TWN Info Service
on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr11/02)
Geneva, 30 Mar (Kanaga Raja) -- A number of countries have voiced disappointment and deep concern over the impasse reached among the key players in the Doha Round of trade negotiations, with some saying amongst others that the ten years of talks are now at a crucial juncture.
These views were highlighted at an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on 29 March.
The TNC meeting has come in the wake of meetings held last week among the so-called "G-11" comprising Brazil, India, China, the United States, the European Union, Japan, Australia, Mauritius, South Africa, Argentina and Canada.
A trade diplomat told SUNS that in bilateral meetings among members of the G-11, the gaps remained extremely wide, and discussions within the G-11 did not come out with any "magical solutions" to bridge the gaps.
The informal TNC meeting was preceded by a "Green Room" meeting on 28 March. A participant in the Green Room told SUNS that Director-General Pascal Lamy had identified NAMA (non-agricultural market access) sectorals as the "gateway" issue, and said that he will be consulting on this issue to assess whether the gaps are bridgeable.
Some in the Green Room, said the trade diplomat, however felt that at this stage the gaps cannot be bridged. The trade diplomat said that delegations in the Green Room were also divided on whether the negotiating group Chairs' texts should emerge by Easter, as planned.
According to a report
in the "WTO Reporter" of 25 March, a G-11 meeting of 24 March
had shown up the differences between the
At the informal TNC
meeting, these differences seemingly re-surfaced, with the
In his report to the TNC, Director-General Lamy, who is also the TNC Chair, said that the bilateral and plurilateral discussions (among the G-11) on the market access leg have reached an impasse, and the outstanding substantive gaps which existed three weeks ago persist today. He proposed holding consultations with a number of Members (so-called one-on-one "confessionals") with a view to understanding the size of the gaps on NAMA, particularly the sectorals, whose absence of progress he identified as "a major obstacle".
According to trade officials, the TNC meeting also saw many delegations voicing support for Chairs' texts to come out as planned by Easter (which this year takes place from 22-25 April) including Bangladesh (LDC Group), Mauritius (ACP Group), Australia (Cairns Group), Barbados (Small Vulnerable Economies), Indonesia, Kenya (African Group), Argentina, Mexico, Japan, Lesotho, Turkey, Chile, Hong Kong-China, Pakistan, the EU and El Salvador.
Trade officials said that some others warned against this, as they did not feel that it would be helpful and might instead cause more problems. They called for a bottom-up process. Yet others were of the view that discussion of texts should be left aside for the moment until the Director-General had completed his consultations on NAMA sectorals. The plan is still in the direction of having texts by Easter, but if the results of Lamy's consultations are not promising, then there may be a reassessment of whether revised texts should come out at this time, trade officials remarked.
Speaking to SUNS after
the informal TNC meeting, Ambassador Fernando de Mateo of
"The round is not going to die. That's for sure, but the round could become a zombie," he further said, adding that the round could be "haunting us for many years to come in the corridors of the WTO."
In his statement at the TNC, Lamy stressed that both the Chairs and himself are committed to working in a bottom-up way, where texts reflect the convergence achieved and also lack of convergence where necessary. "Let me also be clear: texts are not an end in themselves. It is not about ‘texts for the sake of texts'. Texts cannot replace negotiations. Texts are means to capture negotiations. And at the end of the day the negotiations are in your hands. And therefore texts are in your hands."
He further said that the capturing of progress by Chairs serves two fundamental objectives. First, it provides an across-the-board picture of the remaining gaps which will need to be addressed in the end game. Second, such an across-the-board evaluation would provide us with the tool to move into a more horizontal phase in the negotiations - a phase where key obstacles are crystalized and remaining trade-offs identified.
"So, with less than a month to go, are we on track to meet this target?" he asked. "In all honesty, I must tell you we are not."
Overall, said the TNC Chair, there have been elements of progress. "But, in truth, far from enough. While the Negotiating Groups are proceeding across the board, including on a number of technical issues, the bilateral and plurilateral discussions on the market access leg have reached an impasse. The outstanding substantive gaps which existed three weeks ago persist today."
"The absence of progress in NAMA sectorals constitutes today a major obstacle to progress on the remaining market access issues. However, let me be clear, this is not the only market access related problem area. There are other issues whether in agriculture or to a larger extent in services - which have not been resolved either."
"Over the coming two weeks, starting April 4, I will undertake consultations with a number of Members with a view to understanding the size of the gaps on the NAMA market access. Once I have done this I intend to report to the entire membership. Together - and on the basis of an across the board view of progress in all areas in the negotiation, including the regulatory part as well as market access - we will then decide on the next steps," said Lamy.
"Now is the time for all of you, and in particular those among you who bear the largest responsibility in the system, to reflect on the consequences of failure. To reflect on the costs of the non-Round to the world economy as well as to the development prospects of Members, in particular the smaller and least-developed which are more dependent on an improved set of global trade rules. And above all, it is time to think about the consequences of the non-Round to the multilateral trading system which we have so patiently built over the last 70 years," Lamy warned.
According to trade officials, some thirty-three delegations spoke following the report by the TNC Chair.
According to trade
The seriousness of this situation demands a multilateral response. "We are now in a very difficult situation which has thrown up questions around our ability to conclude the Round this year... We understand the size of the gaps on substantive issues are large." The Cairns Group said it cannot accept a situation where the opportunity to undertake serious reform of global agriculture markets through the Round might be called into question.
Kenya, on behalf of the African Group, said that while it recognizes that the nature of these negotiations sometimes requires consultations through different formats such as bilaterals and plurilaterals, the Group wishes to take this opportunity to remind those members who engage in such formats of the responsibility which goes with such engagement.
