TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jan11/07)
31 January 2011
Third World Network

Lamy holds pre-Davos Green Room meeting
Published in SUNS #7075 dated 27 January 2011

Geneva, 26 Jan (Kanaga Raja) -- The Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Wednesday held a Green Room meeting to amongst others update Members on the status of the Doha negotiations.

The Green Room meeting was held on the eve of a mini-Ministerial meeting of about twenty-plus trade ministers, due to take place on 29 January in Davos, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.

The Swiss-hosted annual event at Davos is to be preceded a day earlier by the European Union hosting, also in Davos, a separate meeting of trade ministers from Brazil, China, India, Australia, the European Union, Japan, and the United States.

Media reports cited EU trade spokesman John Clancy as saying that the EU hoped that this gathering (of the "G7" trade ministers) can help to "build a renewed momentum" to the Doha talks in the coming months that can eventually lead to a successful outcome for all sides.

At the Green Room meeting on Wednesday morning, Director-General Pascal Lamy is reported to have pointed to the two ongoing processes in Geneva - the negotiating groups, and the plurilateral and bilateral processes - the former going well with clear efforts to come up with new language, while the bilateral and plurilateral processes are seen as lagging behind.

According to the sources, the Director-General is expected to tell the trade ministers in Davos of the change in gear in the negotiations, but that political signals will be needed to further accelerate the process. It is hoped that the trade ministers will give clear instructions to the senior officials involved in the negotiations.

Meanwhile, speaking to SUNS following the Green Room meeting, Ambassador Faizel Ismail of South Africa said that the Director-General is trying to send a message to the trade ministers in Davos about the Doha process.

"Of course, what we communicated was that at this stage, there is a general sense that everybody wants to try and conclude (the Doha Round) and use the window of opportunity" in line with what was agreed at the G20 Summit in Seoul last November.

However, said the South African envoy, the reality is that there are still fairly huge gaps and differences in perspectives.

Some Members require additional "top-ups" and others, like South Africa, feel that the texts that are on the table are already imbalanced against them and any "top-up" to satisfy the lobbies in one or two other major developed economies, will tilt the balance further against them, he stressed.

"And therefore, we have to find a way of problem-solving that creates a balanced outcome, and doesn't tilt the balance further against developing countries," because that will not be saleable, he further said.

It is true, he added, that the United States has got a lot of problems, one of the biggest ones being unemployment. But South Africa and many other developing countries are also suffering from huge problems of unemployment and poverty.

In this post-crisis phase, "there has to be greater realism about how we can find a solution to the challenges of the day," said the South African envoy. "It cannot be that we end up trying to solve the problems of one or two major developed countries. We have to be still true to the development mandate of the Doha Round."

Asked whether there had been any progress seen in the past two weeks of the negotiations following the end-of-year break or whether more work remains to be done, Ambassador Faizel told SUNS that an "enormous amount of work still remains in trying to bridge the outstanding gaps and the new demands that have been put forward. This has created a lot of difficulties."

Of course, the discussions are taking place in a good atmosphere and people are trying to understand each other's positions, but the underlying challenges still remain, he said.

Also speaking to SUNS, Ambassador Jayant Dasgupta of India pointed to an intensification of the negotiations, which he said is "very palpable", but that a lot of work remains to be done, which participants in the Green Room have also acknowledged. Further pointing out that the window of opportunity has to be really utilized, he said: "So we need to intensify the work".

Ambassador Michael Punke of the United States told SUNS that the United States has "a combination of hope and of concern".

He elaborated that there had been a number of hopeful signs in the last couple of weeks including the discussions between US President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao of China on the Doha Round. The US found China to be constructive, he added.

"But we are worried, because we do not have much time left," said the US envoy, adding that what the G20 leaders (at the Seoul Summit last November) had told Members to do was to intensify (the negotiations).

"And we have no day to spare in that process, and so we hope very much that the actual process of negotiating our way through the roadblocks that are blocking the negotiations" will certainly happen soon.

Asked whether there has been any progress made in the two weeks of negotiations so far this January, the US envoy told SUNS that "I think there has been useful work that's been done in the negotiating groups."

"I think we got off to a little bit slower start than everybody had hoped ... but I think that there is constructive work being done in the negotiating groups," he said, but noted that Members are not tackling right now the biggest roadblocks.

He stressed that it is the biggest roadblocks that have to be addressed if the pathway is to be opened up.

According to a developing country trade diplomat, the purpose of the Green Room meeting was for a pre-Davos update. The trade diplomat said that it was important to identify what the Ministers should know about in order to set a time-line for the talks.

But more generally, the trade diplomat told SUNS, the feedback from the Green Room meeting is that the mood is very different and that the negotiations are starting to change gear. But further signals will be needed from the trade ministers in Davos.

Another trade diplomat told SUNS that Members are in real negotiations, and that they are on the right track. But the problem is one of running out of time, he cautioned, pointing to 2011 as the real window of opportunity to conclude the Doha Round.

The trade ministers meeting in Davos will have to provide the negotiators in Geneva with some inputs with regards to continuing the discussions in both the areas of market access and rule-making, he said.

Asked about the status of the negotiations these past two weeks, the trade diplomat told SUNS that there has been movement and important progress in some areas, but other areas are lagging behind. In particular, there has been no agreement on many of the outstanding issues in the area of market access. Further progress would also have to be made in some areas of rule-making, said the trade diplomat. +