TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec10/13)
WTO General Council adopts PTA mechanism, discusses
Geneva, 15 Dec (Kanaga Raja) -- The WTO General Council, at its end-of-year meeting, adopted a decision on a transparency mechanism for preferential trade arrangements (PTAs), and discussed a number of issues including development assistance to cotton, the TRIPS "Paragraph 6" system and the question of accessions to the WTO.
In a day-long meeting on Tuesday (14 December) just before the traditional Christmas and New Year breaks, the Council also heard amongst others a report by the Chairman of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), Pascal Lamy, who is also the WTO Director-General.
The organization is set to intensify its work from the beginning of next year, in line with a plan that was outlined by the TNC Chair at an informal TNC meeting on 30 November.
It emerged at that informal meeting that negotiators are to embark on an intensive programme of work on all fronts of the negotiations from the beginning of next year. The proposed work programme envisages revised texts in all the areas of the negotiations to emerge towards the end of the first quarter of 2011, and a greater involvement of senior officials from capitals, as the work intensifies in the coming months. (See SUNS #7052 dated 2 December 2010.)
A developing country trade diplomat told SUNS that while there is a new window of opportunity in 2011 to conclude the Doha Round, the proposed time-lines are very tight, with agreed draft texts across the board expected by end April. Without the elements for tradeoffs (in the horizontal process) by end April, it will be difficult to get a deal by July, the trade diplomat said.
The trade diplomat said that he is "pessimistically optimistic", but that there is a lot of work to be done. The elements for the tradeoffs, he said, are not clear at this time, nor is it clear how the bilateral process will translate into the multilateral process.
The trade diplomat noted that there is already some talk of a "post-Doha" work programme involving issues such as regional trade agreements and non-tariff barriers.
(This would imply that the Doha Round could be
sought to be concluded, pushing several of the items on the
Following the report by the TNC Chair, the Least
Developed Countries, the African Group and the African,
Responding to these concerns, the Director-General, with respect to what the LDC, the ACP and African Group had mentioned on the organization of the work, said that these concerns are well-known and have been taken into account. He said that both he and the Chairs, on an ongoing basis, will look carefully at the logistics and organization as well as the substance of these meetings, to ensure that there can be participation of all members. "We will ensure that there are no two meetings taking place simultaneously," he said.
Under the first agenda item of the meeting, the General Council adopted a decision on a transparency mechanism for preferential trade arrangements (WT/COMTD/71).
According to the decision, the mechanism shall apply to the following Preferential Trade Arrangements (PTAs): (a) PTAs falling under paragraph 2 of the Decision of 28 November 1979 on Differential and More Favourable Treatment Reciprocity and Fuller Participation of Developing Countries ("Enabling Clause"), with the exception of regional trade agreements under paragraph 2( c) as described in the General Council Decision of 14 December 2006 (Transparency Mechanism for Regional Trade Agreements); (b) PTAs taking the form of preferential treatment accorded by any Member to products of least-developed countries; ( c) Any other non-reciprocal preferential treatment authorised under the WTO Agreement.
The purpose of the mechanism is to enhance transparency of the PTA under consideration. It contains provisions on notification of a PTA, procedures to enhance transparency, subsequent notification and reporting, and a reappraisal of the mechanism.
Under the second agenda item, the TNC Chair presented his report to the General Council.
Lamy said that delegations endorsed the intensive work programme that he and the Chairs of Negotiating Groups had proposed from the beginning of next year, advancing on all fronts of the negotiation at the same time. "In light of the intensification of work, there was an understanding that in scheduling meetings we will approach our work in full accordance with the established principles and make every effort to ensure transparency and full participation."
The TNC Chair noted that a collective sense emerged that texts in all areas of the negotiation will have to be developed so that they could appear towards the end of the first quarter of 2011. The various texts will mature according to the individual rhythm of work in the negotiating groups. "We all agree that they must emerge from a chair-driven bottom-up process. The onus being on participants take an active role and make the required contributions with which to move towards consensus."
There was also a general agreement that, at the right moment, a more global sense of what the final package would contain will need to be developed. Although some expressed the view that this process should start sooner rather than later, and others that it should start when there were texts, all participants agreed that the details of this process would become clearer in light of substantive progress in negotiating groups, said Lamy.