It further said that it has supported negotiations through those formats in the past and will continue to do so if only their outcome will inject momentum into the overall negotiations without attempting to replace the multilateral process. In this regard, the African Group said it continues to emphasize that any decisions on how to take the DDA (Doha Development Agenda) forward and ultimately into its conclusion phase must be multilaterally based and not through any other format.
"The group although not a party to any of the parallel formats, is aware that there are areas of divergences and also convergences. Indeed, we expect the Chairs texts next month to reflect them and where possible suggest possible ways of bridging the divergences."
Laying out for Members
the perspective of the
"It is important
for me to emphasize, however, that our analysis of the gaps in the negotiation,
while informed to an important degree through our discussions with
It provided some specifics to illustrate its view of the gaps that it is confronting. It said that one of the most graphic examples is NAMA sectors and the product basket approach. It and other proponents of NAMA sectors have proposed an architecture with three broad elements: (1) a very substantial ‘zero for zero' (tariff) basket; (2) other baskets with greater-than-formula cuts using a range of tools to address sensitivities; and (3) a basket that accommodates the use of normal NAMA flexibilities.
"This approach, in our view, offers the potential for balance between our need for more ambition - and the needs of others to address sensitivities."
"We have carefully analysed this structure. Ironically, it would significantly increase the imbalance beyond the July 08 package. This, for us, is a major gap."
In services, the
On whether these gaps
- which the
Turning to the text
side of the negotiations, the
"However, as I said before, texts are a tool. But if that tool is not working there are others, such as Chairs reports, that can capture for Members the state of play and assist the process of further reflection in capitals. Such reports could cover all areas of outstanding differences and could be equally suitable for both rules and market access issues," said Ambassador Punke.
However, in order to save the round, China said that it is still trying its hardest to take part in the negotiations of various forms in a constructive manner, as long as those negotiations will not challenge the Doha mandate for developing countries' "participation on a non-mandatory basis" and "special and differential treatment" and that sectors will be chosen "in particular on products of export interest to developing countries".
"We acknowledge that despite our utmost efforts, the gaps between us and some developed members on market access are still big. Nevertheless, we believe such an attempt to bridge the differences should not be wasted. For this purpose, we are of the view that broader membership needs to be involved in the process and make concrete contribution."
It clarified that on
top of its extensive and comprehensive accession commitments,
"How we characterize the current impasse will have important implications for how we go about trying to resolve the crisis and whether we succeed in doing so." It noted that the previous GATT rounds and especially the Uruguay Round tilted the playing filed in agriculture and labour intensive manufactures against developing countries for more than 50 years. And the rules were biased against developing countries.
It said that in
"Let us remind
each other that the NAMA sectorals are a voluntary modality or supplementary
modality according to the
As regards the documents
that are sought to be brought out by Easter across all areas of negotiations,
"First, your assessment of the situation in two weeks, would form a very valuable input in enabling the members to arrive at a decision about the content of the documents that are going to be issued. Second, as we have been given to understand, in WTO parlance texts mean draft final agreements. At the end of our collective assessment in two weeks time, we need to be clear in our minds as to whether the negotiations till that date have been productive or decisive enough to enable the Chairs to come out with texts in the WTO sense before Easter. We need to approach this matter with an open mind and not rule out the possibility of coming out with documents, which would facilitate further discussion and convergence and not amplify divergences and widen existing gaps."
"We would also
need to take a view whether the membership wants the same kind of text
or document in all areas of negotiations or the type of document will
vary depending on the degree of convergence reached in different areas
and even on different topics within the same area of negotiations,"
"We would indeed be very disappointed to see any document or text, in which a Chair has exercised his own imagination or creativity and which shows a disconnect with the ground realities of the negotiations. As we are in the end game and striving hard to bring about convergence and closure to the Round, none of us is prepared to be confronted with surprises - specially of the not so pleasant variety," it concluded.
The European Union agreed with those who said that the situation in the negotiations is very serious. There are gaps in bilateral and plurilateral negotiations, and bridging them would not be easy. There is need to think carefully about the next steps. The EU said it supports increased transparency in the bilateral negotiations. The G11 could not conclude on whether these gaps are bridgeable. "We need to explore the margins in the negotiations", and that clearly NAMA sectorals are the gateway to progress in the negotiations. Services is also a great priority to the EU. Negotiating groups must continue with their work and it is important to have texts by Easter, as foreseen. It supported the Director-General's initiative and is committed to exploring the remaining margins of the negotiations.
"Agriculture remains 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. The 2008 texts are the basis for agreement and the expression of years of negotiations and trade-offs. Gaps in substantive positions must be bridged with realism."
On behalf of itself,
"The first assessment of this situation happened recently in the G-11. We must emphasise, however, that these gaps are not a result of the G-11 process or, actually, of any process. We have to accept the fact that processes may assist but are themselves incapable of closing large substantive gaps."
In its sessions last
In the G-11 discussions,
As far as
On the process forward and the Director-General's consultations in early April, Brazil noted that key developed countries already made clear that, for them, agricultural negotiations are over, certainly as far as market access is concerned. Any outstanding issues are to accommodate further sensitivities of theirs, not to increase ambition.
Brazil said that under these circumstances and despite any assurances to the contrary, addressing NAMA first and by itself would: First - essentially indicate that, for some there would be giving, but no taking, and for others there would be taking, and no giving; Second - such non-horizontal approach would discourage engagement. After all, those doing the giving would not believe in a process that requires them to show flexibility - which would be immediately pocketed - without any hope for reciprocity in other pillars.
On the issue of texts
"We need not rush to a decision
today on how to proceed regarding texts. It seems to us that a better-informed
decision on this matter could be reached after your consultations are
completed in April," said