TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (May10/06)
10 May 2010
Third World Network

General Council sets up Working Party on Syria's accession request
Published in SUNS #6919 dated 6 May 2010 

Geneva, 5 May (Kanaga Raja) -- The General Council on Tuesday agreed to establish a working party to examine the request of Syria to accede to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The Council also discussed a proposal tabled by India, and co-sponsored by China and Pakistan, that called for a "deliberative process" to be established under the Chairmanship of the General Council to complete the unfinished work on harmonization of rules of origin (see separate story).

The request by Syria to accede to the WTO was included on the agenda of the General Council at the request of Egypt, on behalf of the Arab Group.

Speaking at the General Council, Egypt said that the request is even more justified given the fact that the acceding country was one of the 23 GATT founding countries in 1947.

[Syria was one of the original signatories of the GATT 1947, but did not ratify and complete the various instruments and become a Contracting Party when the General Agreement was brought into being under the Protocol of Provisional Application.]

Egypt stressed that in a rules-based trading system, only commercial, technical and legal considerations should serve as the deciding factors in every accession process.

It underlined the importance of basing all WTO accession proceedings for developing countries on non-political factors and stressed that acceding countries should not be asked to undertake commitments that go beyond their level of development and current WTO rules.

Following the approval of the setting up of the Working Party, Syria was invited to sit in the General Council as an observer.

In its statement, Syria told the General Council that this is a historic occasion for the WTO and for Syria. In taking this decision, this Organization has responded, as it has always done, to promote international cooperation for trade and development.

It said that it is convinced that when the terms of the negotiations are completed and agreed, they would contribute to improving market access, strengthening the rules-based multilateral trading system, and contributing both to global welfare and the welfare of the people of Syria.

According to trade officials, the delegations that spoke supported the Syrian request. These included Turkey, the Dominican Republic (on behalf of the informal group of developing countries), Gabon (on behalf of the African Group), India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cuba, Venezuela, China, Djibouti, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bolivia and Mauritius.

Trade officials confirmed that the US, the EU and Israel did not speak on this agenda item.

The General Council Chair, Ambassador John Gero of Canada, said that in keeping with customary practice, the General Council would authorize the Chair to designate the chairperson of the working party, in consultation with Members and with the representative of Syria.

The General Council also took up the agenda item on the report by the Chairman of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC).

In his report, TNC Chair Pascal Lamy, who is also Director-General of the WTO, said that in terms of process, "since the stocktaking we have begun implementing the so-called 'cocktail approach'".

Ingredient number one: the Chairs of the different negotiating groups have either already begun their consultations or have scheduled meetings over the coming weeks. They are ready to foster a discussion among members respecting the rhythm of work and maturity of individual issues. "But they will not be able to work out of thin air and they will need your input and contributions."

Ingredient number two: Members have started meeting among themselves in a variety of formats and configurations, on specific areas, as well as on a horizontal level. These are still very preliminary contacts. It is now important that these discussions move into specifics so that some "give and take" can take place. He said that this will not happen overnight and "I am sure they need to be given adequate time and space. Of course, in due time, we all expect to hear more about these initiatives in the interest of transparency and inclusiveness."

On the third ingredient, he said that he is also starting his own consultations with delegations in various formats to explore the horizontal stage of the negotiations. "To maintain an overview of the entire negotiating landscape, I intend to hold more frequent meetings with groups, in order to ensure that all voices are heard and the principles of transparency and inclusiveness are fully respected."

"In sum, we have the blender, we know which are the ingredients, it is just about time we start shaking them to be able to serve the cocktail before the ice melts!" he said.

The Director-General also presented a brief overview of the individual negotiating areas in the Doha Round.

A number of delegations spoke after the Director-General's report.

According to trade officials, Australia reported briefly on the recent Cairns Group meeting, saying that this is the first meeting since the March Doha stocktaking. It added that there is need to make full use of Ministerial engagement.

Zambia, on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), said that any attempts to delay closing the gaps that had been identified in the March stocktaking will put progress back to where Members were before the stocktaking.

