TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues
Geneva, 1 Dec (Kanaga Raja) -- Following up on the political signal emanating from the recent Seoul G20 Summit on the need to complete the end-game in the nearly-ten-year-long Doha Round of trade negotiations, negotiators here at the World Trade Organization (WTO) are set to translate this political guidance by engaging in an intensive programme of work on all fronts of the negotiations from now through the beginning of next year.
The work programme proposed envisages revised texts in all the areas of the negotiations to emerge towards the end of the first quarter of 2011, and for a greater involvement of senior officials from capitals as the work intensifies in the coming months.
This emerged at an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on Tuesday, where TNC Chair Pascal Lamy, who is also the Director-General, proposed the work programme to the full membership.
In the declaration at their Seoul summit (11-12 November), the G20 leaders stated their strong commitment to direct their negotiators "to engage in across-the-board negotiations to promptly bring the Doha Development Round to a successful, ambitious, comprehensive, and balanced conclusion consistent with the mandate of the Doha Development Round and built on the progress already achieved."
The G20 leaders added: "We recognize that 2011 is a critical window of opportunity, albeit narrow, and that engagement among our representatives must intensify and expand. We now need to complete the end game..."
According to trade officials, there was broad support at the informal TNC meeting for moving in a different direction. What will happen now is that negotiating groups will be revved up. As to when the horizontal process takes place (where tradeoffs can take place across the sectors of the negotiations), trade officials said that while there were no objections from delegations to having this horizontal process, it has not yet been decided when or how this would happen.
Speaking at the informal TNC, after the statement
by the TNC
Also speaking at the informal TNC meeting, the Least Developed Countries pointed to the challenges facing small delegations over the scheduling of meetings, and asked for this to be taken into account.
A developing country trade diplomat told SUNS
that a conclusion to the Doha Round next year would require the
Asked as to whether it is a good idea to try to
"We know that the window of opportunity could be very narrow," the Chinese envoy added, stressing the need to be vigilant and not let it "slip through our fingers."
Pointing to Members taking very seriously the
guidance that came out of the G20 summit, Ambassador Michael Punke of
the United States told journalists that the key thing now is to test
that and find out whether people in practice are ready to negotiate.
And that is what the
Asked if it is helpful to say that there should
Asked about engagement from partners such as
In his statement at the informal TNC meeting,
Pascal Lamy said that the G20 in
"Our task now is to translate this political
will into negotiations here in
In order to ensure full participation, though, the Negotiating Groups need to be at the heart of the intensified efforts over the coming months, with the Chairs taking a more pro-active role in accelerating the work, he said.
"Together we plan an intensive work programme from now on, through the beginning of next year, advancing on all fronts of the negotiations at the same time. This is the only way to take advantage of our narrow window of opportunity... In order to finish the Round by the end of next year we will have to operate on a very tight timetable bearing in mind that, once the package is agreed, scheduling and legal polishing will take up a minimum of six to seven months."
"With this timing in mind, I believe there is now a collective sense emerging that revised texts in all areas of the negotiation will have to be developed so that they appear towards the end of the first quarter of 2011," said the TNC Chair.
According to the work programme proposed by Lamy, during December, Negotiating Groups will continue their scheduled activities, supplemented by informal contacts among participants. From 10 January, the Rules, Trade Facilitation, Trade and Environment, TRIPS and Development groups will begin intensive sessions, to be joined from 17 January by Agriculture, NAMA, Services and Dispute Settlement.
"In sum, we have the political signal, we have the technical expertise and we have the work programme. We now need to translate these into a comprehensive deal which you can all take back home. The final countdown starts now."
Several delegations spoke following the statement by the TNC Chair.
"As we hope to move to the intensification of substantive discussions in the Agriculture multilateral negotiating group, the development dimension and the principle contained in the cover letter in the current Draft Modalities for Agriculture that everything is conditional in the deepest sense' should be kept in mind," it said.
The G20 believed that the December 2008 draft modalities remain 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. Should marginal adjustments take place, it is our expectation that developed members would show leadership in improving the level of ambition of the Agriculture package."
The G20 said that it remains committed to work hard for achieving an ambitious and balanced outcome that delivers on the development objectives of the Round in accordance with its development Mandate.
"As we embark on this new effort, we should not forget that this is [a] Development Round and Special and Differential Treatment [S&D] is an integral part of all the modalities. We wish to recall that our Ministers in Doha and Hong Kong agreed to specific S&D treatment to ensure food security, livelihood security and rural development of Developing Countries; hence SP [Special Products] and SSM [Special Safeguard Mechanism] flexibility must be assured and take precedence over Market Access considerations."
The G33 said that it continues to believe that
collective effort to reach the end point of the Doha Development Agenda
will very much depend on the degree of real engagement and flexibility
of all Members. The political will of Leaders Members must be translated
into concrete actions in
On agriculture, the G33 looked forward to a work-plan on the next steps to address the outstanding issues in the draft Modalities, as contained in the Draft Agriculture Modalities Text of December 2008. The work-plan should put substance above the process. The modalities should take precedence over templates. The work on templates should continue to be strictly technical in nature and should neither alter the level of ambition in Rev. 4 (draft modalities text) nor distract us from the main objective of concluding the Agriculture Modalities.
