TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Aug10/01)
2 August July 2010
Third World Network

"New dynamism" in Doha talks, but multilateral process central
Published in SUNS #6976 dated 29 July 2010

Geneva, 28 Jul (Kanaga Raja) -- While welcoming the so-called "new dynamism" in the Doha process, a number of delegations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) have however stressed the centrality and primacy of the multilateral process, in particular that of the negotiating groups in the Doha Round.

This view emerged from the various statements of Members at an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on Tuesday, on the eve of the mid-year General Council meeting set for Thursday.

At the informal TNC, Zambia, on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), stressed that while the negotiating group process is being complemented with the small groups in variable geometry, the multilateral process must remain the anchor for these negotiations.

Chinese Taipei, on behalf of the Recently Acceded Members, voiced deep concern at being left out of the discussions involving the G5 (comprising Brazil, China, India, the European Union, and the United States), the G23 (a mix of developed and developing countries) and other small groupings.

Director-General Pascal Lamy, who is also the Chair of the TNC, told the informal meeting that after some months of impasse in the negotiations, his own sense is that Members are beginning to see signs of "a new dynamic emerging", one that is built on the discussions that some of them are having over different topics in different configurations.

In concluding his report to the TNC, Lamy said: "When we come back refreshed in September, we will need to start turning these plans into real progress by intensifying engagement. As I said earlier, we have all the ingredients of our cocktail. The mood music is more upbeat. Now, we need to move from stirring the cocktail to shaking it vigorously, vertically and horizontally."

The mention of a "new dynamism" in the process in Geneva is in respect of small-group meetings in a variable geometry that is being driven largely by the G5
- Brazil, China, European Union, India and the United States - and the G23 on specific outstanding issues.

According to trade officials, the "new dynamism" in the process that is being seen has been characterized as a case of Ambassadors in Geneva taking the initiative and trying to push the Doha process forward. At the moment, this is very much about process and brainstorming to try and find creative ways of moving the stalemated Doha process forward.

The G5 is at the core of this process, with invitations to other Members to join the discussions depending on their interest in the issues. The small-group meetings are focusing on the issues of development, fisheries subsidies, services and trade in environmental goods and services, said trade officials.

It is believed that two such meetings have been held so far, on development issues and fisheries subsidies. The other issues mentioned above are expected to be taken up in September following the summer recess.

According to trade officials, there was a consensus that the negotiating groups are the central plank in the negotiations, and that the only way decisions are taken is multilaterally. There was however acknowledgment by the Membership that these small groups, largely driven by the big players, complemented with others on an issue-by-issue basis, are effective in terms of broadening to some extent the horizon of the negotiations.

Speaking to SUNS after the informal TNC meeting, outgoing Ambassador Ujal Singh Bhatia of India pointed to the lack of progress in the Doha negotiations and said: "It's very clear that the G20 has not given us any new guidance, and I think there is an increasing realization that any solutions that we need will have to come from within the Geneva process."

"So, we're getting involved in a new process, [a] Member-driven process to discuss key issues which are outstanding. Whether they lead to different outcomes only time will tell. But for the moment, we are in the process of organizing this small group discussions on a variety of key outstanding issues."

Pointing to two small-group meetings so far, one on development issues and the other on fisheries subsidies, the Indian envoy said: "Hopefully, in September, we will have meetings on other issues, and hopefully, these new understandings will feed into the negotiating groups so that the negotiating group process itself acquires a new impetus..."

Asked if the Doha Round of trade negotiations are still alive, he said, "Doha is alive, certainly. No, it's not in very good health, but it's alive."

In his statement at the informal TNC, Lamy pointed to an overall desire to move the DDA (Doha Development Agenda) negotiations to a balanced and ambitious conclusion as soon as possible, consistent with the mandate and based on progress already made. "At the same time, I believe it is healthy to note the reality that faces us - namely that gaps remain on the right level of ambition and on the right balance in the contributions by Members."