It added that the delay in the conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda was a denial of the developmental issues. It also highlighted some issues of particular importance to the LDCs, including an LDC waiver on services and the issue of cotton.

The only stumbling block was the "gateway" issues, said Zambia, adding that the LDCs were not the architect of these gateway issues. It called for early implementation on issues where there is agreement.

According to trade officials, Chad, on behalf of the Cotton-4 (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali), was of the view that the bilateral deal between the US and Brazil in respect of the cotton dispute would help find a solution to get rid of cotton subsidies in the multilateral context.

Korea said that there is need to keep working on bridging the gaps.

The European Union agreed with the analysis of the Director-General in his report. It regretted profoundly the lack of progress recently. It is increasingly clear that the deal on the table at the moment is not an agreeable package, and there is need to make adjustments to this package.

To help move the process forward, there is need for clarity from those who are not happy with the current contours of the package, said the EU, adding that there is also need for political leadership sooner rather than later.

According to trade officials, the US said that it looked forward to participating in all activities outlined by the Director-General. It said that back in Washington, it was consulting with various interested groups and there was a clear message of support for concluding the Doha Development Agenda.

China said that political engagement of Ministers is highly necessary, and reiterated its commitment to the Doha Development Agenda.

According to trade officials, India said that while the months have turned into years in trying to conclude the Doha Round, there have been casualties of some of the poorest people in some of the poorest countries, and there is need for the WTO to be cognizant of this, and bear in mind paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration.

(Paragraph 47 states: With the exception of the improvements and clarifications of the Dispute Settlement Understanding, the conduct, conclusion and entry into force of the outcome of the negotiations shall be treated as parts of a single undertaking. However, agreements reached at an early stage may be implemented on a provisional or a definitive basis. Early agreements shall be taken into account in assessing the overall balance of the negotiations.)

Meanwhile, under the agenda item on "Implementation of the Transparency Mechanism for Regional Trade Agreements on a Permanent Basis", China, India and Pakistan proposed that in light of the considerable experience gained from the operation of the Transparency Mechanism for over three years, and in accordance with Paragraph 23 of the Transparency Mechanism referring to "Reappraisal of the Mechanism", the General Council may advise the Chairman of the Negotiating Group on Rules to commence immediate consultations.

The consultations should be aimed at reviewing, and if necessary modifying, the Transparency Mechanism, in light of the experience gained from its provisional operation, and replacing it by a permanent mechanism adopted as part of the overall results of the Round, in accordance with paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration, said the proposal from the three countries.

In a statement under this agenda item, India said that Ministers in Doha agreed
(para 29) to negotiations aimed at "clarifying and improving disciplines and procedures under the existing WTO provisions applying to RTAs". The systemic issue of transparency combined with the desire to understand the contents and working of RTAs led Members to work on a Transparency Mechanism (TM) for RTAs.

Due to its importance, the General Council adopted the Transparency Mechanism in December 2006 in accordance with para 47 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration which provides that "agreements reached at an early stage may be implemented on a provisional or definitive basis".

The adoption of the TM was without prejudice to the terms of the Single Undertaking, said India.

Provisions in the TM dealing with "Reappraisal of the Mechanism" (para 23) specify that "Members will review, and if necessary, modify this decision in light of the experience gained from its provisional operation and replace it by a permanent mechanism adopted as part of the overall results of the Round, in accordance with para 47 of the Doha Declaration".

During the General Council meeting on December 2006, the Chair articulated Members' intention to conduct an initial review of the Mechanism within one year of the adoption. Over three years have already elapsed and considerable experience of the working of the Mechanism has been gained through consideration of 66 RTAs in CRTA (Committee on Regional Trade Agreements) and three RTAs in CTD (Committee on Trade and Development), said India.

"It is in this context that we have proposed ... that the General Council advise the Chairman of Negotiating Group on Rules to commence immediate consultations aimed at reviewing, and if necessary, modifying the Transparency Mechanism in the light of the experience gained from its provisional operation and replacing it by a permanent mechanism," added India. +