TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Sept09/07)
10 September 2009
Third World Network

Delhi Ministerial calls on senior officials to meet from 14 September
Published in SUNS #6768 dated 7 September 2009

Geneva, 4 Sep (Kanaga Raja) -- More than thirty trade ministers representing key WTO Members and coalitions on Friday agreed to call upon their senior officials to meet in Geneva beginning 14 September to draw up a process of engagement for the next 2-3 months, as well as to work with the Chairs of the Negotiating Groups to prepare an overall agenda of action.

This call came in a concluding chairman's summary by Mr Anand Sharma, India's Minister of Commerce and Industry who hosted and chaired the two-day Mini-Ministerial meeting that concluded in New Delhi on Friday.

According to the Chair's summary, "there was a unanimous affirmation on the need to conclude the Doha Round within 2010. There was a clear recognition that differences subsist on issues and intensifying negotiations was the first step towards bridging these gaps."

There was a strong re-affirmation that development remains at the heart of the Doha Round, the summary added.

Ministers also agreed that Chairs of the Negotiating Groups on Agriculture and NAMA (non-agricultural market access) would be requested to draw up issue-based work plans in consultation with Chief Negotiators/Senior Officials, for intensifying engagement to complete negotiations.

Ministers agreed that in consultation with Chief Negotiators/Senior Officials, Chairs of other Negotiating Groups would also draw up work plans, including, where applicable, tabling, discussion and finalization of texts where required and the timelines for submission of revised offers (Services), in line with the overall agenda of action.

Ministers agreed that negotiations should resume on the basis of progress achieved till December 2008.

Ministers agreed that work agenda for LDCs covering all specific issues across the entire spectrum should be put on a faster track for negotiating convergence, with the Director General Pascal Lamy and Chairs of Negotiating Groups taking the lead in this process.

Ministers were of the view that the multilateral process should continue to be the main process of negotiations for the strength of its inclusiveness and transparency. Other forms of engagements can work as an adjunct for developing a better understanding among members.

Ministers agreed to review progress and provide further guidance on how to complete negotiations within the expected 2010 time-line. All opportunities for political guidance, including at the level of leaders to be used between now and the end of November 2009 as also to iteratively track progress.

"Mindful of the fact that the Doha Round has been in progress for eight years, it was agreed that all efforts must be made to bring the Round to an ambitious and development oriented conclusion within 2010 as resolved by world leaders," said the summary.

According to the Indian Commerce Minister, the Delhi Ministerial meeting was conceived and designed "as a representative forum of the WTO membership, bringing together groups from across the spectrum of interests and positions in the Doha negotiations, in a microcosm of the WTO itself, in a bid to give a determined push to the multilateral process."

The objective was to develop a broad-based consensus to remove the impediments coming in the way of multilateral discussions and to provide clear directions to negotiators to re-energise the multilateral process at the WTO.

Mr Sharma summarized the proceedings of the two-day Ministerial meeting.

He said that Ministers recalled the outcomes of meetings held earlier during the year at London (G20), Bali (Cairns Group), Paris (Trade Ministers), L'Aquila (G8 plus) and Singapore (APEC Trade Ministers). It was further recalled that leaders had set a time-line of 2010 for the conclusion of the Doha Round.

"Ministers acknowledged that the unambiguous political signals emanating from earlier meetings had not been translated into action in Geneva. They were conscious that mere reaffirmation of commitment was not enough unless this was converted into effective instructions to negotiators to re-engage, with a view to concluding the Round successfully within 2010," said the summary.

Ministers were also sensitive to the deleterious impact of the prolonged global economic crisis, which has put to the test the commitment of member countries to free, fair and equitable rule-based international trade.

They were unanimous in expressing the view that strengthening the multilateral trading system by concluding the Doha Round at the earliest, was vital.

Mr Sharma noted that WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy provided an overall perspective of the way forward. The Chairs of the Agriculture, NAMA and Services Negotiating Groups outlined their work plans in their respective areas.

According to the summary, the G20 and the G33 emphasised the need to respect the multilateral mandate as reflected in the work done on the Agriculture and NAMA modalities over the last seven years. "Both Groups were of the view that the texts of December 2008 must form the basis of future work," said Mr Sharma.

"Regarding the negotiating process, they reiterated that bilateral and plurilateral meetings could only be used to supplement the multilateral process and not to substitute it. The G20 called for the expeditious completion of the Round with contributions from all Members."

The Cotton-4 (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali) recalled the mandate of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration according to which the cotton issue must be addressed ambitiously, expeditiously and specifically. They expressed the hope that this issue would be taken up on priority when talks resumed. They were supported in this by all other Groups, particularly, the G33, the G20, the African Group and the ACP Group.

According to the summary, the African Group re-emphasized the importance of keeping development concerns as the main focus of negotiations. The ACP Group reaffirmed the need for the banana issue to be specifically addressed outside of the modalities on agriculture, in order to reach a just and balanced outcome.

[According to a report in the Business Standard, Egypt, speaking for the African Group at the meeting on Thursday, had stated that the faster conclusion of the Doha trade talks should not come at the cost of developing countries' concerns. "We should not lose sight of the development aspects for the round which ensure the integration of African and developing countries, particularly the least developed countries, in a fair multilateral trading system," said Rachid Mohamed Rachid, trade and industry minister of Egypt, which is heading the African group at the Delhi meeting of the Doha Round.]

The two groups, Sharma's summary said, supported by CARICOM (the Caribbean Community), also drew the attention of participants to the progress made in July 2008 on preference erosion modalities. They expressed disappointment that the specific understandings developed then had not reached fruition on account of the delay in resumption. They emphasised the importance of this issue for their economies.

The G10 group expressed its commitment to a successful and expeditious conclusion of the Doha Round to face the economic downturn and to fight the spread of protectionism. Citing the contributions being made by developed countries, the Group stressed the need for a balanced result in the single undertaking.

The LDC Group expressed concern that delay in concluding the Doha Round was costing them dearly. They called for an expeditious conclusion of the Round and progress on issues that were critical to them including DFQF (duty-free, quota-free market access).

The two-day Mini-Ministerial meeting drew criticism from close to 250 groups comprising trade unions, agriculture organizations as well as a wide range of public interest groups across India.

The groups argued that India would stand to lose on all key areas of the negotiations - agriculture, fisheries, industrial tariffs, services and intellectual property.

Rather than re-energizing the talks on a flawed framework, the groups stressed that the government must go back and rewrite and re-strengthen its position on the protection of millions of workers and farmers by safeguarding India's agriculture and industries. +