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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec11/08)
20 December 2011
Third World Network


Elements for political guidance, LDC decisions for MC8
Published in SUNS #7272 dated 1 December 2011

Geneva, 30 Nov (Kanaga Raja) -- Following more than two days of Green Room meetings, the possible elements for the political guidance of trade ministers at the upcoming eighth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (MC8) have emerged.

These were unveiled at an informal meeting of the General Council at the level of Heads of Delegation on Tuesday, just before a formal General Council meeting taking place on Wednesday.

According to trade officials, apart from convergence on the possible elements for political guidance (see text below), some decisions were also taken with respect to the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), including on LDC accession (see text below) and an LDC services waiver (see text below). The General Council meeting on Wednesday will be asked to forward the draft decisions on LDCs to MC8.

Trade officials said that what members have been working on the last few days are the paragraphs in the three pillars, namely, importance of the multilateral trading system (MTS) and the WTO, trade and development, and the Doha Development Agenda (DDA).

These are consensual elements to the Chairman's Statement (the outcome document of the ministerial conference), which will form the first part of the Statement. The second part will be an account of what transpires over the course of the two and a half days of the Ministerial Conference, in which the Chair of the Conference will try to capture the key elements that have been put forward by the Ministers, said trade officials.

According to trade officials, there were Green Room meetings on Sunday (afternoon), on Monday, and on Tuesday.

According to a trade diplomat, in the Green Room meeting on Sunday, the three pillars were discussed - importance of the multilateral trading system and the WTO, trade and development, and the Doha Development Agenda. Under trade and development, the LDC issues were discussed. There was almost agreement on the first two pillars. The discussion on the DDA took a longer time, the trade diplomat told SUNS.

On the discussion on why members are where they are now vis-a-vis the Doha talks (i. e. being at an impasse), each participant had a different diagnosis, and this took a long time. The way forward (for the Doha Round) was also discussed, and there were differences of opinion on that as well, said the trade diplomat.

Another trade diplomat said that with respect to part one of the Chair's Statement, members were almost there, except for the DDA. On the discussion on the DDA, Lamy had produced a text, but there were objections to that text at the Green Room meeting, said the trade diplomat. Also, the trade diplomat added, no one was in agreement on the reasons for the Doha impasse.

The trade diplomat pointed out that there are not too many options left on the way forward either, noting that paragraph 47 (of the Doha Declaration) is just one step. He said that MC8 is just one milestone in a long journey, and not even a major milestone at that.

The Green Room met again on Monday morning, and following a break, resumed in the afternoon and finished about 7.30 pm.

A trade diplomat, speaking after the Green Room meeting on Monday evening, told SUNS that delegations were close to having common positions on all of the three pillars. There were still some tricky parts to deal with especially language on trade protectionism.

Another trade diplomat, referring to texts on the importance of the MTS and WTO, Trade and Development and the DDA, said that text on Trade and Development and the DDA had gone through, while on the MTS and WTO, one outstanding issue was on language on protectionism. Some delegations wanted more detailed language on this issue than the one that had been proposed. He added that the language on protectionism would be taken up on Tuesday.

Following the informal General Council meeting on Tuesday, trade officials stressed that the convergence that has been achieved (at the Green Room meetings) does not represent a WTO approval and is not a consensus. This can only come at the formal General Council meeting on Wednesday.

Trade officials pointed out that the resulting document falls into the category of political guidance, although there were also some decisions taken on LDCs. Areas that have been recommended for decision at MC8 cover the work programme on small economies, TRIPS non-violation complaints, extension of the transition period for LDCs vis-a-vis TRIPS, E-Commerce, LDC accession procedures, and an LDC services waiver, said trade officials.

They added that the General Council Chair, Ambassador Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria, is going to propose that the General Council, at its formal meeting on Wednesday, agree to forward these decisions to MC8.

According to trade officials, on the theme of the importance of the MTS and WTO, the General Council Chair, at the informal meeting, said that the first paragraph pertains to the need for Ministers to emphasize the value of the MTS, strengthen it and make it more responsive to the needs of members, especially in the current challenging global economic environment, and in order to stimulate economic growth, employment and development.

On other points under this theme, Ambassador Agah added: "We heard secondly of the need to underscore the WTO's role in keeping markets open. It's particularly critical to do so in light of the challenging global economic environment. The WTO has a vital role to play in the fight against all forms of protectionism, and in promoting economic growth and development. There is a need to acknowledge that experience has shown that protectionism can deepen global economic downturns. It is necessary as well to fully recognize WTO rights and obligations of members and affirm members' commitment to firmly resist protectionism in all its forms. We heard the need to stress the importance of the work of regular WTO bodies, including in oversight of implementing existing agreements, in dispute avoidance and transparency through monitoring and reporting."

According to trade officials, on the theme of Trade and Development, the Chair highlighted the importance of development being stated as the core element of the WTO's work and the positive linkage between Trade and Development as well as the need to focus on work in the Committee on Trade and Development (CTD), which should be conducted in accordance with the mandate, and the results of the focused work in the CTD to be reported to the next ministerial conference. The need to fully operationalise the mandate of the CTD as a focal point for development work was also highlighted.

There was also wide recognition of the need for the WTO to assist in further integrating developing countries particularly LDCs and economies that are small and vulnerable without creating any new sub-category of countries into the multilateral trading system. With respect to the LDCs, there were decisions pertaining to LDC accession, the extension of the transition period under Article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement, the services waiver for the LDCs, and language as well that pertains to ministers urging members to fully implement decision 36 in Annex F of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration of 2005. There was a convergence on the need to confirm commitment to the ongoing dialogue and engagement of paragraph 11 of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration pertaining to cotton and to address cotton "ambitiously, expeditiously and specifically" within the agriculture negotiations, the Chair said.

