TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Aug09/07)
5 August 2009
Third World Network

Lamy outlines road map for Doha talks in the coming months
Published in SUNS #6750 dated 28 July 2009

Geneva, 27 Jul (Kanaga Raja) -- The Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), at an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on 24 July, said that the autumn will be "a very busy period", with multilateral work to begin in all the negotiating groups.

In his report to the TNC, WTO chief Pascal Lamy said that he sensed from the recent meetings held in Bali, Paris, L'Aquila and Singapore "a genuine and strong renewal of political commitment to re-engage in the Doha negotiations to conclude it in 2010."

"It is clear that for political leaders we are now entering the end-game. Therefore, we need to urgently translate this change in atmospherics into a clear path for engagement across the board in the negotiations in Geneva so that we can get to the arrival point on time," he said.

The Director-General was presenting his report on the state of play in the various negotiating areas as well as an insight into the sort of road map envisaged by the chairs of the negotiating groups in the weeks after the summer break.

Many countries spoke following the report by the Director-General. The developing countries broadly stressed that the bilateral/plurilateral process to close the gaps should not compromise transparency and inclusiveness, and that the multilateral track should have priority and should not be made hostage to the bilateral/plurilateral process. The importance of the development dimension was also stressed by the developing countries.

According to some trade diplomats, Crawford Falconer, former Chair of the agriculture negotiations and now a deputy secretary in the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, struck a critical tone. No text of his remarks, at the as-usual closed WTO meeting, was made available to the media.

However, speaking to journalists after the informal TNC meeting, Falconer said that in terms of the understanding of the Ministers and heads of government on what the process in Geneva is, he would be very worried that Members are not prepared to meet the political expectations because "at the moment, all we've got is a series of dates of meetings and there's nothing any more of substance than that."

Pointing out that there are some bilateral meetings going on, Falconer expressed hope that the bilateral meetings work. "But if they don't, you're still going to need a whole lot of multilateral things that need to be done," he said, adding that there is no programme for that.

Falconer also said that the whole "sequencing" is now getting more and more confused. "What's the sequencing? Are we supposed to do just agriculture and NAMA? Or, are we supposed to be doing services at the same time or are we supposed to be doing trade facilitation, or when? But there is no clear line. In fact, there used to be a clear line, there isn't one now. We need to work that out. We can't have lack of clarity about that. Otherwise, your programme of work gets confused."

He said that it's the responsibility of Members here to work that out and not leave it to the Ministers. "They shouldn't waste their time on that."

The worry is that there seems to be no concerted process to bring this together in Geneva. "We are just hoping that some bilaterals somewhere off in the middle distance will solve the problem. I think one is entitled to be a little bit skeptical about that, that's all," said Falconer.

Also speaking to journalists after the informal TNC meeting, Ambassador Ujal Singh Bhatia of India said that there was a "mismatch between what the political leaders are saying in various places all around the world and the lack of any energy here. This is going to have a serious impact on the credibility of both the leaders and the WTO if it is not reconciled very soon. And I think Pittsburgh (the G20 summit late September) will be the crunch moment."

According to trade officials, there was agreement on the part of Members that there needs to be a lot more work done in areas other than modalities in agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA). These issues have been front and centre for some time now and other issues have lagged behind.

Members differed however on the sequence and the timing, with the most important of the issues pertaining to sequence and timing being services. Some delegations believe that there needs to be a catching up of services. On the other side, there were those that believe that the Hong Kong mandate is very clear, in that agriculture and NAMA modalities must come first and that the other issues must come behind that.

Trade officials said that there was also agreement on the part of Members that there should be no surprises in the scheduling process.

According to a developing-country trade diplomat, Members were of the view that the scheduling exercise should not tilt the balance in the negotiations. The scheduling exercise should be a technical one and should not divert energy away from the Doha agenda, said the trade diplomat.

In his report to the TNC, Lamy said that at the meetings of Ministers and Heads of State and government in Bali, Paris, L'Aquila and in Singapore, he had stressed three fundamental messages: (I) we need to keep trade open and resist protectionist measures; (ii) the best way to keep trade open is to keep opening trade, hence the need to conclude the Doha Round as soon as possible.

