TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb11/14)
28 February 2011
Third World Network

Talks have yielded little that is new, laments Chair
Published in SUNS #7092 dated 21 February 2011

Geneva, 18 Feb (Kanaga Raja) -- The almost two weeks of meetings and consultations have produced little that is new, the Chair of the agriculture negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) has said.

"We are losing one day every day," Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand, the Chair of the Special Session of the Agriculture Committee, warned delegations at an informal meeting of the full membership on 17 February, which capped the almost two weeks of negotiations.

Members are facing the targets of a revised draft modalities text in agriculture by 21 April (before the Easter break), reaching agreement on texts in all other areas of the Doha negotiations by June or July and concluding the Doha Round by the end of the year, said trade officials.

In reporting to the membership, the Chair said that in almost two weeks of meetings and consultations, he has heard little that is "audibly" new, although delegations sent a few signals of movement in some areas.

According to trade officials, the Chair compared the draft modalities text to an aeroplane and the time left until 21 April to a runway.

"We're looking to land the plane on the runway." The task is "to get the plane on that runway and stopped before it [the runway] ends," he said. The plane should fly well with "bits and pieces of it not in danger of falling apart," he added.

Ambassador Walker briefed the full membership on the consultations that he had held the previous week with a representative group of 38 Members (in Room E at the WTO).

He said that the group went through the "three pillars" of the agriculture negotiations, namely, domestic support, market access, and export subsidies and other issues related to export competition.

In each case, said trade officials, the consultations covered "bracketed or otherwise annotated" substance in the present draft modalities text of December 2008 and accompanying papers, clarification of unclear parts of the present draft text, and questions about data and other issues.

On the issue of substance, the Chair said that the "Room E" meetings produced little that was new.

However, he said that he was aware that Members were working among themselves on some subjects, including tariff simplification, the special safeguard mechanism (SSM), and tariff quota creation.

The Chair further said that Members reported that they were working on clarification and data with some common understandings evolving. But Members had little to say on "other issues", which he described as "a good thing".

More generally, trade officials said that the Chair also heard a number of delegations voicing the view that agriculture is no longer an issue that is to be treated in isolation because the question of how ambitious reforms should be is an issue that cuts across several subjects.

Looking ahead, Ambassador Walker said that he will think about different views of Members on whether the next round of agriculture talks should be in the fortnight beginning 7 March or in the week after.

Scheduling meetings may be difficult to avoid clashing with talks in other subjects and might have to be outside standard hours, he added.

The Chair also said that he will remain in close touch with delegations to hear about the work they are undertaking among themselves.

According to trade officials, some delegations said that they were disappointed with the lack of progress in the latest round of talks, which began on 7 February.

Some Members including Canada, the US and China agreed that the various forms of consultations had been useful. Some including Canada and Argentina said that work on data and clarifying ambiguities in the present draft text is essential, said trade officials.

According to trade officials, some Members including Australia, Brazil and Cuba said that the Room E meetings were disappointing.

Some Members reiterated their concerns that some of the issues that they had raised had not been discussed in depth.

These included the Dominican Republic and Cuba on the issue of the special safeguard mechanism for small and vulnerable economies, the Philippines on the SSM for dealing with price falls, and Paraguay on how the SSM as drafted would undermine its exports to other developing countries.

Trade officials said that Switzerland reminded delegations that a deal on geographical indications (GIs) is needed to alleviate the pain that its farmers are going to suffer as a result of the agriculture negotiations.

Australia said that the issue of Geographical Indications should be handled under intellectual property and not in these agriculture talks.

Some delegations including the European Union and China said that issues that are more or less settled should not be re-opened because that could unravel the whole agricultural package.

According to trade officials, Brazil called for significant improvements in market access in agriculture to match the demands developing countries face to open up their non-agricultural and services markets.

Argentina, added trade officials, echoed Brazil's view, saying that it was a member of the "G-11" group where Argentina said the focus was entirely on non-agricultural market access and services, and not on agriculture.

(The G-11 is a group of key countries that are meeting outside the WTO. They include Argentina, Brazil, China, the EU, Australia, Canada, Mauritius, India, Japan, South Africa and the US.)

Trade officials said that several Members including China and Japan pointed out that time is running short.

According to trade officials, Argentina said that without progress on substance, the next version of the draft text might not be a proper revision. Instead, it could sort out errors and ambiguities, Argentina said.

Japan said that the focus should be on removing square brackets (in the text), so that when Ministers receive the draft modalities text, they have only a few straightforward questions to deal with.

Another round of talks is envisaged for mid-March. +