TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar10/13)
25 March 2010
Third World Network

Doha stocktaking exercise gets underway
Published in SUNS #6889 dated 23 March 2010

Geneva, 22 Mar (Kanaga Raja) -- The stocktaking exercise of the Doha Round kicked off on Monday for a week-long session.

The stocktaking exercise, which commenced following a formal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), is being conducted at the level of senior officials.

As to the programme of work for the exercise, bilateral and plurilateral consultations are expected to take place during the week, with a Green Room meeting (of some 30-35 delegations hosted by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy) slated for Thursday, and a final formal meeting of the TNC to take place on Friday to wrap up the exercise, according to trade officials.

While Mr. Lamy spoke of focussing political energy needed to move the Round to a concluding phase, India, in comments outside, told SUNS that the United States had problems, but was yet to articulate and specify them. Basically, India said, these are talks about talks, but a process is needed for multilateral discussions. The issues could not be resolved by discussions among one or two delegations, but only multilaterally.

Argentina, another key delegation, said that the insistence of major developed countries for more flexibilities in agriculture was not facilitating the negotiations. Also, the US did not seem to be in a position for a trade-off. The US was making demands but was not in a position to deliver. In the interests of clarity, it was necessary to know what the US needs and what it can deliver.

In his opening statement at the TNC, Director-General Lamy said "many eyes are on us this week", and that this meeting was in response to the call by Ministers when they met at the seventh Ministerial Conference last December.

He said that the "signal that we are able to send from this week, this stocktaking, will be closely watched by a broader world community, not just be trade negotiators."

This is anything but a bureaucratic exercise, he further said, urging Members to approach this week with serenity and determination, as well as the unity of purpose that will allow them to take the next steps towards concluding the Round.

"I hope that we will collectively get a sense of gaps remaining, the size of these gaps and the dynamic with which to address them. It is my hope that on the basis of our exchange of views on Friday, we will be able to send a strong signal to the outside world and focus the political energy that is needed to move the Round into the concluding phase," he said.

According to trade officials, delegations from mainly developing countries that took the floor following the Director-General's opening statement and the reports by the Chairs of the bodies established by the TNC said that they hoped that this week would enhance the momentum towards a development dimension outcome. They also called for a transparent and inclusive process this week.

Some developing countries voiced exasperation over the slow progress seen to date. There was also an emphasis by developing countries on the importance of concluding these negotiations both for development and for recovery from the economic crisis, said trade officials.

Speaking to SUNS, Ambassador Ujal Singh Bhatia of India said that the United States has some problems, and it will have to articulate those problems and specify them so that Members can have a real negotiation.

"There has to be a multilateral process to identify those gaps and deal with them. They have not been doing that for the last six months," he added.

Stressing on the need for a multilateral process, he said that it is not an issue between one or two members.

On what is needed in terms of clarity, he said that there is need to know what exactly the US needs and what they are able to pay.

He further said that he expects this week's deliberations to lead to some sort of a multilateral process to discuss these issues.

"We have been trying to for the last six months [to] move away or keep away from the main gateway issues," he said, adding that this is no longer going to help Members and that there is need for an up-front process to discuss these issues.

He elaborated on the gateway issues being ambition in agriculture, non-agricultural market access (NAMA) and services, as well as some of the issues in the rules area.

Pointing to the upcoming bilateral and plurilateral talks that India is going to participate in this week, he said that at the end of the day, these are basically talks about talks. "What we need now is a process to discuss them multilaterally."

He stressed that the main thing is to have political conversations starting from Geneva about how the Doha Round can be concluded.

"We expect Ministers also to talk about the same things in various combinations and occasions that they will be meeting each other in [the] next few weeks," the Indian envoy said, pointing, for instance, to the upcoming Cairns Group meeting, the OECD meeting and the APEC meeting, leading up to the G20 Summit in June.

Mr Nestor Stancanelli, Argentina's chief negotiator, told SUNS that not much progress has been made so far. "We need perhaps a change of minds, politically speaking, in order to progress in the Round."