"Here in Geneva, we are working according to the 'cocktail' approach that was agreed at the March Stocktaking. We have all the ingredients - smaller groups in variable geometry, bilateral contacts and my own consultations - and we have been working to combine them. These ingredients have to be given space and time. However, their purpose is to energise the multilateral process, into which they must feed."

Lamy added: "After some months of impasse in the negotiations, my own sense is that we are beginning to see signs of a new dynamic emerging. This new dynamic is built on the discussions that some of you are having over different topics in different configurations. I believe these explorations are useful."

Clearly, he said, it is too early to say whether this new dynamic is firmly rooted and can expand to all issues under the negotiating agenda which still lag behind in terms of maturity. "It is also too early to see how you engage on horizontal trade-offs across different areas. Nevertheless, I believe that if this process lives up to its promising beginnings then Members will have to be prepared, when the time is right, to start testing 'what ifs'."

According to the TNC Chair, the objective of this process will be to reach a level of ambition and balance that Members are all looking for. "This, in turn, will mean that during this autumn you will need to bring your engagement to a higher gear by going deeper and wider into your discussions. My sense is that you should attempt to build on the new dynamic by expanding these small groups discussions to all areas."

"And I stress again that all these efforts, promising as they may be, must come back to the Negotiating Groups and I think that somewhere around mid-October would be a good time to evaluate our progress," he further said.

Lamy concluded: "When we come back refreshed in September, we will need to start turning these plans into real progress by intensifying engagement. As I said earlier, we have all the ingredients of our cocktail. The mood music is more upbeat. Now, we need to move from stirring the cocktail to shaking it vigorously, vertically and horizontally."

Several delegations spoke following the statement by the TNC Chair.

Indonesia, on behalf of the G33, noted that during the first half of 2010, small group meetings took place in various configurations both at political and substantive levels.

While these meetings could help break the lingering impasse in the negotiations, the G33 believed that the most important ingredient to the success of these negotiations is the renewal of Members' commitment to concluding a pro-development Doha Round as soon as possible and the centrality of agriculture in the Doha Development Agenda.

The G33 reiterated its readiness to engage in any future activities on the basis of the principles of transparency, inclusiveness, and bottom-up approach, in order to help break the impasse.

It further reiterated its long-standing position that the Doha Round must fulfill its developmental mandate through the provision of operational and effective S&DT (special and differential treatment) mechanisms to enable the hundreds of millions of poor and vulnerable farmers, in developing countries to meet their food security, livelihood security and rural development requirements. For the G33, this can only be assured and delivered through the SP (special product) and SSM (special safeguard) mechanisms.

The G33 said that it has demonstrated its constructive attitude towards finding creative solutions to the outstanding issues of SSM. Early this year, the Group said it put forward a series of technical papers with a view to reaching an understanding of these issues.

"The G33 is of the view, however, that our arguments have not adequately been responded [to]. We hope that any future work on the SSM will be guided by a problem-solving mode."

The G33 also reminded Members that the SSM is just one among several other pending issues in the draft Agriculture Modalities. "We therefore expect to see these addressed meaningfully in the future work of the Committee."

In its statement, India said "It has to be a matter of concern for all of us that the first seven months of the year have produced very little of note in terms of concrete progress on the key outstanding issues in the negotiations. We have waited in vain for the G-20 leaders to provide us with some guidance on how we can break the stalemate. Sadly, this has not been forthcoming."

"I am aware that the South Korean hosts of the next G-20 meeting hope to have a more structured engagement on the DDA (Doha Development Agenda) but clearly we cannot simply wait for that discussion to take place or to confine our engagement to reporting to the G-20," said Ambassador Bhatia of India.

"The only recourse for us is to institute a process among members in various formats for a comprehensive discussion on all key issues. The informal process that has been initiated in the last two months holds some promise of such a real engagement but for this promise to materialize, it is important that such small groups discussing specific issues do not metamorphose into clones of negotiating groups, with members repeating long held positions."

