TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec10/14)
NAMA Chair outlines work plan for early January
Geneva, 16 Dec (Kanaga Raja) -- In line with the proposed intensification of the Doha work programme beginning from next January, the Chair of the WTO Negotiating Group on Market Access for Non-Agricultural Products (NAMA), Ambassador Luzius Wasescha of Switzerland, has proposed a plan for the organization of the work in the group for the weeks of 10 January and 17 January 2011.
A plan was proposed by WTO Director-General Pascal
Lamy and the Chairs of the Negotiating Groups whereby an intensive programme
of work will commence from the beginning of next year on all fronts
The plan was endorsed by delegations at an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on 30 November, and subsequently, at a meeting of the General Council on 14 December. At the General Council meeting, however, the Least Developed Countries, the African Group, and the ACP Group (African, Caribbean and Pacific countries) voiced their concerns over the capacity constraints being faced by the smaller delegations in participating in many meetings (see SUNS #7052 dated 2 December 2010 and SUNS #7062 dated 16 December 2010.)
Apart from the NAMA negotiating group, other negotiating groups including those on rules, agriculture and TRIPS are set to intensify their work from early next year (see below).
Concerning the work plan on NAMA, according to trade officials, in the week of 10 January, "Friends-of-the-Chair" meetings (involving about 11-12 delegations) will be held on transparency (10 January), the horizontal mechanism (11 January) and on re-manufactured goods (14 January).
The week of 17 January (NAMA week) will begin with an open-ended informal transparency session on 17 January. Trade officials said that the proposed agenda is on reports of any developments in the negotiations since the last NAMA week held late November, as well as the consideration of new documentation, if any.
This is expected to be followed by a "Room D" session at the WTO (involving about 40 delegations) on the same day to discuss conformity assessment and international standards in the on-going discussion on Non-Tariff Barriers.
According to trade officials, "Room D" sessions on 18 January are expected to discuss the proposal on textile labelling, the chemical, electronics and auto proposals, as well as the Non-Tariff Barriers Framework.
The NAMA week will be closed with an informal plenary on 20 January, said trade officials.
Meanwhile, the WTO Negotiating Group on Rules met (both formally and informally) on 13 December to discuss the issue of Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs).
Last week, the Rules Group held informal meetings on the issues of anti-dumping and fisheries subsidies, and decided to accelerate its work from the beginning of next year on both these issues. (See SUNS #7060 dated 14 December 2010.)
At the meeting on 13 December, the Group agreed to launch a review of the provisional transparency mechanism for regional trade agreements (RTAs), with a view to making it permanent.
According to trade officials, the transparency mechanism for RTAs (WT/L/671) was established by the General Council on 14 December 2006, on a provisional basis. The mechanism provides amongst others for early announcement of RTAs to the WTO, notification of RTAs to the WTO, procedures to ensure transparency, and technical support for developing countries.
The General Council decision shall apply, on a provisional basis, to all RTAs. The decision stated 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 paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration. Members will also review the legal relationship between this Mechanism and relevant WTO provisions related to RTAs."
[Paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration 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."]
[The General Council, at its meeting on 14 December,
adopted the draft decision (outlined in WT/COMTD/71) establishing a
Transparency Mechanism for Preferential Trade Arrangements (PTAs). According
to trade officials, delegations at the General Council meeting welcomed
the adoption of the mechanism and emphasized its importance in enhancing
transparency. A number of them recalled that a decision on the permanent
application of the mechanism would need to take into account the status
of the Transparency Mechanism for Regional Trade Agreements. According
to trade officials, while not opposing the adoption of the draft decision
establishing the transparency mechanism for PTAs,
At the meeting on 13 December, the Rules Chair, Ambassador Dennis Francis of Trinidad and Tobago, said that in his informal consultations, delegations said that since its provisional establishment four years ago, the transparency mechanism (for RTAs) has performed reasonably well although there are some areas that would require some fine-tuning.
On "systemic issues" regarding RTAs, the Chair urged delegations to come forward with textual proposals as soon as possible. According to trade officials, examples of these systemic issues are: how to interpret the WTO requirement that RTAs cover "substantially all the trade"; regulations that could restrict trade such as rules of origin under preferential schemes; and how regional agreements relate to development.
[Reportedly, no discussion was held on the issue of amendment of Article XXIV of the GATT 1994 concerning customs unions and free-trade areas.]
During the informal part of the 13 December meeting, trade officials said that several delegations (including the US, the European Union, Norway, Japan, Switzerland and Brazil), noting the short time remaining and the lack of proposals on the table, supported a post-Doha work programme on these issues as the outcome of the negotiations.
