TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jan11/02)
21 January 2011
Third World Network

Work begins on draft text on GI register for wines and spirits
Published in SUNS #7067 dated 17 January 2011

Geneva, 14 Jan (Kanaga Raja) -- For the first time in over a decade of talks, negotiators at the World Trade Organization (WTO) have started work on a single draft text for setting up a multilateral register for Geographical Indications (GIs) for wines and spirits.

A draft on notification of GIs, the first of six aspects of the system, was circulated by the Chair of the Special Session of the TRIPS Council at an informal meeting of the full membership on Thursday.

At the last informal meeting of the Special Session on 10 December, the Chair, Ambassador Darlington Mwape of Zambia, had announced plans to produce the negotiating group's first draft text by the end of the first quarter of 2011 (by end March).

The Chair had outlined a plan to come up with a draft text that follows a six-point sequence.

The six-point sequence is as follows: Notification -- how a term would be notified and which Member would do it; Registration -- how the system would be run and the WTO Secretariat's role; Legal effects/consequences of registration -- in particular, any commitments or obligations on Members arising from a term's registration; Fees and costs -- including who would bear the burden; Special treatment for developing countries (special and differential treatment); Participation -- whether the system is entirely voluntary, or whether a term's registration would have some implications for all WTO Members.

The Chair had said that each topic would be discussed in sequence with the aim of producing a single text in each topic before moving on to the next one.

According to trade officials, the draft on notification was developed in two days of consultations among representatives of the three groups that have submitted proposals in these negotiations.

The informal meeting on Thursday was the first opportunity for the full membership to look at the draft text.

According to trade officials, the one-and-half page draft on notification contains numerous square brackets around the text (indicating that the wording has not been agreed) and that several options are presented to reflect the different approaches of the three proposals.

"This composite text has emanated exclusively from members themselves, not from the chair," Ambassador Mwape said in his oral report to negotiators.

According to trade officials, the draft on notification addresses the issues of definitions, descriptions and the legal basis of the terms that Members would notify and other possible information.

Trade officials said that the options in square brackets reflect the three different proposals that have been tabled in the negotiations.

One is by over 100 sponsors including the EU, the African Group and the ACP (TN/C/W/52), which proposes modalities on GIs - the multilateral register for wines and spirits, and extending the higher level of protection beyond wines and spirits - and TRIPS "disclosure" (patent applicants being asked to disclose the origin of genetic resources and traditional knowledge used in their inventions).

The second is the "joint proposal" (TN/IP/W/10/Rev. 2), whose sponsors including the US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Argentina have proposed a voluntary database.

The third proposal is by Hong Kong-China (TN/IP/W/8), which aims to bridge the differences.

Negotiations on the proposed multilateral register for GIs for wines and spirits began in 1997, under Art. 23.4 of the TRIPS Agreement and were included in the Doha Round when it was launched in 2001.

The Chair told negotiators that if the task is to be finished in time, they have to deal with more than one topic in each of the weeks designated for the negotiation.

The next session will be in the week of 24 January and will cover registration and "hopefully" the legal effects/consequences of registration, he said.

"Let me assure you that getting to this stage has not been easy," the Chair told negotiators.

He described consultations as "showing first elements of success", but continuing to be "extremely fragile and delicate".

"I will spare you the details of the difficult situations we have navigated. ... Taking into account the profound divide that has been the hallmark of this negotiation group, I am heartened by the steps the group has been able to take this week," he said.

In his report, Ambassador Mwape recalled that after the Trade Negotiations Committee's call for texts to be developed in all negotiating areas by the end of the first quarter of 2011, Members agreed in early December to structure the negotiations in the TRIPS Special Session around 6 elements.

These elements are to be addressed sequentially one-by-one with the aim of producing a single text on each of the elements - if necessary with bracketed alternatives and options.

The Chair reported that he had held group consultations on Tuesday and Wednesday this week with a number of sponsors of the proposals on the table, namely, the joint proposal, the proposal contained in TN/C/W/52, as well as the one by Hong Kong-China.

Regrading the mandate to produce a negotiating text, the Chair said that "it continues to be my expectation for this text to emerge - as much as possible - from Members themselves, in line with the general directions laid out for this phase of the overall negotiations."

