TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr10/02)
Geneva, 29 Mar (Kanaga Raja) -- With the global political economy in a state of flux, the Doha Round of trade negotiations at the World Trade Organization has now moved into a process led by Geneva-based trade ambassadors aimed at "closing the gaps", but with no prospect of the negotiations being concluded successfully in 2010, but perhaps at best by 2012.
This perspective has emerged at the end of a week-long stock-taking exercise on the Doha Round, capped by a formal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on 26 March, where the WTO Director-General and TNC Chair, Mr. Pascal Lamy, announced a new process of engagement aimed at "closing the gaps" on the substantive issues that have led to the current impasse in the Round.
At the TNC meeting,
a number of Members and groups voiced their views and positions on the
negotiations. A talking point among many delegations at the meeting
on Friday was the statement from
The process outlined by Mr. Lamy will now involve a continuation of the Chair-led processes within the Negotiating Groups and what he termed "smaller groups in variable geometry and bilateral contacts", within specific areas, as well as at the horizontal level. (See SUNS #6893 dated 29 March 2010).
It now appears that
the practice, since the
Trade diplomats have said that the new process will be led by Geneva-based Ambassadors, with senior officials coming from capitals when there is a possibility of discussing politically some of the substantive issues in order to close the gaps.
While Lamy did not
provide any specific time-line for Ministerial involvement to tackle
the political decisions, he told the TNC that Members should make productive
use of the upcoming Cairns Group, OECD and APEC ministerial meetings
to foster and facilitate Ministerial dialogue on the Doha Agenda. He
did not make any mention of the upcoming G20 leaders' summit in
to some trade diplomats, nothing is expected to come out of these Ministerial
gatherings, without substantive engagement from the
One developing-country trade diplomat told SUNS that he did not expect to see much happening this year, even from the upcoming G20 leaders' summit. He noted that the G20 summit does not have a chapter to specifically discuss the trade issue.
several trade diplomats pointed the finger at the
At the TNC itself,
"This is the main
reason for the current impasse in the Doha Round," said
[Meanwhile, in the
In its statement at
the TNC on 26 March,
It added that agreement
in that respect is not lacking, nor should it also be lacking on the
single most important component of
It noted that development was conspicuously absent from all discussions and consultations that it participated in during the week. "This cannot and should not be allowed to continue!"
While it acknowledged
the difficulties that the current process has faced in advancing negotiations
and achieving the desired progress,
It further stressed that any future process of negotiations, whether with or without a horizontal dimension, has to be sufficiently representative of developing Members' interests, and that from the very beginning, in order to deliver on the developmental mandates and necessary flexibilities for developing countries in all the negotiating tracks. "The multilateral track should always remain central in leading our work."
"Therefore, it is incumbent on us before we embark on a new phase of negotiations, that we caution from attempts to reinterpret the mandates, and any possible backtracking on commitments, or lowering the level of ambition at the expense of developing countries."
In its statement at
1. That the December 2008 draft modalities are the basis for negotiations and represent the end-game in terms of the landing zones of ambition. Any marginal adjustments in the level of ambition of those texts may only be assessed in the context of the overall balance of trade-offs, taking into consideration that Agriculture is the engine of the Round; and
2. That the draft modalities embody a delicate balance achieved after eight years of negotiations. This equilibrium must be respected, or we will need readjustments of the entire package with horizontal repercussions. Such readjustments cannot entail additional unilateral concessions from developing countries.
The G20 regretted that, despite its best efforts, no meaningful substantive progress has been achieved over the past several months.
It therefore supported the new process announced by the Director-General and welcomed two elements in particular:
1. That alongside the Negotiating Group's work, the Director-General will also conduct consultations that will focus on the key issues that have led to a general negotiating impasse. To move forward, we must no longer avoid these enabling issues. We must identify and measure the existing gaps in those critical areas;
2. This exercise must be conducted by the membership as a whole. Such horizontal discussions could potentially affect the whole membership and we must take collective ownership of the difficult political decisions that lie ahead.
In its statement,
The distortions caused by the high levels of protection and trade distorting subsidies in agriculture in rich countries continue to destabilize and undermine the productive potential of many developing countries, including South Africa.
The plight of cotton
The South African statement recalled that the South African Minister Rob Davies had pointed out at the seventh Ministerial Conference held in December 2009 that "South Africa was not part of the agreements reached by some members in the July 2008 Package."
"We continue to believe that the texts that emerged 'are imbalanced and reflect too much accommodation of the sensitivities of developed countries in agriculture, while demanding too much from developing countries in terms of reducing their applied industrial tariffs and policy space for industrial development'".
However, Minister Davies also stated that, "Despite these reservations, we have been willing to work to see whether, on the basis of the existing texts, the specific problems posed for SA (South Africa) and SACU (Southern African Customs Union), arising from the historic injustice of South Africa's classification in the Uruguay Round as a 'developed country', can be resolved in a fair manner."
find it disconcerting that the
"This is the main
reason for the current impasse in the Doha Round," said
As Members go forward,
"This will require us to discard the mercantilist approach taken by some of the major players and an adherence to the principles or values of: (a) Fairness; (b) Respect for the Doha Development Mandates; ( c) a willingness to honour convergences and agreements reached during the multilateral process; (d) a recognition of the value of a stable multilateral rules based trading system; and (e) a willingness to contribute to the strengthening of global governance."
