TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr11/07)
29 April 2011
Third World Network

TRIPS, NAMA negotiating groups still divided on key issues
Published in SUNS #7135 dated 21 April 2011

Geneva, 20 Apr (Kanaga Raja) -- Both the WTO TRIPS Council in Special Session and the Negotiating Group on Market Access for Non-agricultural products (NAMA) met early this week, with negotiators continuing to remain divided on key issues relating to a GI register for wines and spirits in TRIPS, and the sectoral initiative in NAMA.

This has come just before the Chairs of all the negotiating groups in the Doha negotiations are due to circulate "documents" on 21 April representing "the product of the work in their Negotiating Groups." Trade officials said Wednesday that these documents are likely to be released on the evening of 21 April and that they will be posted on the WTO's website.

Earlier on 15 April, the Chair of the agriculture negotiations, at the end of two weeks' of consultations, had concluded that he had not seen any solutions as yet to any of the outstanding issues in the negotiations. (See SUNS #7133 dated 19 April 2011.)

According to trade officials, at an informal meeting of the Special Session of the TRIPS Council on 18-19 April, members remained divided on three fundamental aspects of the proposed multilateral register for Geographical Indications (GIs) for wines and spirits.

Major differences, trade officials said, remained on: whether the register should be extended to cover other products in addition to wines and spirits; whether participation in the system is entirely voluntary; and what legal effect might result from a term being registered.

Trade officials said that a number of less controversial differences in the nine-page draft text for setting up the GI register have been ironed out over the past month, resulting in the cutting down of square brackets (reflecting the divergent positions on the issues) from over 200 to just over 140 pairs.

(The draft text has followed a six-point sequence of elements, namely, notification, registration, legal effects/consequences of registration, fees and costs, special treatment for developing countries, and participation.)

According to trade officials, negotiators went through the entire text on 18 April, which was the first opportunity for the full membership to work on it. In some cases, members simply voiced their support for particular alternatives highlighted in the text.

A closing session on 19 April saw members making some additional changes to the draft text, added trade officials.

According to trade officials, the Chair, Ambassador Darlington Mwape of Zambia, will be preparing his contribution to the documents that the Chairs of all the negotiating groups will be circulating on 21 April.

Meanwhile, at an informal open-ended meeting of the NAMA negotiating group on 19 April, the Chair, Ambassador Luzius Wasescha of Switzerland, said that he wanted to "assess the situation" before issuing his "textual report" on the status of the negotiations in conjunction with other texts or documents of the Doha negotiations, said trade officials.

According to trade officials, the Chair's text will have three parts: (1) the current status of non-NTBs (non-tariff barriers) discussions based on the December 2008 draft modalities text (TN/MA/W/103/Rev. 3); (2) the state of play in the negotiations on NTBs; and (3) the way forward.

A number of countries spoke at the informal meeting.

According to trade officials, the US said that it considers that the gap in the level of ambition in the (tariff reduction) formula has not yet been adequately addressed and that it does not want to be pushed past its own defined red lines concerning special flexibilities for South Africa, Argentina and Venezuela, or to negotiate new flexibilities.

Argentina said that the current level of ambition is not low and that there is an imbalance with what has been agreed in agriculture, meaning that paragraph 24 of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration (of 2005) that asks for a balanced and proportionate ambition in both NAMA and agriculture, has not been fulfilled.

According to trade officials, the Maldives, which recently graduated from Least Developed Country status, said that its situation, having changed in January this year, merits a new assessment of its commitments.

Ecuador said that its difficult economic situation prompted its government to ask for specific treatment such as longer implementation periods, said trade officials.

On the issue of the sectoral initiative, the Chair reported that there is nothing new that would warrant an update of the wording of his December 2008 draft text.

According to trade officials, the Chair said that he did not consider it appropriate to address the issue of divergence of opinions on the level of ambition that participation, or non-participation, in the sectoral initiative represents.

Ambassador Wasescha however said that at present, this is the main stumbling block in the overall negotiations.

He referred members to the Director-General's remarks on this issue to be published later this week, trade officials added.

[Director-General Pascal Lamy had recently informed delegations that the "documents" to be circulated by the Chairs of the negotiating groups on 21 April would be accompanied by an introductory report by him, as chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee, in which he will report on the consultations that he is currently conducting, namely, on the impasse in the Doha talks particularly on the sectoral initiative.

[At a meeting last week with the G-90 coalition comprising the African Group, the ACP Group and the Least Developed Countries, the WTO head told the G-90 that the gaps on the sectoral issue are too far apart and are "unbridgeable."

[Meanwhile, over the weekend, at the World Bank/International Monetary Fund spring meetings in Washington, Lamy told the Bank's Development Committee that the WTO system "is today in danger of not being able to conclude the Doha Development Round we started ten years ago. The optimism with which we started this year with has all but evaporated." In a statement that was posted on the WTO website, Lamy further said: "WTO members have stalled on the last hurdles of the WTO Doha Round trade negotiations, i. e. industrial tariff reductions for developed and emerging economies."]

On the issue of NTBs, according to trade officials, Ambassador Wasescha told the informal NAMA meeting that there is potential for an agreed package, in particular, in three areas on which he will expand in his text: the Horizontal Mechanism for resolving NTB problems; the labelling of textiles, clothing and footwear, to clarify some wording in the Technical Barriers to Trade agreement; and transparency in the implementation of new technical regulations.

The Chair also said that all the other NTBs in Annex 5 of his December 2008 draft text remain on the table.

On the way forward, according to trade officials, the Chair said that the Trade Negotiations Committee (at its meeting on 29 April) will discuss the matter, but that the NAMA Negotiating Group might consider continuing its work on NTBs depending on what is agreed at that TNC meeting. +