TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar11/14)
28 March 2011
Third World Network

Agriculture, NAMA Chairs call for work to intensify
Published in SUNS #7114 dated 23 March 2011

Geneva, 22 Mar (Kanaga Raja) -- At the conclusion of their latest rounds of negotiations, both the chairs of the agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA) negotiating groups at the World Trade Organization (WTO) have called for an intensification of work in the coming days and weeks.

Both the chairs are expected to bring out revised draft modalities texts by late April, but so far, there appears to be a continued lack of substantive movement in both these negotiations, thus bringing out the possibility that both revised texts in agriculture and NAMA may not contain substantial changes.

This possibility was seemingly raised by both the chairs in their respective open-ended informal meetings that closed the latest rounds of negotiations in agriculture and NAMA.

At an open-ended informal meeting of the Special Session of the Agriculture Committee on 18 March that capped ten days of negotiations, the Chair, Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand, reported that no new input had been provided by members in order for him to revise the December 2008 draft modalities text, said trade officials, adding that the Chair called for work to intensify in the coming days.

A day earlier, an open-ended informal meeting of the Negotiating Group on Market Access for Non-Agricultural Products was held to cap the latest NAMA week of negotiations from 14-17 March.

According to trade officials, the NAMA Chair, Ambassador Luzius Wasescha of Switzerland, told members that he only saw one possibility for the weeks to come and that is to intensify efforts for achieving results. In order to do that, members have to show flexibility, wisdom and creativity, trade officials added.

In his concluding remarks at the informal meeting on 17 March, the NAMA Chair said: "I only see one possibility for the weeks to come, that is to intensify our efforts... So, flexibility is needed, wisdom is needed, creativity is needed... The time for ‘we have preliminary remarks', ‘we are waiting for instructions from the capital', this time is over."

The NAMA Chair further told the membership: "People who are participating in the drafting groups have to be able to take decisions. Otherwise, they have to send people who can make these decisions."

"With regards to the text [the draft modalities], I can reveal one scoop... the date 2008 will be replaced by 2011," said Ambassador Wasescha, appearing to suggest that the only thing that might be changed in his revision of the draft NAMA modalities text that was issued in December 2008 is the date.

With respect to the agriculture negotiations, trade officials said that the latest round of negotiations began with an open-ended informal meeting on 9 March and included two "Room E" meetings involving some 38 delegations. The Chair also held smaller group consultations on four key issues.

According to trade officials, the Chair said that he will continue to work with delegations before convening another round of talks beginning on 4 April.

Ambassador Walker told the membership that his purpose in consulting with delegations was to find out whether there had been any developments in their work on a number of issues that could lead to "contributions" that the negotiating group could make by Easter (taking place this year on 22-25 April), said trade officials.

"I have to report to you as of today that there are none yet. But I would also stress that members continue to work for such developments, I hope," he said.

On the upcoming work on 4-15 April, according to trade officials, the Chair said: "I hope to be able to bring our contribution together during that period".

Calling for work to intensify in the coming days so that "problem-solving progress" can be made, said trade officials, the Chair said that this would determine how the negotiating group intends "to respond to the TNC [Trade Negotiations Committee]," so long as the TNC's invitation (at its meeting on 30 November 2010, see SUNS #7052 dated 2 December 2010) to make a contribution stands.

Trade officials said that the discussions over the past 10 days were on clarifying the current draft text of December 2008, data needed for various purposes, outstanding differences in the text denoted by square brackets and those discussed in accompanying documents, as well as some additional issues.

The Chair said that his "Room E" meetings covered all three pillars of the agriculture negotiations (domestic support, market access and export competition issues).

According to trade officials, the Chair's consultations with smaller groups were on: tariff simplification; tariff quota creation; the special safeguard mechanism (SSM); and the issue of cotton.

The small, vulnerable economies (SVEs) group said that it will submit two new proposals -- one on the SSM, and the other on domestic support and export competition, which call for extra flexibilities for the group, said trade officials.

The least-developed countries (Zambia speaking), the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group (Mauritius speaking), India, Ecuador, China, Cuba, the African Group (Kenya speaking), Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Nigeria expressed their support, trade officials added.

The recently-acceded members (RAMs, Chinese Taipei speaking) and the Philippines called for room to manoeuvre, since they had bound their agricultural tariffs at low levels, said trade officials.

According to trade officials, the Philippines particularly raised the issue of the SSM based on price falls. In this context, it called on members to be open-minded.

Meanwhile, with respect to NAMA, trade officials said that negotiations were held during the week of 14-17 March in order for members to get a clean (un-bracketed) text on various Non-Tariff Barrier (NTB) issues as well as on a Horizontal Mechanism for resolving NTB disputes. These took place mostly in small groups of the "Friends of the Chair".

According to trade officials, the discussions focussed on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT)-plus NTBs, that is, those directly related to the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement; the issue of Transparency; conformity assessment and the relevant International Standards to be taken into account; textiles labelling; and NTBs related to automobiles, chemicals and electronics.

On the Horizontal Mechanism for resolving NTB disputes, trade officials said that the US and the European Union continued to be far apart, with the US being critical of a new EU text on this issue, which has the widespread support of the members. According to the EU, the text incorporates the changes suggested by the US to previous drafts on this issue.

According to trade officials, the US continued to question the need for such a mechanism.

Trade officials further said that the US also rejected a new proposal by the EU, India, Indonesia, Norway, the Philippines, Switzerland and Thailand on International Standardization.

During the NAMA week, according to trade officials, an information session was held, organized by the "Friends of sectors" and coordinated by Singapore, at which the proponents of the 14 sectors provided information on the initiative and on new ideas such as the "product basket approach" by which products belonging to the same sector could receive different treatment in order to take into account the sensitivities of particular countries.

Speaking on the overall process, according to trade officials, the Chair said that he only saw one possibility for the weeks to come and it was to intensify the efforts for achieving results. And for that, members had to show flexibility, wisdom and creativity.

Ambassador Wasescha also said that the time to wait for instructions "from capital" has passed and there was a need for negotiators who can take decisions here in Geneva, added trade officials.

Speaking to journalists after the informal meeting on 17 March, the NAMA Chair said that on the issues of Transparency and textiles labelling, positions are slowly moving in the same direction. Probably by next week, there will be texts (working documents) in these two areas, together with one on the Horizontal Mechanism. There will then be three out of seven texts (on NTBs) that the membership can work on.

The proponents of the sectoral initiative had a transparency session on 16 March, said the Chair. All the areas were characterized by three elements, namely, convergence of views, awareness that a lot of work has been done, but there still remains a lot to be done, and as a consequence, this work will need more time, even if the results of the work now will be encapsulated in a Chair's text coming out late April, he added.

"For some delegations, it is still difficult to imagine a world outside their original drafting. The atmospherics are good, people are engaged and there is a beginning of a sort of 'brotherhood' among the negotiators, but this is at the very, very beginning," said the Chair.

He noted that there are still too many references from negotiators vis-a-vis waiting for "instructions from capitals", on making "preliminary remarks" and "announcement of text in the future."

"Not everybody has yet understood that the common text we are working on [is] really the text of everybody and not of one group of delegations," Ambassador Wasescha told journalists. "So, it's the beginning of the final phase, with regards to these texts," he added. +