[The Bali meeting was of the Cairns Group and some others like India who were invited; the Paris meeting, convened by Australia on the sidelines of the annual OECD meeting, was of key countries in the Doha negotiations; L'Aquila was in relation to the G8+5 meeting; and Singapore was the venue of the APEC Ministerial meeting.]

"In light of this, I invited leaders to give the necessary instructions and flexibility to their negotiators and Senior Officials so as to facilitate the narrowing of differences and accelerate decision-making in Geneva and, (iii) we must implement on the ground commitments to Aid for Trade and continue to provide the oil that runs the machinery of international trade - trade finance.

"I sensed a genuine and strong renewal of political commitment to re-engage in the Doha negotiations and to conclude it in 2010. There were expressions of the need to fill in remaining gaps as soon as possible and of the desire to enhance transparency and understanding of what is on the table.

"It is clear that for political leaders, we are now entering the end-game," said Lamy. "Therefore, we need to urgently translate this change in atmospherics into a clear path for engagement across the board in the negotiations in Geneva so that we can get to the arrival point on time. My sense, from my recent discussions with a number of you is that it is important that we end July with a clear view of the next steps.

"Both tracks which we discussed at our last TNC need to be re-energised and focused. Starting with multilateral work in all negotiating groups. This has been, is and will be the centre of our negotiations.

"Bilateral discussions, on which a number of you are engaged, also need to be energised and you need to drill into specifics. We need to see serious and honest engagement taking place now. However, bilateral engagement should not be a reason for slowing the multilateral process or for holding it up. The two processes now have to move simultaneously. It also remains clear, of course, that decision-making belongs only to the multilateral track."

The Director-General also said that his contacts also indicate agreement that scheduling in Agriculture and NAMA must follow the principle of "no surprises". This means that all significant issues relating to schedules must be clear at the time modalities are established. In keeping with the Single Undertaking, a commensurate level of certainty will also be required in the other Negotiating Groups.

This implies that delegations must start thinking of the signals to send to all Chairs about what would be "big-ticket" items for them. There will also have to be collective agreement not to take "hostages". Finally, more horizontal processes to address political sensitivities across the board have to be put in place from September on, he said.

Lamy then turned to each of the negotiating areas where he briefed Members on the state of play as well as an outline of the road map envisaged by the chairs of the negotiating groups after the summer break.

The areas he highlighted included agriculture, NAMA, Rules, Services, the GI register for wines and spirits, the Committee on Trade and Environment in special session, work on Special and Differential Treatment, Trade Facilitation, Dispute Settlement (which is not part of the Doha single undertaking), GI extension and TRIPS/CBD relationship and Aid for Trade.

In agriculture, Lamy said that work is continuing, particularly in light of the renewed political mandate from the G20 and G8. The Revision 4 (of the Agriculture Chair's text) with bracketed and annotated areas needing further work have been identified. These include SSM (especially the architecture), cotton, issues related to sensitive products, preference erosion and tropical products, TRQ expansion as well as tariff simplification.

The Chair has indicated that consultations are under way to determine how best to broach these issues, with a view to a steady programme of technical work in late-summer through to the autumn. The aim is to complete as much as possible of the outstanding technical work so as to set the stage for decisions on more political issues.

Lamy added that discussions are on-going on the templates for scheduling and on the required format of support tables and data needs - both for completion of the templates and for the establishment of modalities and of the time-lines and process for scheduling and verification. "It will be important for Members to take ownership of this matter so that you can be fully ready, with agreed time lines and formats, to complete the scheduling process in agriculture once modalities are established."

In NAMA, apart from a number of open-ended transparency sessions in the first half of this year, the Negotiating Group has also held two dedicated sessions on Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs). These sessions were useful in that they helped delegations to focus on the legal texts. The Group has also been looking at scheduling issues, and a Workshop on Electronic Negotiating Files was organized the week of 13 July.

Concerning the work programme for the coming months, Lamy said that the Chair has planned three NAMA weeks starting in September at which time the emphasis will be on advancing the negotiations on NTBs. This is an area where much work remains to be done. On the other open issues, the Chair's intention is to take them up when Members are ready to engage on them.

The Director-General said that from the road map he has described, the autumn "will be a very busy period. We have to ensure that the whole caravan moves forward together and arrives on time."

"I am confident we can do this if we keep our commitment strong and match it with action. I hope you will all make the most of the holiday period so that we can come back refreshed and ready for a busy and productive autumn," he told delegations.

