TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Sept09/08)
10 September 2009
Third World Network

Re-energising Doha Round, but no movement on substance
Published in SUNS #6770 dated 9 September 2009

New Delhi, 8 Sep (Shefali Sharma) -- The two-day Mini-Ministerial meeting of some 36 trade ministers hosted by the Government of India in New Delhi on 3-4 September appears to have concluded with a few proposals on a process to "re-energize" the WTO Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations, but with no movement on substance.

Virtually all developing-country groupings endorsed the multilateral approach of negotiations and cautioned against the attempt to subvert the process through bilateral or plurilateral negotiations. They also endorsed the December texts as the basis of negotiations rather than unravelling the texts. This is presumably because the US is demanding even more concessions than what is outlined in the December text.

It has been decided to hold a senior officials' meeting on September 14 onwards in Geneva to plan a road map for the next 2-3 months in order to see how the Round can be concluded. The process will be carried forward by the Chairs of the Negotiating Groups in consultation with trade negotiators and senior officials.

According to a background note circulated by the Government of India (GOI) at the start of the two-day meeting, the objective was to "resume and intensify the Doha Round negotiations, technical discussions are not envisaged... The discussion will mainly focus on the best way to spark the multilateral negotiations to move the Round to a quick closure."

The background note further stated that the meeting was the first "occasion since July 2008 that Ministers representing practically all shades of opinion and interests... would come together."

(In July 2008, an attempt to finalize the modalities for the Doha Round ended in stalemate amongst members on a host of issues. However, India and the US were singled out as the key countries that blocked agreement on issues such as the special safeguard mechanism for developing countries in agriculture, and the US, on cotton as well.)

The background document detailed India's support of the multilateral system and its proactive support to "energize the Doha Round", citing the 2005 New Delhi G20 meeting and the "Saving Doha and Delivering on Development" conference in 2007 as examples of efforts to move the Round forward.

The GOI contended that the draft modalities of 6 December 2008 for agriculture and NAMA (non-agricultural market access) should be the basis of further negotiations, while stating that "these texts are yet to be discussed at the WTO."

The meeting got underway as 51,000 men and women farmers organized by the Bhartiya Kisan Union and the Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Unions gathered near the Indian Parliament and courted arrest over their demand to take agriculture out of the WTO.

All the Left parties of India also mobilized with their agriculture and workers' unions such as the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) as well as independent unions such as the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) to oppose India's initiative to conclude the Doha talks.

In the corridors on the last day of the meeting on 4 September, one negotiator from an invited country said: "Not much has happened here but a discussion on process and reiteration of positions."

A delegate from a G20 country stated: "The US came here, but is in no position to offer anything. They are demanding that we open the text and give more market access, but are not willing to offer anything in return."

The US stressed the importance of bilateral negotiations between countries as a way to move things forward in a concrete manner.

[On this, the Chair's final summary of the meeting noted that trade ministers "reiterated that bilateral and plurilateral meetings could only be used to supplement the multilateral process and not to (sic) substitute it."]

One concrete suggestion put forward by Ministers was to hold another senior officials' meeting in Geneva on September 14 to "draw up a process of engagement for the next 2-3 months; and, to work with the Chairs of the Negotiating Groups to prepare an overall agenda of action." It is still not anticipated, as of now, that the Geneva Ministerial (30 November-2 December) will be a "negotiating" ministerial.

However, the Chair's summary stated that "all opportunities for political guidance, including at the level of leaders (sic) to be used between now and the end of November 2009 as also to (sic) iteratively track progress."

According to the Chair's summary, Ministers agreed that the chairs of the negotiating groups should consult with chief negotiators and senior officials to 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."

India stressed the importance of moving on services and other parts of the agenda in addition to agriculture and NAMA.

According to some visiting trade officials, the US does not accept the December text as an acceptable starting point. The US would like further restrictions on the use of special products and special safeguard mechanism with regards to specific crops that it heavily subsidizes and exports, such as corn, rice, cotton and soybeans.

According to a media source, China raised concerns about this US stance, especially since US agriculture subsidies will not go down.

In a press briefing, the US said that the December text was not "inviolate."

On the other hand, the G20, the G33 and many other groupings endorsed the December text as "the basis of future work."

