTO) will be taken up in the General Council meeting next week.

According to trade diplomats, the Chair concluded that there was wide acceptance by delegations of what he described as a "gentlemen's and ladies' agreement" concerning the substance of the Conference, that is, for example, if any delegation wants an issue for decision, but has not achieved consensus on it six weeks before the Ministerial Conference, that delegation will not insist on putting the decision on the agenda.

The Chair said that to do so would be unproductive, possibly divisive and contrary to the agreed principles.

Around nine countries spoke after the General Council Chair's report on his consultations. +