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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar11/01)
3 March 2011
Third World Network

Little substantive progress spurs calls for Doha talks to speed up
Published in SUNS #7095 dated 24 February 2011

Geneva, 23 Feb (Kanaga Raja) -- There is need for a major acceleration of efforts at all levels, and for the output of these efforts to urgently move up a level, to real progress on key issues of substance in the Doha negotiations, World Trade Organization (WTO) head Pascal Lamy said Tuesday, in what he called a "serious warning" to the membership.

Lamy's message came at a meeting of the WTO General Council on 22 February, under the agenda item of report by the Chairman of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC).

The General Council also approved a new slate of chairpersons for the various WTO bodies (see SUNS #7094 dated 23 February 2010).

The warning on the need to accelerate the Doha talks came in the context of the tight roadmap that members have set for themselves to avail of the so-called "window of opportunity" to conclude the ten-year-old Doha Round of trade negotiations this year.

The roadmap involves Chairs of the negotiating groups producing texts in all areas of the negotiations by Easter (Easter this year falls on 22-25 April), an outline Doha package by around July and finalizing legal texts and scheduling during the rest of the year.

In his report to the General Council, as chair of the TNC, Director-General Lamy complained that the current process, at each and every level, remains too slow.

Recalling that members have agreed on a modus operandi for the current process, namely, to produce elements of progress that Chairs of the negotiating groups can capture in texts, and to do so urgently, Lamy issued a serious warning that a major acceleration at all levels - multilaterally, plurilaterally and bilaterally - is needed in order to make this possible.

Furthermore, said Lamy, the output of all these processes needs to urgently move up a level, to real progress on key issues of substance. "The window of opportunity is still there, but it is narrowing every day," he further warned.

The TNC Chair has also called for an informal TNC meeting on 8 March for members to collectively evaluate the state-of-play across the board. (See below for his report to the General Council).

Speaking at the General Council after Lamy's report, Ambassador Eduardo Munoz Gomez of Colombia warned that the "Doha Round is slipping away from our fingers like water."

Trade officials said that one of the themes that emerged in the interventions of delegations at the General Council meeting was of a state of concern and urgency. Members acknowledged that while progress has been made, they are not moving fast enough and that they are running out of time.

Several delegations spoke of the need for a catalyst or some kind of spark that might move the negotiations into a higher gear, said trade officials.

Trade officials noted that the calculation that has been made by the ambassadors in Geneva is that if the round is to be concluded in 2011, there is need to have some kind of agreement on modalities-plus by the summer break, and that this would require texts that will advance the negotiations sufficiently in all areas by Easter. There is need to intensify and accelerate this process.

Trade officials also said that a number of delegations said that the onus is now on the "G11" (a group comprising Argentina, Brazil, China, the European Union, Australia, Canada, Mauritius, India, Japan, South Africa and the US), which met last week and plans to meet again in March.

There was also a great deal of frustration voiced by several delegations that are outside the G11 grouping. These included Mexico, Chile, Korea, Colombia, Turkey and Switzerland, who said that they would like to see the process widened to include more members.

Colombia said that it would like to see a stocktaking to assess the state-of-play in the negotiations (at the level of senior officials) at the end of next month. This received support from some delegations, said trade officials.

Colombia also would like to see the Director-General alert the trade ministers that the negotiations are lagging behind.

A developing-country trade diplomat told SUNS that the European Union and the United States are calling for more ambition in non-agricultural market access (NAMA), particularly on the sectoral initiative, and on services.

"They think that this is still the Uruguay Round," the trade diplomat quipped.

Noting that nothing has happened in terms of movement on substance in the key areas of agriculture and NAMA, the trade diplomat thought that if this continues, the present time-lines (for revised texts in April and a Doha package by July) might need to be revised in the next month or so.

In his report at the General Council meeting, Lamy recalled that at the informal TNC of 2 February (see SUNS #7081 dated 4 February 2011), delegations had expressed wide support for the roadmap -- texts in all areas by around Easter, a comprehensive package by July and finalization by the end of the year.