Representatives from the G33, G20, and G10 (all different coalitions with interests in agriculture), the NAMA-11, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small and Vulnerable Economies (SVEs), CARICOM (Caribbean Community), the African Group, the African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries (ACP) and the Cotton-4 were invited, and attended, the Mini-Ministerial meeting.

Trade Ministers from developed countries such as the US, the EC, Australia and South Korea also attended.

The two-day meeting, with the theme "Re-Energizing Doha: A Commitment to Development", began with a statement by Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Mr Anand Sharma as Chair and host of the meeting.

He said that "a question has been asked by some as to why India took the initiative to host this meeting when Heads of State and Governments have already, in no uncertain terms, signaled what needs to be done", referring to the statements made in previous Heads of State summits to conclude the Doha Round by 2010. He contended that many of these international groupings did not represent the full WTO membership and that the Delhi meeting "constitutes a microcosm of the entire WTO membership."

Sharma clarified that the "value-addition" of the meeting was to provide a road-map on concluding the Round by 2010 and that the Delhi meeting was "neither the appropriate forum nor the opportune time to discuss specific issues in the individual areas of the negotiations. That is best left to the multilateral process in Geneva." Instead, he felt that the discussions at the meeting should "spark the multilateral negotiations to move the Round to a quick closure."

He also stated that while some believed that WTO members had reached an "endgame" in the negotiations, a look at the draft texts on agriculture and NAMA alone shows that "there are still a few gaps and large number of unresolved issues. In some instances, the architecture of a solution is not yet fully in sight. In others, there still remain negotiating gaps that need to be sufficiently narrowed before Ministers can collectively outline the way forward..." He said that these issues will take time to resolve.

Since the Obama administration was elected, the US has been suggesting bilateral and plurilateral negotiations as the way to resolve the Doha deadlock. The US has also proposed scheduling commitments on agriculture and NAMA before the framework (modalities) of the agriculture and NAMA negotiations are agreed.

Presumably hinting at this, Minister Sharma said that "Ministers may like to reflect on the necessity for and the implication of changing a tried and tested process." He stressed both looking at various approaches to reach a conclusion and the importance of transparency and inclusiveness given the size and diversity of the WTO, stating that "we cannot risk alienating any of those involved."

Recalling the Doha Mandate, he said that "the final outcome must correct the historical distortions and address structural flaws in the global trading regime, while responding to the legitimate concerns and aspiration of the poor in the developing world."

He also recalled the Hong Kong mandate to meaningfully integrate LDCs into the trading system, and posed the question "Can parallel negotiations in Services and other areas be taken on board in a more proactive manner?", while keeping in mind the Hong Kong Ministerial mandate to move on agriculture and NAMA followed by other issues.

Following his speech, the Director-General of the WTO Pascal Lamy, followed by the three chairs of the negotiating groups of agriculture, NAMA and services delivered their statements.

The Chairs of the negotiating groups provided an update on the status of the negotiations and outlined their work plans for the coming months. The floor was then opened to the various groupings at the WTO, including the African Group, SVEs, CARICOM, the G20, the G33, the Cairns Group, the Cotton-4, the G10 and the NAMA-11. The EC, China, US, Brazil, South Korea, South Africa and Australia also made statements.

Speaking on behalf of the G20, Mr. Celso Amorim, Minister of External Relations of Brazil, said that the G20 had been one of the main driving forces in support of the Round. He outlined six key points that needed to be overcome to conclude Doha. He said, "we are in the endgame of the Doha Round... developing countries are offering unprecedented contribution to the Round and have no more room for further concessions. Adjustments in one area will have to be limited. They inescapably entail movement in other areas of negotiations bearing in mind the development dimension of the Round."

Secondly, he stressed that the Doha Declaration, the 2004 July Framework and the Hong Kong Declaration needed to be respected including the concepts, principles and modalities developed. Thirdly, the negotiating process must remain multilateral. Fourthly, less than full reciprocity and making S&D (Special and Differential Treatment) more precise and operational needed to be central concerns. Fifthly, "Agriculture remains the locomotive of this Round. Progress in other areas is contingent on what happens in agriculture." And finally, "the key developed economies must show the political will to conclude the Round."