India added: "The small groups must enable creative discussions in the most informal manner. It is also important that such discussions feed into the negotiating groups so that the formal discussions can benefit from such creative thinking."

That an impetus is needed in the negotiations is not an issue in doubt, said India, adding that from its perspective, "this is amply reflected in the sterile debate we have had in recent days on the SSM and other issues in the Agriculture negotiations. It is important therefore, that we pursue the informal track through small groups of Ambassadors who are focused on solutions rather than problems."

It is obviously difficult at this stage to expect the negotiations to conclude in the next few months. The lack of tangible progress in Geneva will not only test the patience of all stakeholders but raise fresh questions about the central role of WTO in the global trading system, it said.

The plight of the poorer countries has to be understood and appreciated. "We must therefore engage in a serious discussion regarding a possible early outcome on issues of interest to the poorer countries," stressed India.

According to trade officials, Pakistan referred to the key players working in bilateral and plurilateral talks with a view to moving the process forward, and stressed that the centrality of the multilateral trading system is the only working philosophy that delivers results for economies like itself. Bilateral talks need to complement multilateral talks. The G23 process has led to a bout of renewed activity, and there is need to work in all areas. There is also need to have transparency and inclusiveness, it added.

Brazil said that the central element has to be the multilateral track, and it has primacy over all other areas.

Pointing to the Negotiating Group Chairs' process, it said that this process is not moving fast enough. The process is not at fault, but it's that the right political alignment is not yet in place.

Meetings in various configurations need to continue and try to complement the negotiating groups. There is need to move forward with issue-specific meetings and brainstorming to try to obtain a satellite view of the negotiating landscape.

Pointing to a couple of such meetings that have taken place, Brazil said that these meetings were very positive, but it is important that inputs from this process are fed into the negotiating groups. Any attempts to try to make gains through an asymmetrical or non-reciprocal way could lead to an unraveling and have damaging consequences.

Brazil stressed that development and agriculture are the benchmarks for all other areas, and it's important to try to find fast delivery of areas of agreement for LDCs.

Singapore said that there is need to move forward in various configurations. The G5 and G23 have provided certain impetus, but gaps still remain. There is need to have in-depth consultations and this will help with the process of narrowing those gaps. It hoped that these processes could lead to transparency and multilateralising (the results) when the time is right. It also expressed hope that the small-group meetings can eventually create the conditions for a horizontal vision and trade-offs.

It further said that little has changed since the stocktaking (in March), but now it seems as though Members have turned a corner. Issues that are ripe for consideration remain so. The upcoming key meetings are the G20 summit in Seoul and the APEC Ministerial meeting immediately after that.

Zambia, on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), said that the negotiating group process is being complemented with the small groups in variable geometry. The multilateral process must remain the anchor for these negotiations. It expressed concern with the slow progress in the negotiations. The delay in the conclusion of the Doha Round is a denial of the development benefits for the poorest Members.

Chinese Taipei, on behalf of the Recently Acceded Members (RAMs), said that it was pleased to see Members engaging in all fields. Pointing to the G5, the G23 and other small groupings, it said that Members of the RAMs group are deeply concerned at being left out of these discussions. There needs to be a balanced outcome, and there is also need to take into account the extensive contributions that have already been made by the RAMs.

Morocco, speaking for the Arab Group, agreed that the negotiating process has been energized. The Arab Group has shown a willingness to engage in all areas. There has been concern about the slowness of the negotiations. What is needed now is synergies between the various components of the negotiations so that the alchemy can take root.

Colombia said that substantive discussions led by the major players that are taking place is significant. The small groups of variable configurations should continue to be regarded as an important element of the negotiations. This will allow a horizontal approach to take place. Any decisions reached in the small-group process should feed into the negotiating groups which are the central element of the negotiations. There is also need for a multilateral process that allows for transparency and inclusiveness.

The European Union welcomed the signs of greater dynamism in the process. It said that Geneva is the place in which the hard work must take place. It will require a great deal of effort and Members need to reach the point where trade-offs can be made on a horizontal basis. Members have not yet reached that point. There is need to start looking at issues other than just agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA).

