TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct09/08)
29 October 2009
Third World Network

No "tangible progress" yet in Doha negotiations, reports Lamy
Published in SUNS #6800 dated 26 October 2009

Geneva, 23 Oct (Kanaga Raja) -- While there has been useful engagement the past week in focused and constructive discussions, "we have not yet seen tangible progress in the negotiations", WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy told an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) Friday.

"Overall, I would say that the current speed with which we are advancing is too slow to arrive at modalities latest by early next year" as is needed to be in a position to wrap up the Doha Round next year, Lamy warned.

Lamy provided this general impression in his report to Members at the informal TNC meeting. He provided a brief report on the Green Room meeting that he held Thursday afternoon, which focused on taking stock of the various activities and meetings that had taken place this past week, including his consultations.

The Green Room meeting also heard reports from a number of delegations regarding the bilateral and plurilateral processes they had been involved in.

The informal TNC meeting was held to review the activities of the past week as well as to discuss the next steps in the work for November. Another week of senior officials' meetings has been scheduled for 23-27 November.

The informal TNC meeting also took place two days after a meeting of the General Council on Tuesday at which a number of delegations vented their frustration over the lack of transparency in the current negotiating process in Geneva involving bilateral and small-group meetings.

Referring to the week of senior officials' meetings, trade officials said that there has been quite a lot of disenchantment with the way things have gone this week. Trade officials pointed in this respect to various bilateral, plurilateral and Chair-oriented meetings, as well as meetings hosted outside the WTO by the EU.

Trade officials also pointed out that the substance of the talks is not advancing at a rate which is going to lead to the conclusion of the Doha Round by the end of next year. That recognition has dawned on all Members this week, trade officials said.

According to trade officials, in their interventions at the TNC, some countries, notably Brazil, were of the view that things were actually backtracking (see below).

In his statement at the informal TNC meeting, Lamy, stressed that there has been no backsliding on the level of ambition, but added: "we now need to engage in text based negotiations to bridge gaps, particularly on Agriculture and NAMA which still remain key to these negotiations", but also on services and on the rest of the topics on the agenda.

"This is the only way these negotiations can bear fruit," he said, adding that he will continue to work closely with the Negotiating Group Chairs and the General Council Chairman to help Members get to grips with the substantive issues which remain open.

He pointed out that the senior officials' meeting in November needs to be carefully prepared so that it results in progress. That meeting "has to be a negotiating session, not a discussion session, and we have to prepare for it collectively!", so that its outcome could be reported to the forthcoming Ministerial Meeting which could take stock of progress.

The Director-General also briefly reviewed each area of the negotiations. On agriculture, he said that work in agriculture is proceeding smoothly and with the full support of Members on a two-track approach. One track, template work, is advancing with contributions from many Members. Step 1 of this template work concerns the identification of base data and appropriate tables; this step is expected to conclude soon with work to start in November on Step 2, namely the preparation of the templates to be used for scheduling commitments.

The other track of work in agriculture is the Chair's informal consultations on the bracketed and otherwise annotated issues in the draft modalities and associated documentation. There have been discussions on domestic support and market access issues, including useful work on sensitive products, tariff cap, TRQ expansion and tariff simplification. In November, these consultations will broach the S&D issues in the modalities - SSM, special products, tropical products, preference erosion - with then the opportunity in December to return to some of the matters, he said.

His sense from the consultations that have taken place this week is that there is a collective endeavour to not lower the current level of ambition in agriculture.

Turning to NAMA, Lamy said that his consultations this week has been focused on how to move forward the Non-Tariff Barrier (NTB) negotiations. Noting that the Negotiating Group has been discussing the various NTB textual proposals through a process of questions and answers, he said that there still remains a lot of work to be done.

On services, Lamy said that the purpose of his consultations was to clarify the way ahead and how best to proceed with these negotiations at this stage. The focus was mainly on the market access pillar but also touched upon the rule-making side as well as the implementation of the LDC modalities.

It was stressed that the services negotiations cannot be separated from the rest of the Doha Development Agenda and that as we progress on agriculture and NAMA, we need to have commensurate clarity in services. There was also the general sense that while some time had passed since the Signaling Conference of July 2008, and while recognizing that those signals were conditional, there were no intentions of back-tracking.

While it was recognized that more clarity should be pursued by bilateral and plurilateral meetings, it was also understood that whatever comes out of such efforts, should not be labelled as "final offers", he said.

On the rule-making part, Lamy reported that there was a general feeling that work should be intensified on domestic regulation, and that senior officials should pay more attention to the rule-making agenda within services, focusing on text based negotiations.