Speaking on behalf of Brazil, Minister Amorim spoke more somberly about the state of play. He said that "Political discourse does not translate into action because we don't seem to have a consensual understanding about the basis and the objectives of the negotiations." He said that the majority of the members felt that they had reached the endgame, and this meant that a deal can only be "marginally adjusted but not significantly changed." He said that like developing countries, even developed countries are demanding flexibilities for their own problems, but that these could be worked out for both sides on the basis of the December texts.

In light of the current economic crisis, he said that "Many of us - and frankly I see no exception - have difficulties to live up to the efforts and reforms that new commitments will require... Some state their difficulties upfront, and try to negotiate outcomes that address their particular circumstances. Others try to find acceptable trade-offs that could make the deal saleable at home."

But he warned that changing the goalposts and expecting a considerable movement by some members, especially developing countries was "a sure recipe for a breakdown... The concessions being asked from some developing countries violate the negotiated mandates."

He added, "Let me stress once more: demands for unilateral contributions - particularly from developing countries - are, at this stage, both unfair and unfeasible. In short, the draft modalities cannot be the ceiling for some and the floor for others."

He concluded by saying, "The time has come for a reality check. Concluding the Doha Round would help underpin the recovery of the world economy. We should do it. But we have to ask ourselves - and answer honestly to that question - whether we are prepared to do it within the realm of what is truly possible."

Egypt on behalf of the African Group, Indonesia on behalf of the G33 and Maurituis on behalf of the ACP underscored their own group concerns and said that the draft modalities or the mandate itself should not be reopened and that there should only be multilateral processes.

Minister Mariano Browne, Minister of Trade and Industry and Minister of Finance for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, on behalf of CARICOM, endorsed the ACP statement and associated itself with Indonesia's statement on behalf of the G33. He stated that the way ahead "must be more than about new deadlines and schedules but also about demonstrating that the development agenda of the Round does not lose credibility or its centrality as we move forward."

He noted, like speakers before him, that the current financial crisis had created challenges for CARICOM members such as "falling exports, decreased tourist arrivals, increased unemployment, social dislocation, diminished demand for its products and services." As such, he appreciated sending a positive signal to the international community for the recovery of the global economy.

He outlined several key issues that were "paramount" for CARICOM, such as special and differential treatment, working with the December texts to ensure SVEs' proposals in agriculture and NAMA, agreeing to modalities before scheduling commitments, additional flexibilities in SSM (Special Safeguard Mechanism), special products and sensitive products and ensuring that Aid for Trade is seen as a complimentary tool in the Single Undertaking.

Chief Achike Udenwa, Minister of Commerce and Industry of Nigeria, associated himself to the statements of Egypt (on behalf of the African Group), Mauritius (on behalf of the ACP), Brazil (on behalf of the G20) and Indonesia (on behalf of the G33). He stated that the highest priority should be given to the concerns of the LDCs, SVEs and the African Group and that "there will be no Doha Round outcome, unless we deliver on cotton."

He stressed the importance of operationalizing special and differential treatment and that agriculture "holds the key in the negotiations." Therefore, a breakthrough in this area would impact other negotiating areas.

On process, like CARICOM, Nigeria stressed the "centrality of the multilateral process. Bilateral and plurilateral negotiations should therefore only be complementary... we must... avoid springing surprises in order to create comfort for Members in the negotiations. Bilaterals should also not hold back the multilateral process."

Dr. Mary Michael Nagu, Minister of Industry, Trade and Marketing of Tanzania, on behalf of the LDCs, stated key LDC concerns as: (1) the operationalization of duty-free and quota-free market access for agriculture and NAMA as well as trade in services; (2) increased provisions for official development assistance (ODA), aid for trade (AfT) and enhanced integrated framework (EIF) support.

She said, "While developed countries are bailing out loss making banks the LDCs do not have that ability. They therefore look at ODA, AfT and EIF as their stimulus package." On cotton, she stressed that the commodity faces falling prices, low yields, a liberalized market, low or lack of value addition, lack of trade financing and thus stockpiling of cotton and loss of livelihood against a backdrop of a heavily subsidized cotton regime.

She called on WTO members for better technical assistance, addressing the needs of net food importing countries (particularly LDCs) in the context of the food crisis, less than full reciprocity in implementing WTO agreements, "permission to protect and safeguard LDCs trade and development interest against powerful foreign competition." +