All these values do not necessarily bring substantially more market access in the short term, nor can they be added up in dollars and cents but they are the basic ingredients required to secure the conclusion of the Doha Round in the shortest time and to build a more sustainable multilateral trading system, it added.
As Minister Davies
stated at the Davos Ministerial discussions, said
A process that continues to work in the silos of single issues and that does not attempt to discuss the balances required to make the final package acceptable to all and that continues with "business as usual" will lead to debilitation, and will risk unraveling over 8 years of work, added South Africa.
"We therefore agree with you (the WTO Director-General) that what is required now is a process that is based on multilateralism, transparency and inclusiveness based on the work of the Chairs of the negotiating groups and the TNC, but that also allows for frank horizontal discussions on the trade-offs required across the negotiations to allow for a fair and balanced package that all members can sell to their constituencies."
"The current stock-taking exercise takes place in a political context. Ministers at MC7 (seventh Ministerial Conference) recognized the impasse that the round was faced with and felt it wise to give us more time to find our way forward. They will require a report. It is clear to us that at some stage in the process we will require ministerial guidance and engagement. How and when such engagement takes place will require further consultations. We leave this to your judgement."
As to what is to be
done in the meantime,
In this spirit,
"It would also
be wise to use the time available to us to reach interim understandings
and agreements on some of the most important systemic issues that offer
opportunities for all and that address the most harmful practices of
It urged Members to begin a serious discussion in the coming weeks on these suggestions as a way forward and how to successfully conclude the Round.
In a statement, India said that given the waning confidence of the world outside about the prospects of the Doha Round, it believed that this stock-taking week has provided a good opportunity to work on three objectives - "taking stock of where we are, redefining our negotiating objectives for the year based on the lessons of the last six months of engagement, and preparing for a new phase of engagement."
"While we have clearly achieved greater clarity on the first and third objectives, we are somewhat intrigued with the loud silence on the second."
"There is nothing
to suggest that the political constraints that have impeded our progress
over the last six months will suddenly disappear in the next six months.
This has clear implications for what we can achieve this year,"
In some comments on
the substantive aspects,
"If we are to have a horizontal process even within agriculture, we will need to come to terms with all these issues like OTDS (overall trade distorting domestic support), Green Box, Blue Box, developed country flexibilities, etc. We cannot focus our efforts on just one or two issues and set the rest aside on the ground that they are political. At this stage, everything is political. A horizontal discussion has to begin within a negotiating group itself."
On the issue of cotton,
On NAMA (non-agricultural
"We now look forward to a Chair-led process to discuss the important outstanding issues like sectorals, country specific flexibilities, etc. in a manner consistent with the mandate."
On the issue of TRIPS,
"We have found
the DG (Director-General) led consultative process on the last two issues
to be useful in clarifying a number of technical and other issues. It
is important that we continue to make progress on these issues to prepare
the ground for a Ministerial decision. Needless to say, we view an outcome
on these issues as an integral part of the outcome on the Doha Round,"
On the Special Session
of the Committee on Trade and Development,
"Fundamental differences remain on the mandate and scope of the monitoring mechanism. We also find it difficult to agree with the Chair's assessment that there is progress on the Agreement-specific proposals. There has been no discussion on these issues for about a year."
[In pursuance of the
On the issue of services,
"We have on earlier occasions provided specific details of the anomalous situation created by developing countries having made disproportionately higher commitments in this Round so far, compared to the developed countries. The negotiations cannot end with the anomaly in place. An outcome based on this anomalous situation would be a travesty of the development mandate."
"It is important
that in future engagements, we focus more on the requests of developing
countries for liberalizing sectors and modes of supply of their export
interest, which have remained un-responded to so far," said
It also said that now that Members have a draft proposal on the LDC waiver, "we need to expedite our efforts to attain finality on this important issue."
On domestic regulation,
On trade facilitation,
The mandate developed
in July 2004 and in Hong Kong, clearly links commitments to support
and assistance for infrastructure development, said
Regarding the way forward,
It would be unrealistic
to expect dramatic progress in the next few months given that the political
situation is not likely to change for the better, said
The development dimension
has to be the defining feature of all outcomes in the Round and the
interests of smaller countries, especially the LDCs and SVEs (small
and vulnerable economies), have to be firmly protected. It must also
be clear to all Members that a few developing countries cannot be the
bankers of the Round, stressed
"If additional demands are made on us, we will weigh them against the requirements of the development mandate and deal with them accordingly. We would also like to emphasise that any additional flexibilities from our side will require adjustments and contributions by other Members in various areas of the negotiations. Having said this, we are ready to engage in any process that is decided, to take the negotiations forward."