Speaking after Lamy's report, and noting the outlines of the road map that the Director-General had depicted to Members, Brazil said that one key consensual point is that the scheduling process should entail "no surprises".

"We had bad experiences in the Uruguay Round, particularly in the scheduling of the agricultural commitments, which we wish to avoid this time around," Brazil added.

For Brazil and many other Members, schedules were always the final stage of the negotiations on market access for both agriculture and NAMA. However, this fundamental principle was put in question several weeks ago with the new concept of "early scheduling" or "skipping modalities".

This novelty was proposed by some delegations with the argument that flexibilities negotiated by and for developing countries made the results of the Round difficult to assess. Under this concept, Members would submit preliminary schedules which would be the basis of a subsequent phase of request and offer negotiations, said Brazil, adding: "I need not remind Members of the firm rejection of this concept by a solid majority of the negotiating parties."

Brazil said that it agreed to engage in the process of renewed engagement as long as a few key principles were observed, among them: (a) that negotiations would remain multilateral; (b) that negotiations would be development friendly; ( c) that we would work in a bottom-up process; (d) that the draft modalities were the basis for negotiations; (e) that we would not accept a selective reopening of the package contained in those drafts - if one area was reopened, requiring additional contribution by some or all, the other areas would be also renegotiated to keep the balance that was sought to be achieved in July 2008.

Further, said Brazil, the fact that moving on to scheduling is a final step that has - and always had - consequences in the other areas of the negotiations. Members need to know, to some degree that will vary from Member to Member, what the outcome will be in the non-Agriculture/NAMA axis. "Furthermore, the reality is that we cannot close our arms and do nothing in the areas of negotiations other than Ag (agriculture) and NAMA. We must resume work everywhere, in the horizontal process you (Director-General) have described."

"Of course, the more precision and clarity we require in each of the negotiating areas, the longer it will take to conclude negotiations in Ag and NAMA. On the other hand, Ag and NAMA remain key pieces of the puzzle and without progress in these subjects, we have to be realistic on how we'll be able to effectively negotiate elsewhere," said Brazil.

"I strongly suggest that, for the moment, before jumping to conclusions on how to deal with the current mandates, we roll-up our sleeves and get right down to work in all areas and see how much progress we are able to achieve in the next several weeks.

"Then, we take a pause, assess where we are, and decide how to continue our trip in a way that fulfills our leaders' calls for engagement and urgency," said Brazil.

According to trade officials, Tanzania, on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), said that while they understand the importance of the bilateral/plurilateral process to close the gaps, this should not compromise transparency and inclusiveness, otherwise, the small delegations, especially from the LDCs, will be left out.

Tanzania called for an early harvest specifically on a waiver from services commitments for LDCs, duty-free, quota-free market access and cotton. It called on Members to adhere to the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration on an enhanced integrated framework and Aid for Trade, and a mechanism to speed up the accession process of the LDCs. It also said that bio-piracy is a major concern for the LDCs and it would like to see the TRIPS Agreement amended to include disclosure provisions in respect of the origin of genetic materials and traditional knowledge.

Singapore said that work must start now in order to meet the 2010 deadline. Agriculture and NAMA modalities must be concluded by the end of the year. The scheduling work has to be continued but there is also need to advance work in services, rules, trade facilitation and other areas.

Australia said that there is a marked and embarrassing gap between the statements of leaders and the work on the ground in Geneva. There is need for real progress to be made in the next few months. There is also a need for enhanced engagement at all levels and in all formats.

Mauritius, on behalf of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group, welcomed the signals from Bali, Paris, L'Aquila and Singapore. It said that it failed to understand the mismatch between the political statements and the negotiations in Geneva. There is need to hear from the major players what their specific concerns are. While it understands that the bilateral process may help this, the multilateral process should not be made hostage. The bilateral process should not be used as a pretense to reopen selectively elements of the negotiations. Anything that tilts the balance would complicate the process.

Egypt, on behalf of the African Group, said that falling export prices, remittances and trade flows are deeply affecting Africa. Trade flows are being further hampered by trade measures that are being applied and that several of the fiscal packages that have been extended by developed country governments have hurt the African countries in a variety of ways.

