TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar11/09)
Big gaps still remain in
Geneva, 9 Mar (Kanaga Raja) -- There continue to be big gaps in the substance of the Doha trade negotiations, and the current process to conclude the Doha Round by the end of the year is failing to deliver results, a number of countries complained at an informal meeting of the WTO Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on 8 March.
The informal meeting of the TNC had been called
to review and assess the latest developments in the
While some Members acknowledged that progress is being made particularly in the Negotiating Groups, these are mainly of a technical nature and differences still remain, said trade officials.
There was also acknowledgement at the informal meeting that the process is going too slowly, with some Members starting to say that "we are running out of time", and that "it is now or never". Some Members are also starting to say that "we are in the end game now, one way or the other," said trade officials.
The common view voiced by delegations at the informal TNC meeting was that the process needs to keep going forward, said trade officials, who envisaged in the coming weeks a large number of meetings to take place in every conceivable configuration.
Speaking at the informal TNC meeting, WTO Director-General and TNC Chair, Pascal Lamy, said: "Our current process - at each and every level - remains too slow and continues to fall short of the tangible substantive breakthroughs to be captured by Negotiating Chairs in the revised texts which they will bring out around Easter."
The informal TNC meeting was preceded a day earlier by a "Green Room" meeting of some thirty delegations convened by Lamy to source inputs from Members, as well as their views on how to move forward.
A participant in the Green Room meeting told SUNS that the meeting was a very short one of about half-hour or so. The Director-General told delegations in the Green Room that there are still gaps on the various issues and that Members need to do more, said the trade diplomat.
According to the trade diplomat, Lamy told delegations
that if Members want revised draft texts produced by Easter, they will
need to accelerate work in all negotiating groups. To do that, Lamy
said that there is need to move away from extreme positions to the middle
ground, in order to find compromise positions. The trade diplomat said
Meanwhile, speaking to SUNS after the informal
TNC meeting, Ambassador Roberto Azevedo of
"The fact is that we have a very big gap in the negotiations," he stressed.
Noting that some Members have been calling for an improvement in ambition in non-agricultural market access (NAMA) and services, the Brazilian envoy pointed out that Members are in a "single-undertaking".
"You can't just try to improve the ambition in some areas and freeze the rest," he said. "So, if you're going to actually improve the ambition, you have to improve it across the board."
The kinds of contributions that are being asked
To aggravate the situation, Ambassador Azevedo
said, this would be unilateral and without any compensation for the
"If this view prevails, then we're not entering the end-game. We're reaching the end of the game," he said.
Also speaking to SUNS after the informal TNC meeting,
Ambassador Michael Punke of the
Pointing out that the US has a very clear perspective on what's being realistic in the context of the Doha Round, the US envoy elaborated: "And we believe that being realistic means that you live up to the responsibility that is commensurate with your role in the global economy. That's where realism is needed..."
Underscoring that this was not a developed versus developing country issue at all, he said, in apparent reference to large emerging countries such as India, China and Brazil, that this is "a very focused discussion about a few economies that have a particular responsibility..."
According to trade officials, the process now is about delivering the draft texts by Easter (late April). They stressed that these texts (some nine in all) will be coming out one way or the other, with the question being what sort of texts they will be.
The Negotiating Groups, and the plurilateral (for instance, the "G11") and bilateral processes among the major players have to produce inputs for the Chairs of the Negotiating Groups, in order for them to go forward with recommendations in their draft texts on ways to bridge the existing gaps. If the Chairs do not get these inputs, then the texts will either be heavily bracketed and/or will come with options, said trade officials.
They noted that if the draft texts do not advance the process sufficiently, then the prospects of concluding the modalities by the end of July are going to be remote.
According to trade officials, some countries such
Trade officials also said that there was acknowledgment by a number of countries that progress is being made (with Negotiating Groups gaining some traction), albeit of a technical nature. However, differences still remain.
There were also concerns voiced by a number of developing countries that sectoral arrangements may be struck among Members that may affect products on which developing countries depend on, and export under preferential arrangements, trade officials added.