In this context, he said that a number of delegations re-emphasized that progress should build on what had already been achieved and that the acquis should not be unravelled. Delegations also highlighted specific areas of importance they wished to see advance in this end-game phase.

Several participants stressed the importance of transparency and inclusiveness in the processes ahead and a number also emphasized the importance of respecting the development mandate of the Round, he added.

As far as the bilateral and plurilateral discussions among senior officials which have taken place over the past couple of weeks, the TNC Chair understood that they have been constructive and have explored specific substantive issues in a number of key areas, including flexibilities and how to ensure overall balance across issues. He also understood that participants in these talks have emphasized the importance of the multilateral process.

"Although it is still early, I am encouraged by the direction and nature of these talks and I urge the participants to keep up the pressure, push harder and dig deeper in their efforts to find the common ground necessary to put the multilateral pen to paper."

"It is clear from the level of activity planned in the various Negotiating Groups that we all face some intense and challenging weeks ahead. This includes collectively facing up to the fact that our current process - at each and every level - remains too slow," stressed Lamy.

"Throughout the Negotiating Groups we keep hearing that some delegations 'have no instructions' and that ‘we still have time'. Such statements are not only unhelpful, they fail to respect the tremendous day-to-day efforts by our NG (negotiating group) Chairs to move the process forward," said the TNC Chair.

"In the Negotiating Groups, we hear that 'we will move when the plurilaterals move,' and in the plurilaterals, we hear that 'we will move when the bilaterals move' and, finally, in the bilaterals, we hear that 'I will move when the other does'. Ultimately, of course, this means that you are waiting for yourselves to move! I believe we will all agree that this vicious circle has to be broken!"

At this point, said Lamy, "I believe we need to collectively recall that we have agreed on a modus operandi for the current process, namely, to produce elements of progress that Chairs can capture in texts, and to do so urgently. I must issue a serious warning that a major acceleration at all levels - multilaterally, plurilaterally and bilaterally - is needed in order to make this possible."

"Furthermore, the output of all these processes needs to urgently move up a level, to real progress on key issues of substance. The window of opportunity is still there, but it is narrowing every day," he added.

A number of delegations spoke following the report by the TNC Chair. According to trade officials, some delegations asked for their statements made at the informal TNC meeting on 2 February to be read into the record of the General Council meeting.

According to trade officials, Mexico said that if members continue at the pace that they are going now, they have no hope of concluding in 2011. The process that is now going on (the G11 process) is one that has to involve more players. It said that no one will negotiate for Mexico. There cannot be an agreement when there are only some members participating on issues that are important to members across the board. There is need to move bilaterally, plurilaterally and multilaterally.

The Dominican Republic, on behalf of the informal group of developing countries, said that there is a change in atmosphere and a sense of urgency. It is important now to translate this into progress in the agriculture and NAMA modalities, and across all other areas.

The development dimension must be at the heart of the negotiations, it said, adding that this means that the industrial countries have to accept that there will be asymmetry in the outcome vis-a-vis the large emerging countries.

The Dominican Republic said that this also means excluding the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) from more commitments, flexibility for developing countries in agriculture and NAMA modalities as well as other areas, that small and vulnerable economies are accorded their own sense of special and differential treatment, and having aid for trade.

The Dominican Republic further said that developing countries do not want a series of negotiations that will result in what is on the table being lost. It cannot be forgotten that this is a development round.

Singapore said that the intensity is evident and there are positive signs, but members should be assessing this with realistic caution. Are members moving fast enough and are the experts negotiating with an end-game mind-set, it asked, adding that labour should not be confused with productivity.

Pointing out that the January-March period will be crucial, it said that the reality is that members cannot be sure of making it to the next step (of final give-and-takes) unless they succeed during this period of time.