In such a context, concluding the Doha Round would be a very strong stimulus to African growth and development. But an early conclusion should not come at any price, said Egypt. There are no excuses for sacrificing the development dimension of the Doha Round. The priority for the negotiators should be to conclude modalities in agriculture and NAMA. The development dimension should not be put at risk. A selective reopening of the texts is not acceptable. There is need for a multilateral process that is bottom-up.

There should be specific priority assigned to duty-free, quota-free market access for LDCs and cotton, said Egypt, adding that there should be no change in the negotiating process at this late stage. There is no clarity as to what is happening with respect to the bilateral/plurilateral negotiations. The texts remain the best way to go forward.

Egypt said that the development dimension could be compromised under this kind of process, as it is not clear that all developing-country interests would be represented through this bilateral or small group approaches. Also, these approaches do not guarantee a speedy conclusion of the modalities, since a bilateral deadlock would extend the Doha timetable.

Indonesia said that there is need for a real and serious commitment to concluding the Doha Round. There is need to step up work here in Geneva. The development dimension must be central.

Chad, on behalf of several African cotton-producing countries, said that the Doha Development Agenda must be concluded as soon as possible and that the conclusion of the round is only possible if the cotton issue is resolved. This needs to be done in the context of the Hong Kong mandate and the 2004 framework.

Switzerland supported the recent political statements that have been made. Work needs to proceed in Geneva. It is important that the issues of the GI extension and the TRIPS/CBD relationship move simultaneously with the issue of GI register for wines and spirits. Solutions for all three issues must be part of the single undertaking.

Mexico said that there is need to improve what is happening in Geneva. Bilateral/plurilateral negotiations must go hand-in-hand with clear signs of what future commitments will be. But this cannot be used as a pretense for holding up the multilateral discussions. There is need for modalities in agriculture and NAMA as soon as possible.

The European Union said that there is need to translate the progress made in discussions in various fora into action here. The bilateral process can help to explore what will be on the table, what improvements can be offered and what the payments for these will be, but we can't wait too long. The bilateral process must not be used as an excuse to slow progress in the multilateral arena.

The EU said that there should be no surprises after the agriculture and NAMA modalities, including in rules, services, trade and environment and TRIPS. These areas must be sufficiently mature at the end of the modalities, so that all Members can see with a level of precision what is the value of what is on the table. Services are key for the EU.

Canada welcomed the higher level of commitment, The bilateral/plurilateral/multilateral approaches are important, but the multilateral approach must be predominant. Transparency is important for maintaining legitimacy. There should be no surprises especially with agriculture and NAMA modalities and scheduling. It called for new services offers to be tabled soon.

India said that a lot remains to be done. There is a strong mismatch between the clear political signals and the equally striking lack of energy in the negotiations in Geneva. While it understands the importance of the bilateral process, it should not be used as an excuse to delay or suspend the multilateral process.

The United States said that there is a mismatch (between political statements and the negotiations in Geneva) and that everyone suffers from the same problem that they think that the mismatch is due to other parties and that these parties should change their positions. Members won't be able to get an agreement unless they all agree to modify their positions rather than waiting for others to do this. Unless all Members are prepared to modify their positions, there is no chance to achieve the 2010 deadline.

The US said that it is prepared to meet the challenges and understands that there is a lot of work that is required. Among these challenges is building support for trade among the domestic constituencies in the US. In order to sell the Doha Round package, there is need for a saleable package.

The US said that it is not the only country that has an inhospitable climate for trade liberalization at the moment. Other Members should not use the US political situation as an excuse for not moving forward. There is need to determine the level of clarity and ambition in elements of market access. In order to do this, there is need for both multilateral and other processes, including bilaterals.

Japan said that Members have received strong political signals to conclude the round in 2010. There is need to accelerate efforts in agriculture and NAMA while advancing rules, services, trade facilitation and all other remaining issues. All measures of engagement need to be utilized including bilateral and plurilateral processes, which are effective in filling gaps in the negotiations.

Cuba said that it was important to place content over any artificial timetable. It asked what was so important about concluding the round in 2010. The mandate makes very clear that the modalities in agriculture and NAMA must be agreed before anything else.

Korea said that there is need to finish agriculture and NAMA modalities as soon as possible. There is also need for a bottom-up approach, transparency and inclusiveness.

Colombia expressed concerns over the bilateral process.

Turkey said that it was important to close the gaps in agriculture and NAMA. There is need for a multilateral approach. It also stressed on the development dimension. +