The Chair said that the Group will next meet to discuss the issue of RTAs on 4 February 2011, with subsequent meetings to be announced soon.
Meanwhile, the Chair of the agriculture negotiations, Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand, in informal meetings on 6 and 10 December, outlined a plan that would enable negotiators to commence the end-game in the negotiations from 17 January, with the aim of coming up with near-final draft modalities text by the end of March.
According to trade officials, the Chair has asked Members to do their homework over the Christmas and New Year break, consult with each other, and report on progress when they meet on 17 January.
He said the work on the draft text will have four components, including issues proposed by some Members: outstanding issues (including those he has described as "bracketed or otherwise annotated" in the December 2008 draft text and its accompanying papers); clarifying points that have emerged as unclear in the December 2008 text; correcting typographical errors; and completing data that will have to be attached to the draft modalities text.
The eventual text should be based on consensus, and where consensus is not possible, clear choices for decision-makers to pick, Ambassador Walker said.
Quoting WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, Ambassador Walker said that the timetable is based on "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."
This would be followed by agreement on "modalities" and other texts by about June, so that at least six to seven months is available to convert the "modalities" into commitments and to sort out legal wording in various texts, if the Doha Round is to be concluded by the end of 2011, the Chair added.
According to trade officials, the Chair said that his plans were developed in consultations with Members in a "Room E" meeting on 8 December (with almost 40 delegations representing all the main players and coalitions).
He further said that Members told him that the approach should be flexible, pragmatic, problem-solving of the "as if" type, and focussed. He said that he told them to look at his March 2010 report to the Trade Negotiations Committee, where he had identified what will be needed.
The Chair added that he would not at this stage spell out a detailed timetable but that negotiators would work from the afternoon of 17 January for the remainder of the week and again from the beginning of February.
According to trade officials, Ambassador Walker has also pursued a second track of consultations on some of the outstanding issues of substance in the negotiations. He has reported little progress in these consultations other than a deeper understanding of Members' various positions.
Members broadly supported the Chair's plans, said trade officials. Most Members said that the December 2008 draft text should be the basis for continuing the work and that "stabilized" issues should not be re-opened.
According to trade officials, some Members were of the view that the whole draft text should not be considered agreed yet, because it has to be considered from the point of view of balance within agriculture ("vertically") and between agriculture and other Doha Round subjects ("horizontally").
Some Members wanted a more detailed timetable so that they could prepare. This was particularly the case with smaller delegations who expressed concern that their limited resources would be stretched by a clash of meetings, said trade officials.
According to trade officials, Members had a discussion on templates (blank forms prepared for the eventual schedules of commitments by Members) on 6 December.
The Chair of the Special Session of the TRIPS Council, who overseas the negotiations on a multilateral register for Geographical Indications (GIs) for wines and spirits, has also announced plans to produce the negotiating group's first draft text by the end of the first quarter of 2011 (by 31 March).
The Chair, Ambassador Darlington Mwape of Zambia, outlined a plan to come up with a draft text that follows a six-point sequence at an informal meeting of the Special Session on 10 December.
According to trade officials, the sequence is: Notification -- how a term would be notified and which Member would do it (also related to "participation"); Registration -- how the system would be run and the WTO Secretariat's role; Legal effects/consequences of registration -- any commitments or obligations on Members arising from a term's registration (also related to "participation"); Fees and costs -- including who would bear the burden; Special treatment for developing countries; Participation -- whether this is entirely voluntary, or whether a term's registration would have some implications for all WTO Members.
The Chair said that each topic will be discussed in sequence with the aim of producing a single text in each topic before moving on to the next one. The text could include "bracketed alternatives and options", if Members cannot agree on a single set of provisions.
Discussions on each topic will start with an informal consultation that will later be shared at a meeting of the full membership. The first topic, notification, will be discussed in the week of 10 January, with a meeting of the full membership possibly on 13 January.
Although the schedule after that has not been decided, it will be tight if the end-of-March target is to be met, Ambassador Mwape said. He added that a "mid-term review" could be held on 3 March, when a formal meeting is already being planned following the regular TRIPS Council meeting.
The Chair urged Members to help the drafting move ahead by focusing on each topic, even though some are linked to each other, to avoid spending time on the links that some of them are making with the "extension" of GIs and the relationship between the TRIPS Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity, and to try to work among themselves to produce suitable drafts.
According to trade officials, several delegations supported the Chair's plan.