Chinese Taipei, on behalf of the Recently Acceded Members (RAMs), said that it was encouraged by signs of progress but substantive progress has not yet been made. It shared the sense of urgency and that time might be running out. If members do not turn this into concrete negotiating actions, the window of opportunity is narrowing everyday.

Members need to keep working to ensure that they have a chance to conclude the negotiations this year. It is important that the development dimension as well as the Doha and Hong Kong Ministerial mandates are respected, said Chinese Taipei, calling also for special treatment for the RAMs.

Indonesia, on behalf of the G33, said that a solid text (in agriculture) needs to be delivered by April. The development dimension is crucial as are a transparent and inclusive process. There is need to close gaps in the December 2008 draft agriculture modalities text, which it stressed, should be the basis for the negotiations. Any outcome must reflect the importance of food security and livelihood security.

On behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Indonesia said that there is a sense of strong commitment to conclude the round. There is need to exude collective responsibility, flexibility and realism to conclude these negotiations.

Turkey said that while the global economy is bouncing back and the recovery is gaining some momentum, the situation is still fragile. Members have to do their part in the WTO to conclude the round, not only to strengthen the multilateral trading system, but to be better able to respond to new crises in the future. The bilateral and plurilateral processes to find a gateway to a final conclusion can be important.

While expressing hope that these processes can produce results, Turkey said that when talking about adjusting levels of ambition in key areas, there is need to ensure that all participants have a say. There is also need to make sure that what comes out of these processes is accepted by the whole membership.

Turkey hoped that the G11 will try to put forward the general interest of the members, and not just their own narrow interests. While the G11 is an attempt to merge some of the bilateral and plurilateral discussions, this process is excluding others, said Turkey, voicing hope that this can be rectified.

Bangladesh, on behalf of the LDCs, said that it is difficult for LDCs to participate in a number of parallel meetings due to capacity constraints. It is very keen to ensure that certain things are made more clear to the LDCs, including what market access gains will accrue to the LDCs, what ambitious, specific and expeditious results in cotton might entail, and what will be the optimum gains for the LDCs.

Bangladesh said that the LDCs will also require trade-related technical assistance. It said that it is encouraged by the progress that has been made on the services waiver for LDCs. It wants this waiver to be as broad as possible.

According to trade officials, Colombia said that the "Doha Round is slipping away from our fingers like water."

It claimed that it has seen some unprecedented situations including those in which large emerging countries refuse to engage in dialogue with medium-sized developing countries.

It proposed that an urgent message be sent that "we are in difficulty with the Doha Round". The Director-General should immediately send the message (to trade ministers) on the state of the negotiations.

Colombia also said that the negotiating chairs should intensify their work and close the gaps. There is also need for a meeting in which there is a comprehensive review (of the negotiations), which the Director-General would chair at TNC level, and would be at the level of senior officials. It also said that the large members should show leadership.

Kenya, on behalf of the African Group, pointed to the considerable increase in intensity and engagement. The "cocktail" approach (previously proposed by Lamy) causes some overlap challenges for developing countries, who have capacity constraints. It said that meetings need to be coordinated to help the smaller delegations.

On the issue of substance, Kenya said that it is a bit difficult for many developing countries to get a clear sense of how key issues are being addressed in formats where there is limited representation.

While it is not opposed to this, Kenya said that the mandate must be fully respected and specific areas of the draft agriculture and NAMA modalities must not unravel. Before the question of texts is addressed, all members must be involved and commercial interests should not be given priority over development.

Australia said that it is of the view that there is need for a clear sense of where members are, and that they would have a clear sense of where they are by the end of February. This is still the case and it could be extended to early March, and the TNC meeting of 8 March will be very important.

It said that there are some encouraging signs and some progress since the G20 summit in Seoul (last November) and the G11 meeting last week. This meeting played a useful role in trying to find the way ahead. It was a little bit disappointed to see that the time that is remaining is so little, and the rapid erosion of time is not being reflected in the way in which the negotiations are taking place.