The G33 urged all Members to take up all of the outstanding issues and there should not be any singling out of just a few issues.
As regards process,
Regarding substance, it said that all issues under negotiation must be brought to some level of maturity in good time, "if we are to develop text in all negotiating groups by the end of the first quarter in order to realize the opportunity to conclude the Round in 2011. This will require members to come forward with proposals that will form the basis of truly negotiated text."
As regards issues of interest to LDCs,
The LDCs remained committed to ensuring the successful conclusion of a development-centred Round and will effectively participate in the process. "To us, the conclusion of the Round is the only stimulus package within our reach to deal with the after-effects of the financial and economic crisis."
According to trade officials,
Speaking on its own behalf,
Chinese Taipei, on behalf of the Recently Acceded Members (RAMs), said that small-group "brainstorming" sessions of ambassadors have been useful, but that it is now time for the negotiations to move into another phase. It is important that the development dimension remains central to the process, which also needs to be transparent and inclusive. As RAMs, Chinese Taipei wanted other Members to be aware of the significant market access contributions that they have made as part of their accession process and this should be taken into account.
The European Union said that Members have received strong political guidance. It agreed with the TNC Chair's work programme. Perhaps we have to wait and see how things go in January, it said, adding that if at the end of January, we do not seem to be getting any traction, there should be a political reality check at the end of that month to see if in fact the new process is working.
Associating itself with the G20 and G33 statements,
India further said that it shared the TNC Chair's views that the involvement of the Senior Officials would be crucial to take the process forward because it also feels that many of the trade-offs would have to take place at the Senior Officials' level.
"In this context, we welcome your [TNC Chair's]
idea of having a horizontal process go on in parallel to the negotiating
groups, at some point of time within the next two months. This would
be absolutely vital for the development of the texts, which have to
be bottom up and have to reflect consensus reached among the Members.
Any effort to short circuit the process and produce texts in perceived
anticipation of a possible consensus, is fraught with risks and may
cause damage to the whole process. It has, therefore, to be avoided
at all costs," said
Also associating itself with the G20 and G33 statements, China said that one of the major achievements of the G20 Summit in Seoul is that Leaders reaffirmed their strong commitment to the Doha Development Agenda and "directed us as negotiators to engage in across-the-board negotiations to promptly bring the Doha Development Round to a conclusion consistent with the mandate and built on the progress already achieved."
"Leaders also recognized the urgent need
to seize the window of opportunity in 2011, albeit narrow, and intensify
engagement in order to complete the end game. The Leaders' Meeting and
the Ministerial Meeting of the APEC also reiterated the importance of
translating political commitment into concrete actions toward a final
conclusion of the Round. Now it is upon us to shoulder the task of implementing
the instructions of our Leaders," said
Noting that the Leaders recognized that the window
of opportunity in 2011 is indeed narrow,
It further noted that since Members last met, Ambassadors have been able to conduct the final round of small group brainstorming. The Chair-led process has also restarted. "We believe the brainstorming has been a helpful exercise in a sense that it not only enables Ambassadors to have thorough exchanges on all topics, but also paves [the] way for possible progress in quite a few areas such as development, rules and dispute settlement."
It however stressed that the brainstorming is not and could not replace negotiating sessions and that negotiations from now on should be centred around the Chair-led multilateral process, a primary objective of which is to come up with revised texts as soon as possible, based on Members' intensified engagements in the coming months.
"Across-the-board trade-offs could have a better chance when we have the texts on the table. The guiding principle, undoubtedly, should be transparency, inclusiveness and bottom-up. For this purpose, Senior Officials should also be involved as much as necessary."
"... In order to seize the window of opportunity and complete the end game, the Leaders' instructions must be honoured in letter and spirit, which means, I repeat, a balanced and ambitious outcome to be achieved through 'respecting the mandate' and 'building on the progress already achieved'," said Ambassador Sun Zhenyu. "Here I would like to offer a word of caution. Any unilateral movement of the goalpost and change of the rules in the end game would cause further delays to the negotiations. Therefore, we encourage each and every member to take a realistic and pragmatic approach to the negotiations."
Associating itself with the statement of
"Moreover, for some of us uncertainty looms
over the process that is going to involve Senior Officials who are in
any case over-stretched to come and join us here in Geneva in January
next year. For countries with weak economies like mine, it is not clear
who is going to fund their prolonged stay in
"In view of the burden and heavy cost which we have had to bear as a result of the protraction to the Doha Round negotiations, LDCs have been calling for operationalization of duty free-quota free (DFQF) market access for LDCs; provision of a Services Waiver; and ambitious and expeditious implementation of the decision regarding the cotton initiative as mandated in the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration."
"If we are to see a balanced and meaningful
outcome of the trade negotiations with development component that is
going to be beneficial to LDCs, the three issues have to be concluded.
Otherwise, conclusion of the
In the final analysis, substance trumps process,
Hong Kong-China said that there is need for modalities in agriculture and NAMA by mid-2011.