TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar11/13)
24 March 2011
Third World Network

Limited progress in RTA consultations - Rules Chair
Published in SUNS #7112 dated 21 March 2011

Geneva, 18 Mar (Kanaga Raja) -- The Chair of the WTO Negotiating Group on Rules has informed Members of limited progress in the two rounds of informal consultations that he has held on the issue of Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs).

The Chair, Ambassador Dennis Francis of Trinidad and Tobago, was reporting on 17 March to a formal meeting of the Rules Negotiating Group on his informal consultations held in February and early this week.

According to trade officials, the Chair urged delegations "to engage towards some zone of accommodation that could allow some acceptable way forward to arise".

Trade officials said that on the issue of the review of the provisional Transparency Mechanism for RTAs (WT/L/671), the Chair reported that India has submitted a proposal -- similar to that previously tabled by Ecuador (TN/RL/W/249) -- which would require all parties to an RTA to jointly announce and notify their RTA.

Ambassador Francis said that while India's proposal was supported by a few members, there was great interest shown in a compromise proposal by Chinese Taipei for dual notifications (notification under GATT Article XXIV and the Enabling Clause) to be considered in a joint session of the Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) and the Committee on RTAs (CRTA), added trade officials.

The Chair announced that he would "shortly" be circulating a new revised draft text.

At the plenary meeting, trade officials said, the US reiterated that its proposal for all RTAs notified to the WTO to be examined in the CRTA would lead to more efficiency.

(According to trade officials, India, with the support of several developing countries, has been voicing concern over the US proposal, arguing that this would undermine special and differential treatment given to developing countries under the Enabling Clause. They have called for all RTAs among developing countries to be dealt with in the CTD.)

According to trade officials, the US proposal was supported by the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Switzerland, El Salvador and Costa Rica.

India reiterated that the US proposal goes beyond the mandate of the Negotiating Group.

According to trade officials, India then read out its proposal, which calls for the insertion of the following language: The Committee on Trade and Development will also implement this trade mechanism for RTAs when the parties notify it both under the Enabling Clause and GATT Article XXIV.

Trade officials said that Egypt, St. Lucia, China and Bolivia voiced support for India's proposal.

Chinese Taipei, said trade officials, cited precedents of WTO bodies holding joint sessions. It added that its proposal was a way forward for the Negotiating Group.

Interest was expressed by Canada, Korea, Switzerland, Chile, Norway, Thailand, Vietnam and Peru over the proposal by Chinese Taipei.

On systemic issues (related to RTAs), according to trade officials, the Chair said that a post-Doha work programme on this could be achieved but whether this should be achieved remained a matter for discussion and consensus.

Ambassador Francis said that several delegations, including India, Saint Lucia (on behalf of the ACP) and Bolivia had contacted him to say that an outcome on development-related aspects is essential before any work takes place on such a work programme.

At the plenary session, trade officials said that Bolivia reiterated its proposal for flexibilities to be granted to developing countries when they are negotiating an RTA with a developed country.

(The Bolivian proposal -- TN/RL/W/250 -- is aimed at clarifying the developmental aspects of RTAs. The proposal calls for insertion of language in an appropriate place in GATT Article XXIV such that where developing countries are parties to an agreement with developed countries for the formation of a customs union, a free trade area, or an interim arrangement leading to either a customs union or a free trade agreement, special and differential treatment, in particular less than full reciprocity, shall be provided to developing countries. See SUNS #7083 dated 8 February 2011.)

At the plenary meeting, Bolivia's proposal was supported by India, Saint Lucia, Kenya, China, Ecuador and South Africa.

According to trade officials, the US said that Bolivia's proposal would send the negotiations in the wrong direction. It instead urged focus on a post-Doha work programme.

Trade officials said that countries that also supported the establishment of a work programme were the EU, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Peru.

The Chair informed the membership that the next plenary meeting on RTAs would be held on 8 April, with small group sessions to take place on 4 and 13 April.

Meanwhile, the Rules Negotiating Group met earlier in the week on the issue of fisheries subsidies.

At an informal meeting on 14 March, the Chair presented a detailed report on the plurilateral consultations that he had conducted last week, said trade officials.

On 8 March, said trade officials, the plurilateral session focussed on two proposals that had been discussed at the informal plenary (on 7 March) -- one from Malaysia on excluding from prohibition subsidies for improving fishing vessels to meet food safety standards, and the other from the ACP Group on special and differential treatment for those developing countries that do not contribute to over-capacity and over-fishing. (For details on the two proposals, see SUNS #7104 dated 9 March 2011.)

For the rest of the week, according to trade officials, the Chair said that the plurilateral session heard and discussed reports by the "Friends of the Chair" and the various Contact Groups on fisheries subsidies issues, including reciprocal and shared access to EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zones), high seas fishing, artisanal fishing, fisheries management, and fuel subsidies.

Ambassador Francis said that he was very pleased with the work of the Friends of the Chair and the Contact Groups so far. He added that all would need to deepen their work, said trade officials.

According to trade officials, Chinese Taipei said that the positive results from the Contact Groups have been encouraging. It urged the Contact Groups to get more inputs from delegations.

Mexico said that the intensification of the negotiations has resulted in scheduling difficulties for its capital-based officials, said trade officials.

The next cluster of meetings on fisheries subsidies is scheduled for the week of 28 March, trade officials added. +