There was also agreement on the greater involvement of Senior Officials as work intensifies, and for the importance of Ambassadors remaining engaged, individually, in this intensified phase, as they will be central to the push for a final deal. "In sum, participants agree that we now have the right political signals, the technical expertise and the work programme. What is now needed is to translate these into a comprehensive deal that each of you can take back home."
Noting that in his remarks to the informal TNC on 30 November, he had outlined the intensive work programme for the various Negotiating Groups beginning the weeks of 10 and 17 January, Lamy said that the Chairs are planning ahead to ensure that "we hit the road running in early January."
"The Negotiating Group Chairs have followed up with more detailed communications to assist in your planning here and in your capitals. In addition, they are working hard to look further ahead in their respective negotiating processes. All Members now have a clear picture of the meetings which will be held as from 10 January and the issues which will be addressed."
The TNC Chair informed the General Council that he will be convening an informal TNC on 2 February, preceded by a Green Room meeting on 26 January.
"I call upon all delegations to ensure that your representatives, at whatever level, are mandated to negotiate. At this stage it is not enough to have answering machines around the table. We are at the point where we must have negotiators, and all negotiators have to be prepared to move out of their comfort zones towards agreement. There can no longer be any a priori red lines. All Members must be in a position to engage into substance on a without prejudice' basis, under the single undertaking."
The TNC Chair concluded that he sensed "a new energy and a determination among all participants to ensure that we grasp the narrow, but real opportunity to conclude the Round next year. As I said at the TNC, I genuinely sense that the final countdown has begun. It is up to everyone to make sure that it ends in a successful liftoff."
According to trade officials, following the TNC Chair's report, many delegations asked for the statements that they had made in the informal meeting of the TNC on 30 November to be read into the record of the General Council meeting. (See SUNS #7052 dated 2 December 2010 for statements made at the informal TNC meeting.)
According to trade officials, the LDCs voiced
concern over the scheduling of meetings, saying that they do not want
meetings to take place concurrently. Some delegations were concerned
about being able to fund capital-based officials to be present in
Several delegations spoke following the report by the TNC Chair.
According to trade officials,
It is important for the Group that there is a
development dimension to the negotiations across the board, including
on issues such as duty-free quota-free market access for LDC products
(DFQF), the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM), a services waiver for
the LDCs, and cotton. It recalled that when African trade ministers
had met in
The European Union said that there is new momentum that has not been seen before towards trying to conclude the Doha Round. It is extremely important to turn the political signals (emanating from the G20 leaders) into a proper negotiating process. There are indications that this is already happening. The Ambassador-led process has been instrumental in kick-starting the negotiations.
With regards to the agenda item on the development aspects of cotton, the Director-General reported that to date the value of specific development assistance for cotton stands at about $570 million. Assistance within a broader framework for agriculture infrastructure-related support comes to $4.2 billion.
On the trade policy aspects of cotton, the Director-General
said that agriculture negotiations chair Ambassador David Walker of
In an intervention,
According to trade officials,
It said that acreage in the Cotton-4 countries has declined by 48%, yield is down by 15% and production is down 56%. With respect to the share of world production of Cotton-4 countries in 2005, it said that this was 2.8%, and in 2010, the world production share for the Cotton-4 countries was 1.5%. Exports were at 8% (2005) and are now at 5% (2010).
Several countries spoke with respect to the agenda item of review under paragraph 8 of the decision on the implementation of paragraph 6 of the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health.
Paragraph 8 of the Decision on the Implementation of Paragraph 6 of the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health of 30 August 2003 provides that the Council for TRIPS shall review annually the functioning of the System set out in the Decision with a view to ensuring its effective operation and shall annually report on its operation to the General Council.
The "Paragraph 6" system is aimed at helping developing countries with insufficient or no manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector to import cheaper generic medicines produced under compulsory licensing.
According to trade officials,
According to trade officials, the
Under a separate agenda item on the issue of accessions to the WTO, the Director-General provided his annual report on this issue.
According to the report, currently, 30 Acceding
Governments are in the process of WTO accession. Ten formal Working
Party meetings were held in 2010. These were:
With respect to
(According to trade officials, there is no consensus
as yet around the appointment of a Chair for the
It said it was unfortunate that only three LDCs have acceded to the WTO since its creation, and after 39 years of UN classification of LDCs, only three countries have graduated from LDC status. It further said that it is important that accession candidates are not asked to take on commitments that exceed their level of development.