He noted that the Special Session is fortunate enough to be able to draw on substantial amounts of work which have been steadily accumulated in the past by this negotiating group.

This work includes: successive textual proposals from different sides that have not yet succeeded in creating consensus; the 3-4-5 approach developed progressively by former chairs and himself which highlights categories of progress, questions of concern, and principles that may guide further discussion of this group; as well as the useful recent substantive and technical clarifications on current practices.

In the group consultations, delegations had the opportunity to make textual proposals that built on all of these past experiences and achievements and to take a fresh constructive look at the issues.

The Chair also briefly reported on the progress made in the drafting group this week.

He said that after a thorough consideration of textual proposals as well as textual comments from a number of delegations, the group chose to work from a composite text that assembled all proposed wordings in a single body of text.

This composite text was then closely examined and amended by Members in the group with a view to remove - to the extent possible - square brackets. The state-of-play of the group's work is reflected in the paper that is being made available in the room.

The Chair emphasized two important points of principle of this organization, that apply in particular to the work the group has undertaken: First, this composite text has emanated exclusively from Members themselves, not from the Chair; and second, this composite text represents work in progress and is without prejudice to Members' positions on the overall outcome of the negotiations.

Members are working on the understanding that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and that Members may revert to any issue of the text at any time.

Regarding the paper that was circulated Thursday, Ambassador Mwape pointed out that not all square brackets in this version are currently attributed to their supporting Members. This is because certain Members, while being able to engage constructively in text-based negotiations, were not in a position to formally appear in the text with attributions, at this stage of the process.

"As circulating a version with only partial attribution is certainly not my preference, I have strong hopes that this remains an exception and that in future open-ended meetings I will be able to circulate draft text with full attributions."

"Now, having shared with you the current composite text, let me assure you that getting to this stage has not been easy. As with all long journeys, the first steps are often the most difficult ones and this has certainly been the case this week," said the Chair.

"I will spare you the details of the difficult situations we have navigated, but I would like to thank all Members in the group for having shown great resolve and determination to keep us all on the track agreed by Members in the TNC (Trade Negotiations Committee). This has helped me in carrying out my duty as Chair. Taking into account the profound divide that has been the hallmark of this negotiation group, I am heartened by the steps the group has been able to take this week," he added.

Having said that, further said the Chair, this process - while showing first elements of success - continues to be extremely fragile and delicate. "It is for that reason that I would urge all Members to give this process some time to stabilize."

"Those of you who see the paper for the first time today should take some time to not only digest its current content, but to also consider its potential for progress in the negotiations. I would seek your indulgence and understanding that the drafting work will continue in group consultations, as is the usual practice in all WTO negotiating groups. It is, of course, also the practice in WTO negotiations to open a text up to drafting suggestions from the entire membership ONCE SUFFICIENT SUBSTANCE IS ON THE TABLE - and let me assure you that I will hold drafting sessions in open-ended format once I believe that sufficient progress has been made for such meetings to be constructive."

"UNTIL SUCH TIME HAS COME it is my intention to use the regular open-ended meetings to communicate to Members the state-of-play of the work conducted in the group consultations. Needless to say, my door is always open for you to raise your concerns with me bilaterally," he said.

"In view of the bumpy ride we have had at times during this week, I have decided to lay down a number of simple rules of the road for our work on the remaining elements, in the hope that the rest of the trip will be more comfortable."

The Chair said that it has become clear that working on a composite text emanating from Members is the most productive approach that the drafting group can take.

"Therefore, in order to make best use of our time we should strive to have a composite text ready at the beginning of each round of consultations on each element."

For this purpose, he suggested that a composite text be prepared on the basis of Members' textual proposals that should be submitted within a certain deadline. It goes without saying that Members can of course still make comments and proposals after that deadline - however, these will then be reflected as amendments in the composite text.

For example, the Chair said that for the week of 24 January, which will begin with the element of registration - and will "hopefully" continue with the element of legal effects/consequences of registration - he has invited delegations to send their proposals by Thursday, 20 January 2011.

According to trade officials, the delegations that spoke mainly highlighted procedural issues such as the deadline for input into the next draft and how the options in square brackets reflect the sponsors' positions.

Cuba reiterated its emphasis on special treatment for developing countries. +