The negotiating groups must remain the principal forum for negotiations, but various small-group meetings have been useful, said the EU, adding that they are good for identifying areas of divergence and looking at possible ways to get around the problems.

Referring to the discussions that have taken place on fisheries subsidies and special and differential treatment, the EU expressed hope that there will be further negotiations in areas like TRIPS, services and environment, where these more creative approaches can be employed.

According to trade officials, China shared the concerns about the slow progress in the negotiations. A conclusion of the Doha Round will help in job growth worldwide and bring about a recovery of the global economy. Two elements will be needed - the political will of leaders and the work in the negotiating groups by officials in Geneva. In order to conclude the Doha Round, it is important to stick to the development mandate, and that the negotiations proceed on the basis of what is on the table.

It expressed hope that the small groups will be able to funnel inputs into the negotiating groups. The small group experiments have so far proven to be positive and helpful, in that it they have been good for brainstorming. It is hoped that this will continue, China said, adding that it would like this to be expanded into other issues. There is a sense of urgency as well to help the LDCs to address their concerns expeditiously.

Burkina Faso, on behalf of the Cotton-4 (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali), said that it could not wait indefinitely for the conclusion of the Doha Round. This runs the risk of deepening poverty in the cotton-producing countries. It also did not want to see the cotton subsidy issue relegated to the bottom of the list of issues.

Japan supported the "cocktail" approach. It said that some Members need to intensify the bilateral and plurilateral consultations. Members now need to concentrate on making progress on the outstanding issues.

Korea voiced agreement with the G33 statement. It was pleased with the "cocktail" approach and that it seems to be underway in a variety of topics. It fully subscribed to the view that Members need to use the cocktail approach to complement the negotiating groups. It is in the negotiating groups where decisions will be taken. There is need to build on progress already made in those groups.

Switzerland said that the G10 is prepared to find solutions across the three pillars (in the agriculture negotiations). The multilateral process is the only way we can succeed, it said, and it's important that any discussions on agriculture involve all groups including the G10.

Turkey said that substance must take precedence over any process. There also is need to make progress in areas other than agriculture and NAMA. It could help to close the gaps in the area of ambition. There is also need for a thorough evaluation in October. Special attention needs to be paid to the LDCs.

Barbados, on behalf of the Small, Vulnerable Economies (SVEs), agreed with the G33 statement in respect of agriculture. It said that the work of the G23 and the small groups have been encouraging. The SVEs welcome this, but it is important to see that the inputs from these move to the negotiating groups. Areas that are important to the SVEs include trade facilitation, non-tariff barriers (elimination of) and fisheries subsidies.

Mexico was pleased with the new dynamism emerging in the small groups in variable geometries. They must continue with their work, while the centrality of the negotiating groups is also acknowledged.

Hong Kong-China said that the work taking place in various configurations since the stocktaking (in March) has kept the negotiations going, and this should be continued. There is need to close the gaps in Geneva, and the primacy of the multilateral process is vital. There is also a need for solid linkage between the negotiating groups and the TNC.

The United States said that there is no substitute for active engagement by Members. Meaningful engagement has taken place at bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral levels. All of this work is aimed at getting the outcome that everyone wants, which is a balanced and ambitious package. The multilateral approach remains the anchor.

The small group process has been helpful in identifying areas of disagreement and brainstorming on possible approaches to get around the problems. The challenge in the fall (autumn) is to pivot from process to substance, said the US.

Norway said that there is new dynamism in the process and this is due to the leadership of the key players to explore ways to get things back on track. This could be a stepping stone to lead to the final stage. It welcomed the intensified contact among the key players, but it's important to remember the poorest, the LDCs and what is important for them.

Australia said that it was encouraged by what it has seen. Members seem to be in a more focused process that will allow them to engage more successfully. On behalf of the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters, it stressed the importance the group attaches to agriculture. +