In his report to the informal TNC meeting, Lamy noted that the past few weeks have seen intense activity. All negotiating groups are working across the board and that there is progress in all areas, albeit at different levels and of different types. Bilateral and plurilateral meetings on market access issues have also taken place.
"However, we should not fool ourselves. Members are very timidly engaging in ‘give and takes'. Our current process - at each and every level - remains too slow and continues to fall short of the tangible substantive breakthroughs to be captured by Negotiating Chairs in the revised texts which they will bring out around Easter. We need these texts as a basis on which to move the negotiations to conclusion... In order for those texts to really move the negotiations forward, though, there need to be more substantive inputs from negotiators."
"We owe it to ourselves and to our respective constituencies to face this situation up-front and with realism. Realism does not mean defeatism. On the contrary, it should spur us on. Realism tells us how important this negotiation is for all of us. And realism also tells us that we have it in our collective power to make the kind of compromises that we need to take the process on to a successful conclusion," he said.
"We need a serious acceleration of the pace of work. We need to see delegations move from extreme positions towards the middle ground, with compromise proposals starting to emerge. We also need bilateral and plurilateral work, which is mostly related to market access issues, to move forward faster," he concluded.
The Director-General also provided a brief overview of the latest developments across the board in the negotiations.
A number of delegations spoke following the report by the TNC Chair.
According to trade officials,
It further said that the principles of multilateralism must be adhered to, and a bottom-up approach that is transparent and inclusive must be the order of the day. It would like to see clarity on what offers in enhanced market access in agriculture and NAMA may mean for the LDCs. It would also like to know what the situation is on the issue of cotton. There is lack of clarity, which is constraining the ability of the LDCs to negotiate.
On NAMA, the Group would like to see more engagement on the existing text. Many in the African Group are currently benefiting from preferences, hence it wants to be able to be clear on what is happening in the sectoral negotiations. There will not be development gains in the Doha Round for African countries, if the preferences that they receive in many of their most important markets are nullified by the sectorals. The sectoral negotiations should unconditionally exclude all products affected by preferences. On agriculture, the African Group said that the Rev. 4 draft modalities text is the basis for the negotiations. On Rules, it looks forward to revised texts on fisheries subsidies that contain special and differential treatment for developing countries. On the question of TRIPS, it would like to see the TRIPS agreement amended to take into account the provisions of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
Speaking for itself, according to trade officials,
The European Union said that it agreed with the TNC Chair's report. The current pace of the negotiations is not sufficient to reach the objectives that have been collectively set by the membership. That means texts are needed by April and an agreement on modalities-plus by July. There is need to move forward on many fronts. The bilateral and plurilateral discussions need to be intensified and feed more efficiently into the multilateral process. The "variable geometry" does work well, but the real challenges are not the process, it's how to achieve progress on substance. A sense of urgency increases everyday, and "we have not had the kind of advances we need on substance."
Chinese Taipei said that there is need to ensure that the opportunity does not slip through our fingers. It would like to participate in the small-group discussions. While it appreciates some of the work that is being done with respect to developing a horizontal mechanism on non-tariff barriers and a consolidated text on trade facilitation, this does not translate into progress in market access. Without market access, there will not be sufficient conditions to conclude the round. It is becoming more concerned about the lack of progress.
According to trade officials,
Hong Kong-China said that it detected some headway,
but there is need to start seeing some compromise proposals. "The
window of opportunity has now narrowed to an arrow slit at the Chateau
de Chillon (around
On NAMA, he said that the
On services, Ambassador Punke said that a few weeks ago, the US participated in a useful initial exchange among a group of 30 services delegations, roughly equivalent to the Signalling Conference participants, on key areas of importance to an acceptable services outcome. "This meeting began to examine in greater detail Members' sensitivities. It also provided an opportunity to explore possible flexible approaches that could lead to improved offers in sectors and modes of supply for many Members," he said.