He did not expect anything substantial to come out of the stocktaking exercise at the end of the week, saying that the idea is to continue efforts in order to progress.

As to what is blocking the negotiations so far, he pointed to substantial differences in agriculture and NAMA. There are not many differences with what the situation was last December.

He further said that the major developed countries continue to insist on more flexibilities in agriculture and this is not facilitating the negotiations.

He said that the problem is that the US is not in a position for a trade-off. They are making demands, but they are not in a position to deliver.

"We have to agree to consolidate progress in some areas to solve differences in some others," he said, adding that if the US wishes more, it will have to deliver more.

After the stocktaking, he said that he expects a process of meetings, but for the moment, he does not see clear political directions.

Asked about the expectations for the stocktaking exercise, one developing country trade diplomat said wryly that there was no stock to take.

According to trade officials, the Chairs of the various bodies established by the TNC largely reported that they have had very little in the way of progress since the middle of 2008.

The chair of the agriculture negotiations reported that the work in the Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture since the revised text of December 2008 has focussed on two things - consultations on outstanding issues and preparations of templates.

The preparation of templates has to do with preparing those tables for data and deciding which data elements belong in the set, and how the templates will look when modalities are concluded and the results of those modalities are to be formatted in the templates.

He stressed that it is a highly technical exercise and that there is not a political element to it. Where there is difficulty in terms of assessing specific data sets, those issues are put to the side.

On the consultations, he said that he focussed on nine or ten issues - the product-specific caps for the Blue Box, cotton, sensitive product designation, tariff capping, creation of tariff rate quotas, tariff simplification, special products, SSM, tropical products and preference erosion.

He said that on the latter two issues, there have been significant developments through the agreements that have been reached with the EU, the ACP, and Latin American producers.

On future work, he said that he will be holding consultations this week and will be consulting with Members on the best way forward.

The Chair of the NAMA negotiations said that there is a scheduling exercise with templates. The other two areas of discussions involve non-tariff barriers (NTBs) and the sectoral initiative. On NTBs, he said that there have been a number of discussions pertaining to specific product categories. The inclusion of proposals have been important in terms of developing the negotiations but there had not been a great deal of progress.

One of the issues with respect to NTBs is whether or not agriculture products and sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards should be included. There is no agreement on that either, he said.

On the question of sectorals, the Chair said that this has largely been led by the sponsors of the 14 specific negotiating groups. The outstanding issues concern the level of ambition, he said.

The other outstanding issue pertains to specific flexibilities for South Africa, Venezuela and Argentina. The NAMA Chair said that the negotiations on the situation for South Africa are at a more advanced stage than they are for Argentina and Venezuela.

There are other areas where there remain some disagreements, including preference erosion.

The Chair said that with respect to future work, he will be consulting with members this week. There is a challenge ahead for Ministers, as the structure of world trade has changed and there is a risk that the package of elements that is on the table now could become more fragile, he added. The question whether this process will deliver enough and fast enough is now of the highest importance.

The Chair of the services negotiations reported that at the July 2008 ministerial event, two important events took place, namely a services text was produced and there was a signalling conference. Since the meeting in July 2008, little or no significant progress has been seen.

On domestic regulation, he said that gaps need to be closed both in terms of technical work and level of ambition on the result. There was very little by way of progress here. On GATS rules, he said that on the question of safeguards and government procurement, there was not much progress to report, but on the question of subsidies, there has been progress made in terms of specific proposals and discussions that have been held in the last year.

On the services waiver for the LDCs, the Chair said that there is a consensus for supporting this notion among the Membership, but the scope, duration and the origins of definition for services and service suppliers are areas where differences remain.

The Chair of the rules negotiations said that he had changed his approach a couple of years ago by putting forward bottom-up approach text, by listing proposals that have been made and where the disagreements were.

On Anti-Dumping, the areas of disagreement are on zeroing, causation of injury, public interest, lesser duty, sunset review, third-country dumping, special and differential treatment and technical assistance. On subsidies, there are fewer brackets than anti-dumping, which reflect two things - fewer proposals that have come forward and less appetite to make significant changes in the area of countervailing measures.

