TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb10/15)
27  February 2010
Third World Network

Doha stocktaking end-March won't be at Ministerial level
Published in SUNS #6868 dated 22 February 2010

Geneva, 19 Feb (Kanaga Raja) -- It now appears that a forthcoming stocktaking exercise at the end of March, to assess whether concluding the Doha Round of trade negotiations in 2010 is doable, will not involve the participation of trade ministers, but rather of senior officials.

This emerged from a very short "Green Room" meeting of some 30-35 delegations convened by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy on Thursday afternoon at the World Trade Organization.

(Lamy is expected to report to the full Membership on the Green Room meeting at a General Council meeting on 22 February.)

According to a developing-country trade diplomat who attended the meeting and later spoke to the SUNS, the assessment of Director-General Lamy (following his recent consultations with senior officials from seven key countries) was that it was not reasonable (at this time) for Ministerial-level engagement in the upcoming Doha stocktaking session at the end of March.

Ministers, meeting at the seventh WTO Ministerial Conference from 30 November to 2 December 2009, had highlighted the need for a stocktaking exercise in the first quarter of 2010. During those consultations, it became clear that the United States was not ready for any Ministerial-level engagement, and left the exercise open.

Subsequently, at a General Council meeting last December, Lamy had called on Members to reserve the last week of March for the stocktaking exercise.

The trade diplomat's view was that Ministerial-level engagement could take  place later.

The trade diplomat further said that some of the few delegations that spoke Thursday voiced support for the Director-General's assessment for no Ministerial-level engagement for the end-March stocktaking exercise. He noted that the US did not speak at the Green Room meeting.

According to the trade diplomat, a delegation posed the question of whether it was a question of timing (for Ministerial engagement in the stocktaking), to which the Director-General replied that it was more about the substance to be negotiated rather than the issue of timing.

The trade diplomat said that there will be a stocktaking session end March  at possibly senior officials' level, possibly of the same or similar Green  Room group of countries, to see the progress (if any) and to identify gaps  and to continue working from that.

Trade officials have confirmed that there was no consensus at the Green Room meeting on Ministerial-level engagement at the Doha stocktaking session end March. It should be taking place at the level of senior officials, they said.

Trade officials indicated that the stocktaking session would take place at senior officials' level around the week of 29 March. They noted that the decision to abandon the end 2010 time-line for concluding the Doha talks is something that can only be decided by Ministers.

The Director-General's assessment in the Green Room followed from his recent consultations this week among senior officials from seven WTO Members (the so-called "G7" - Australia, Brazil, China, European Union, India, Japan and the United States), said trade officials.

According to another developing-country trade diplomat who attend the  Green Room meeting, the Director-General's assessment was that a  substantial number of gaps remain despite the consultations that were  undertaken (among the "G7").

There was a need to continue the exercise of identifying the gaps, as well  as the need to work on both the multilateral and bilateral tracks.

It was too early to involve Ministers for that purpose according to the  Director-General, said the trade diplomat.

On the senior officials' meetings, the trade diplomat said that there has  been no progress in closing the gaps in the outstanding issues.

While there has been a better exchange of information and progress in the  negotiating groups, such as on the issue of non-tariff barriers, there has  been no substantive progress on the big issues, said the trade diplomat.

According to some trade observers, there would be a senior officials-level  meeting around 29 March, the purpose of which would be to identify the  gaps. Following this, the Chairs are expected to submit revised texts.  Also to be decided would be whether there is need for a meeting at the  political level and when this would take place.

The fact that the upcoming Doha stocktaking exercise end March is being  downgraded to the senior officials' level might suit the US.

The US has been opposed to such a stocktaking exercise, particularly at the Ministerial level. The current impasse in the Doha talks is being blamed on the US.

Asked at a media briefing following the conclusion of the seventh  Ministerial Conference last December if he agreed to such an exercise, US  Trade Representative Ron Kirk had said that the substance of the work in  the bilateral and multilateral forum will determine success, not arbitrary  setting of dates and time-lines. (See SUNS #6828 dated 7 December 2009.)

Also not helping matters has been the fact that several key nominations by  US President Barack Obama including that of Deputy US Trade  Representative, Michael Punke, who is to become US ambassador to the WTO,  and that of Islam Siddiqui, the nominee for the post of chief negotiator  on agriculture, have been blocked in the US Senate - where there is a  gridlock, and Republicans are said to be holding up all administration  moves and legislative initiatives in the belief that this will help them  to prevail over Democrats in the November mid-term elections, and wrest  control of Congress.

President Obama could no doubt make some recess appointments as he has threatened, but such appointments would end when a new Senate session convenes next January. And other countries will be circumspect in negotiating with recess appointees whose future is uncertain, trade observers note.

According to media reports, Punke was present in Geneva this week and  participated in the discussions, but only as a "consultant" to US Trade  Representative Ron Kirk.

The new EC trade commissioner Karel de Gucht, during his first visit to  the WTO last week, had called for Ministerial-level participation in the  end-March stocktaking exercise, according to media reports.

Meanwhile, a news report in the Business Standard on 18 February reported  on an "Enchilada" meeting convened by the Chair of the services  negotiations at the WTO, Ambassador Fernando de Mateo of Mexico.

According to the report, developing countries including India, South  Africa, Argentina, Brazil and China complained that the US, the European  Union, Canada and Japan, while demanding more market access from  developing countries, have not done much in opening up their own markets  for developing-country service providers beyond what they had done for the  implementation of the Uruguay Round agreements from 1995.

The report cited Indian Ambassador Ujal Singh Bhatia as noting that the  developing countries had done much more than the developed world in market  opening in services.

The report quoted Ambassador Bhatia further saying: "We are concerned that  some industrialized countries have actually rolled back in certain  services sectors. And our share in opening up is not only fair, but much  greater than what the demandeurs are ready to show in their offers."

According to Mr Chakravarthi Raghavan, Editor Emeritus of the SUNS, on the issue of agriculture, the developed countries have gone back on their commitments made in Marrakech to effect a course reversion and undertake a long process of reform - for which developing countries were asked and paid an advance price in the form of commitments on various disciplines in the goods trading sector and agreeing to bring TRIPS and services into the multilateral trading system.

In fact, he said, the developed countries, after Marrakech, have increased their agricultural supports, engaged in "box shifting", and have used other measures such as anti-dumping investigations to harass, inhibit or prevent access to their markets by the developing countries.

The developed countries now want the developing world to open up their  markets even more, particularly in non-agricultural products (NAMA) and in  services, he added. This is nothing more than a neo-mercantilist agenda in  the name of free trade, and cannot be used to fool the public.

"The powerful developed countries, and their collaborators within the  system, are making the entire multilateral trading system untenable, and  this is in the interest of no Member," he remarked. +