In the case of agriculture, he said that the
"While we welcome these positive signs, I think all of us would agree that there remains significant cause for concern. Time is not our ally. In November, our Leaders described what was already a 'narrow' window of opportunity and with each passing day this window narrows further. Likewise, there remain sizable substantive gaps that must be bridged if we are to succeed. We will not succeed unless we pick up the pace and, most importantly, seriously deepen the level of engagement."
Now is the time for serious discussions of possible
gives and takes on a "what if" basis, he added. "As my
colleagues know, the
Noting that many Members have grown impatient with the pace of work among the larger players, he said: "We share that impatience."
"We need to be creative in trying out different formats for bringing together Members to work through issues including bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral approaches. We have seen some of that creativity already but more is needed - both in form and substance," he said.
He said, for instance, that to build successful NAMA sectorals, all interested Members need to participate in collaborative and informal discussions at a product specific level. "In services, we need to build on the initial exchange among the participants in the informal group to get greater clarity on what the outcome on services may look like - and it will take active engagement on the part of all members of that group to achieve that clarity. In agriculture, there are a host of important and difficult outstanding issues that have been identified and which must be addressed."
He noted that in the end, "each of us is looking for a balance so that each of us can go home and say that the final deal, while not perfect, is reasonable".
"After almost 10 years of negotiations and trade-offs, realism will be the key to conclude the Doha Round. Agriculture has been the engine of the DDA. Agriculture will be the key determinant of the level of ambition in all other areas of the negotiation and the benchmark for the end-game in terms of the landing zones. Gaps in substantive positions must be bridged realistically," said the G20.
Speaking on its own behalf,
"We believe most - if not all - misgivings about process stem from a deep sense of frustration with the lack of progress, which we fully share. But let's face the facts. We do not have a problem of process. We have a problem of substance. No process, regardless of how representative, inclusive, or transparent it may be, will cure this fundamental substantive problem."
He said that after interacting with some other delegations in the last few weeks, it seems that many are still not quite aware of the size of the actual existing gaps in the negotiations.
"We clearly started this Round with very
high expectations. High expectations are actually required at the beginning
of any trade negotiation as a means to inject ambition and to drive
the process forward. However,
He noted that despite these obvious shortcomings from a developing country perspective, "a few developed Members argue that what we have on the table is unbalanced and that to sell the Round at home they need further contributions. They claim that there is 'unfinished business' in areas of their interest: NAMA and services. For them - even though they don't say this clearly in meetings such as this one - agriculture is off the table. Moreover, if they have to make any further concessions in agriculture, it could only be by 'cutting water' in the domestic support pillar."
"We could never accept such [a] proposition,"
he said, adding that
"Real market access can only be exchanged for equally real market access. Trade-offs have to be proportional. No serious negotiator will ever engage under the presumption that someone was tricked in 2008, that payment is owed to any particular Member. If anyone insists in obtaining unilateral concessions from others, that Member will not be helping the cause of bridging the gaps among Members," he pointed out.
As far as
He noted that every study done so far - by
"We are, therefore, contributing in a very meaningful way. Any attempts to downplay this contribution are disingenuous to say the least," said the Brazilian envoy.
He added: "Despite this disproportionate
He stressed that the formula cuts cannot be interpreted as a minor down-payment for the actual NAMA liberalization, which would actually be delivered by the sectorals. "If this view prevails - and this is a big 'if' - then we have not reached the 'endgame'; we have reached the 'end of the game'."
Further aggravating this scenario are the existing currency asymmetries provoked by excessively flexible monetary and fiscal policies adopted by some key developed economies, not only to stimulate faster growth, but also in attempts to reverse the effects of a crisis they created themselves, the Brazilian envoy pointed out, adding that the depreciation of the major currencies essentially wiped out any impact that Brazil's tariffs had on imports.
Given this scenario, he said that it is not surprising
"Given this scenario, it is simply unrealistic
to expect further significant and unilateral NAMA contributions by
He concluded that "we must
all understand that some of us -