TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb11/09)
22 February 2011
Third World Network

Tariff issues discussed in latest NAMA week
Published in SUNS #7088 dated 15 February 2011

Geneva, 14 Feb (Kanaga Raja) -- The WTO Negotiating Group on Market Access for Non-Agricultural Products (NAMA) held a week of negotiations 7-11 February and amongst others took up for the first time in many months tariff issues in the draft modalities text.

At a media briefing on 11 February following the conclusion of the NAMA week, the Chair, Ambassador Luzius Wasescha of Switzerland, told journalists that the most important thing during the week was the reading of the whole draft NAMA text (TN/MA/W/103/Rev. 3) in Room D at the WTO (usually attended by some 55 delegations).

According to trade officials, during the week, the Group considered the tariff issues in the draft NAMA text, but not the sectoral issue (the elimination or almost total elimination of tariffs in 14 sectors - listed in annex 7 of the draft modalities text).

The Chair told Members that this crucial subject needs to be considered at a later stage, and that in the meantime the text remains in brackets.

His aim is to produce a revised text "by Easter time," said trade officials. (Easter this year falls on 22-25 April).

On the issue of the formula and flexibilities (parts 5, 6 and 7 of the draft NAMA text), trade officials said that Argentina, Venezuela and - to a lesser extent - South Africa, reiterated their opposition to the text.

Argentina pointed to the "unacceptable range of coefficients" and the continued imbalance of the NAMA text with the draft agriculture text, which means that paragraph 24 of the Hong Kong Declaration is not respected.

[Paragraph 24 of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration of 2005 states: "We (Ministers) recognize that it is important to advance the development objectives of this Round through enhanced market access for developing countries in both Agriculture and NAMA. To that end, we instruct our negotiators to ensure that there is a comparably high level of ambition in market access for Agriculture and NAMA. This ambition is to be achieved in a balanced and proportionate manner consistent with the principle of special and differential treatment."]

According to trade officials, the US said that the issue of overall ambition has to be addressed.

Venezuela said that the draft text does not meet its concerns. It requested special treatment such as that given to Small, Vulnerable Economies consisting of a target average plus minimum cut.

According to trade officials, South Africa informed that consensus has not yet been reached on its request for special treatment. It expressed hope for more discussions on this issue.

India, Ecuador and Brazil, said trade officials, supported the special cases of Argentina, Venezuela and South Africa.

Thailand and Hong Kong-China expressed the need to act cautiously and not to disrupt the difficult balance achieved. Brazil (which had voiced its support on the special cases of Argentina, Venezuela and South Africa) also agreed with Thailand on the need to act cautiously.

Trade officials said that there were no comments made on the issue of special treatment for Small, Vulnerable Economies, which seems to indicate that the text is now "stabilized".

On the issue of flexibilities for developing country Members with low binding coverage (paragraph 8), the US and the European Union voiced caution on reopening the current compromise. This came after Kenya had said that this issue needs further examination.

On the issue of Recently Acceded Members (RAMs), Chinese Taipei and Ecuador reiterated the call for special treatment. This prompted the US and the EU to voice "concern".

On the question of the erosion of preferences (paragraphs 28 to 30), trade officials said that Turkey, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka considered that their concerns have not been met and the solutions that have been proposed are not balanced and are far from satisfactory.

Several Members, both developed and developing, highlighted the danger of rejecting the delicate balance achieved while finding a solution to this problem.

Meanwhile, discussions were held in different formats and groupings (Room D and "Friends of the Chair" meetings) on Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs).

Trade officials pointed to signs of what the Chair said were "common elements of convergence being identified" to break the apparent deadlock on this issue.

There are still differences on the proposed Horizontal Mechanism for resolving NTB disputes, mainly on account of the divergent positions of the US and the EU, as well as on the proposed work programme on re-manufactured goods, whereby India and several others continued to voice strong skepticism over the proposal tabled by the US, Switzerland and Japan.

In other areas, such as the general theme of transparency, trade officials said that detailed work continues on the textual proposals on this issue.

At a media briefing following the informal meeting on 11 February, the Chair declared: "Things are starting to shape up."

The most important thing, according to the Chair, is the reading of the whole text (Rev. 3 draft modalities text) in Room D at the WTO. Nobody contests that areas that have been considered as stabilized are stabilized, he said.

On the Horizontal Mechanism, the Chair told journalists that negotiators are in the details of the drafting (of text). "Hopefully, we'll have a text early next week, so that we can go on."

On the general issue of transparency, the Chair noted that five Members have prepared a text, which according to him, still has a number of divergent approaches but which can serve as a basis for further work.

"Similar to the new building, the construction (of the final package) is underway but not yet achieved," said the Chair, in summing up where Members are at the present stage.

On the issue of the sectoral initiative, the Chair said that this issue is not yet ready to be taken up multilaterally. (At the moment, this is being discussed bilaterally.)

Asked about how much time is left to make progress in the negotiations, the Chair said that there is "ample time" to get results by Easter if people are willing to get them.

He announced a new NAMA week by mid-March. +