Australia was also of the view that the work in the negotiating groups should not stop while waiting for progress in the G11. The negotiating groups must continue to intensify their work as well. There is a huge amount of work to be done in the negotiating groups.

There is need for decisions to be taken soon with respect to market access in agriculture, NAMA and services. All members must show the necessary flexibility and not just one or two players. The March 8 TNC meeting will be a very important one. It could be useful to have a stocktaking meeting at the end of March, said Australia.

Barbados, on behalf of the Small Vulnerable Economies (SVEs), said that consideration must be given to the impact of the agriculture and NAMA modalities on SVEs, and due attention should be paid to their concerns and interests. Gains for SVEs need to be protected and there can be no backtracking.

The question of food security has made agriculture an even more important plank in the Doha Development Agenda. This means greater attention to the special safeguard mechanism for SVEs, and that there must be special and differential treatment in respect of fisheries subsidies, said Barbados.

Chile said that there is now less than eight weeks, or 58 days precisely, to Easter. "We've not had sufficient progress. We are going in the right direction but not at the right speed... Those wearing the long trousers in this negotiation should live up to the expectation of others".

It supported Colombia on the idea of alerting the trade ministers on the lagging negotiations, and for a high-level stocktaking at the end of March.

Switzerland said that progress is being made but not fast enough. "We have no yet come up with a formula to enable us to conclude the round... We are surrounded by dancing elephants who are making the waters rough."

This is not the way the exercise should be carried out, it said, endorsing the calls of Mexico, Turkey and Colombia (for the G11 process to be widened to include more members).

Hong Kong-China said that members are running out of time. Korea said that the window of opportunity is there but it is narrowing everyday. It appreciated the efforts of the G11 but was concerned that non-G11 members would find issues being taken up from which they are excluded from the discussions.

The European Union said that the good news was that the discussions of the senior officials (in the G11) last week were positive and contributed to good atmospherics and a higher degree of commitment to the negotiations, as well as a genuine willingness to conclude the round.

However, it said that the good atmospherics have not translated to corresponding progress on substance. "We are not seeing the give-and-takes that are required and that leaders had asked for".

It said that given the looming Easter deadline, there is need for progress from the bilateral and plurilateral meetings. On how to generate this, the EU said that there is need for more ambition, and in order to find that, there is need to drill down and look for specifics.

It said that there is also need for all issues to advance in parallel, and for a horizontal approach to allow for tradeoffs. There is further need for a "variable geometry" approach and flexibility to use as many formulations as possible. There is also need to ensure that specific issues receive top-down guidance from senior officials and ambassadors, and a need to further intensify the work, or the texts will be difficult, the EU said.

Zimbabwe echoed the views of Kenya, and said that the December 2008 draft modalities texts are the key to the negotiations.

The United States agreed with the Director-General's assessment. It shared the concerns and frustrations voiced by other members (over the slow process). "We are not moving fast enough, and if we don't find a new mode, we won't make it the finish line in time."

The US said that the Colombian proposal was an interesting basis for follow-up. The G11 is one of multiple groups that is part of the "cocktail" approach. It had no interest in trying to institutionalize the G11, but it is important to try and use it in the best possible way.

Small but important steps were taken in the last week. There is need to use the G11 to do more horizontal work, so that you can weave together the work in different silos. It is also a way to bring together the senior officials, said the US.

Pointing out that the G11 is not more important than other ingredients, the US said that there is need to be sure that members continue to move forward bilaterally, plurilaterally and multilaterally. Bilaterally, it said that it had some interesting discussions last week, but things are not going fast enough.

In the area of sectorals (under NAMA) and services, progress is lagging behind, said the US. It was happy with the work that was going on in the area of trade facilitation. "We can't really negotiate unless we get into the serious negotiations, and it would be a great tragedy if this round were to fail without negotiations."

Japan said that it is important that the discussions be deepened and intensified, in order to facilitate a deal by the summer break. Bilateral and plurilateral discussions should continue, in order to achieve a breakthrough. +

 


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