He also said that Members are no nearer to coming up with big political decisions today, and he doubted that there will be real engagement unless there is progress made elsewhere. There is also no indication from Members that they would like to see him put forward some possible text as a means to bridge differences.

On fisheries subsidies, the Chair said that his original intention was to put forward a list of prohibited subsidies, as that was the mandate coming from the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference. He understood that there is need for special and differential treatment. But there has been no narrowing of positions. He did not see any real appetite for a Chair-based proposal for a solution.

On regional trade agreements, Members have not yet completed the process of the review of the transparency mechanism because there is no consensus on the timing for this, he said.

The Chair of the Special Session of the TRIPS Council reported that real differences among Members lay in two areas. One is the legal effects of registration and whether participation is mandatory or voluntary.

The Chair of the trade and environment negotiations pointed to three areas of negotiations, namely, paragraph 31 (I), (ii) and (iii) of the Doha Declaration. The first pertains to the relationship between WTO rules and Multilateral Environment Agreements (MEAs) trade provisions. There have been five clusters of proposals involving dispute settlement, technical assistance, general principles, how the Committee would address issues on MEAs, and enhanced coordination between secretariats.

On the question of MEA and secretariat coordination and notion of observer status, he said that this is at a slightly more advanced stage. In the third area involving environmental goods and services, he said that what is at play here is identification of specific products and services that might be classified as falling into this category. There is disagreement among Members on whether there is need to pursue this particular area of negotiations as a means of a binding and permanent state, or only used in specific projects.

The Chair of the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development stressed that there was work underway on the monitoring mechanism of development-related issues. There are six agreement-specific proposals on implementation questions for developing countries, where the differences are narrowing, he said. On category two proposals (88 proposals), those that rest in negotiating groups can report limited progress.

The Chair of the trade facilitation negotiations reported that since the release of the consolidated text, a pick-up has been seen in the overall work. There remain a large number of square brackets, and the biggest issue that needs to be advanced has to do with special and differential treatment. He also pointed in this regard to capacity building and technical assistance.

The Chair of the Special Session of the Dispute Settlement Body said that the issue of DSU review is under discussion. Much work remains to be done. Only a limited amount of progress has been seen in the negotiations since July 2008, he said, adding that he intends to call for a more intensive process of negotiations in the coming months.

Several countries spoke at the formal TNC meeting, following an update by Lamy on his consultations on the issues of GI extension and TRIPS/CBD.

According to trade officials, Gabon, on behalf of the African Group, said that the Group will be carefully scrutinizing the activities this week and expressed hope that the exercise will be successful.

Zambia, on behalf of the LDCs, expressed hope that Members emerge from the stocktaking exercise more focussed and engaged. Members should be willing to be more flexible. It expects any work programme to emerge from the stocktaking to address LDC priorities. It also wanted the stocktaking exercise to be transparent and inclusive. It also expected clarity at the end of the week on questions of substance. Technical work needs to continue and political work needs to be better attended to.

Cuba said that Members have yet to find an effective channel to evaluate all of the issues. There were wide gaps among Members that have actually deepened. The industrialized countries do not seem to have the political will to facilitate a redistribution of wealth.

Cuba said that it also sees considerable differences in all areas. It does not seem possible given the amount of work done at this stage for the Round to conclude this year.

Burkina Faso, on behalf of the Cotton-4 (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali), stressed on the importance of the cotton issue.

Mauritius, on behalf of the ACP, said that there has been little by way of progress since 2008. Real negotiations backed by real political will would enable Members to find solutions. For the coming week, it stressed the importance of transparency, non-selectivity of issues under discussion, the pre-eminence of the multilateral process should be maintained, and that the texts do not result in any backsliding.

Indonesia, on behalf of the G33, stressed on the need to fulfil the development dimension and special and differential treatment mandates. It wanted a simple and effective SSM.

Barbados, on behalf of the SVEs, said that the stocktaking should be based on the achievements to date, especially where the texts are stabilized. +