In the rules area, said Lamy, work has proceeded in accordance with the Rules Group's work programme.

In the area of trade facilitation, Lamy said that the new agreement is taking shape. In line with the work programme, the Negotiating Group has successfully completed the first part of its task of producing a consolidated negotiating text. The text covers GATT articles V (transit) and X (transparency) and work has started on the task of consolidating text on special and differential treatment.

At the group's next meeting in November, the intention is to consolidate the negotiating text on article VIII (fees and formalities), on customs cooperation and on cross-cutting issues in the new agreement, and to complete the job of producing consolidated negotiating text on special and differential treatment.

On the negotiations of Special and Differential Treatment, Lamy reported that text-based discussions on the Monitoring Mechanism have been continuing on the basis of the Chair's non-paper. He said that Members have been able to make some progress and further fine-tune some of the elements contained therein. As a result, the Chair is in the process of revising his non-paper.

Several countries spoke following the Director-General's report.

According to trade officials, the EU, reporting on meetings that it hosted with 14 countries, said that there is need to make more progress. It further said that the EU will be focusing on the conclusion of the Doha Round as their message for the upcoming Ministerial Conference.

The US said that it has had a number of plurilateral meetings, which are at different levels of advancement. Stressing that it has to be a step-by-step process, the US said that it was pleased with the level of engagement and was of the view that this approach holds potential for progress.

Brazil said the universe of requests that it is receiving on the demand side (in bilateral meetings) is very large but not specific. The outer limits of the universe are not acceptable. Brazil was quite pessimistic because it is being asked to do a lot in agriculture, NAMA and services, and that its request for greater ambition in agriculture is not bearing fruit.

Brazil had also not found sufficient levels of engagement in the plurilateral process, and voiced concerns over backtracking.

Speaking to journalists after the informal TNC meeting, Ambassador Roberto Azevedo of Brazil, in reference to Brazil's bilateral meetings, said that the bilateral meetings are not going well. He cited several reasons for this, the first being that it was going too slow in identifying the core demands of the other parties.

On the request side from the demandeurs, it was too vast and too imprecise. "We need to move to an identification of the core interests on the side of the demandeurs."

With respect to Brazil's requests, the Brazilian envoy said that these have been met with negative responses across the board. "In short, there are not a whole lot of reasons for optimism as far as the bilaterals are concerned."

As far as the plurilaterals are concerned, he said that although there is engagement and focused discussions, "there is no progress whatsoever."

Even though the Director-General was of the view that there was no backsliding
(in reference to Lamy's statement at the TNC meeting), Ambassador Azevedo said that in Brazil's view, there was some backsliding.

He also pointed out that the areas are moving in different directions. In agriculture, "you are looking for flexibilities for developed countries and in NAMA and services, people are raising the bar in demands from developed countries."

The same developed countries that asked for more flexibilities in agriculture, are raising the bar in services and NAMA, he added.

"The risk we run... is that you may see the dismantling of the package as time goes by," he said, highlighting Brazil's concerns. "This situation is not sustainable, of course."

He noted that the processes (both bilateral and plurilateral) are not reinforcing each other at this point in time. Expressing hope that these things will change, he said that as of now, they are actually promoting the dismantling of the package.

"So we are not optimistic," he concluded.

According to trade officials, Argentina expressed unhappiness about the process at the informal TNC meeting. It needs to be brought back to the centre where it has been bottom-up, transparent and inclusive. The TNC should be at the centre of the process.

Speaking to SUNS after the informal TNC meeting, Argentina's senior negotiator Mr Nestor Stancanelli said that the TNC meeting was held in order to take stock of this week's meetings.

In the case of Argentina, he said, it sees the importance of regaining the centre of gravity in substance and process, as well so that delegations coming to Geneva can negotiate with full authority.

With regards to the substance, he said that the centre of gravity lies in the principles guiding the negotiations, that this is a round for development. In this regard, he mentioned the principles of less than full reciprocity, special treatment for developing countries and paragraph 24 of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration concerning a balanced and ambitious result in agriculture and NAMA.

"We believe this is the centre of gravity in order to achieve positive results in this round," he said.

He also said that it is important that negotiators, senior officials or Ministers coming to Geneva know what they can and cannot deliver, as well as what they are requesting.

According to trade officials, Tanzania (on behalf of the LDCs) called for an early harvest in duty-free, quota-free market access for the LDCs, a services waiver, accession of LDCs and cotton. It said that there will be no conclusion of the Doha Round without cotton. +