On the elements of the DDA, according to trade officials, the Chair said that there is recognition and regret that the negotiations are at an impasse. "We heard it was necessary to acknowledge that there are significantly different perspectives on the possible results that members can achieve in certain areas of the single undertaking." In the consultations, members have stressed that in this context it is unlikely that all elements of the Doha Development Round could be concluded simultaneously in the near future, the Chair added.

Members say they are committed to work actively in a transparent and conclusive manner towards a successful multilateral conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda in accordance with its mandate. To achieve this end and to facilitate swifter progress, there is a need to recognize that members need to more fully explore different negotiating approaches while respecting the principle of transparency. There was convergence on the need to commit to advance negotiations where progress can be achieved including focusing on elements of the Doha Declaration that allow members to reach provisional or definitive agreements based on consensus earlier than the full conclusion of the single undertaking, he said.

With respect to other matters, trade officials said that on 28 October, the Arab Group had submitted a proposal on improving the guidelines for observer status for intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) at the WTO. There is agreement to launch a process of consultations on this, and the Chair is going to propose to the General Council meeting on Wednesday that he will initiate a process of consultations on this after MC8, and that he will report to the General Council meeting of February 2012.

On the request by the League of Arab States for observer status at MC8, trade officials said that written communications had been received from two members (reportedly the US and Israel) stating that they are not in a position to agree to this request.

Trade officials said that there is no consensus at this stage for clearing the way for IGO representation at this meeting.

According to trade officials, the Chair said that on 26 October, Palestine had also made a request for observer status at MC8. There was a positive outcome in his consultations, and the Chair will propose to the General Council on Wednesday that Palestine be granted observer status for MC8.

Trade officials also said that there will be Working Sessions at MC8 on 16 and 17 December. The Chair has proposed the same themes that are in the consensual part of the Chairman's Statement, i. e., importance of the MTS and WTO, Trade and Development, and DDA. There will be four sessions with the first three being dedicated to these topics, while the fourth will be left in reserve.

On the election of officers, trade officials said that the General Council Chair will propose as Chair of MC8 Nigeria's Minister for Trade and Investment Olesegun Aganga.

A number of delegations spoke following the remarks by the General Council Chair.

According to trade officials, the coordinators of the various groups said that they welcomed the outcome, and expressed frustration that members could not be as specific as they wanted to be. They wanted a more ambitious outcome.

Those delegations that were not in the Green Room meetings said that they hoped to have a chance to discuss this text at some point, and asked when that would be possible. They did not think that this was as transparent and inclusive as it should be. They suggested some specific drafting changes, said trade officials.
According to trade officials, Mauritius (ACP Group) said that it was happy with the work that was done in terms of strengthening the CTD. It was also pleased with the work that was done for the LDCs.

Mali, on behalf of the C-4 (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali), said that it was pleased to see what has been included with respect to the cotton elements.

Bangladesh (LDCs) said that it was pleased to see the work done with respect to the LDC-specific agreements. It was also pleased with the language on special and differential treatment - monitoring mechanism and Aid for Trade.

Kenya (African Group) said that it was glad over the work on the three pillars, as well as the language on LDCs and operationalising the CTD as a focal point for development work. It welcomed the accessions of Vanuatu, Russia and Samoa. While it was disappointed with the state of the Doha Round, it said it saw light at the end of the tunnel and expressed hope that 2012 can deliver results.

According to trade officials, Cuba said that this is not a consensual approach. A consensus means a true consensus and that means everybody. It said that it was not represented by other countries (in the Green Room). It was concerned with the language in the third pillar (on DDA). Transparency and inclusiveness is important, but what happened to it being included in these discussions, it asked.

Venezuela and Honduras expressed similar views as that of Cuba, said trade officials.

Thailand said that it was pleased to see what has come out of this series of meetings and the level of convergence achieved. It also endorsed the EU proposal on improving notification obligations.

Barbados (Small Vulnerable Economies) said it was pleased with the LDC language and on special and differential treatment. It was disappointed over not having more specificity, but was glad over the progress made and hoped that this foretells of better things to come next year.

The EU said that it wanted more specificity but it understood, and the important thing is to get the consensual approach through.

Egypt said that it was glad to see what had happened on the CTD and on LDC issues.

According to trade officials, Brazil said that it would have liked to see more, but the worst outcome for it is no consensual language in the Chairman's Statement. Absent this, the public perception in Brazil would be that the Doha Round is over. Any approach that goes forward must be one of consensus and be within the mandate, and any agreement that is reached, whether it is early harvest or a completed agreement, can only be achieved within the mandate and by consensus.
Meanwhile, highlighted below is the text on the "Possible Elements for Political Guidance" (JOB/GC/15 dated 29 November 2011).

On the "Importance of the Multilateral Trading System and the WTO", the text states:

"1. Ministers emphasize the value of the rules-based multilateral trading system and agree to strengthen it and make it more responsive to the needs of Members, especially in the current challenging global economic environment, in order to stimulate economic growth, employment and development.

"2. Ministers underscore that the WTO's role in keeping markets open is particularly critical in light of the challenging global economic environment. The WTO has a vital role to play in the fight against all forms of protectionism and in promoting economic growth and development. Ministers also acknowledge that experience has shown that protectionism tends to deepen global economic downturns. Ministers fully recognize WTO rights and obligations of Members and affirm their commitment to firmly resist protectionism in all its forms.

"3. Ministers underline the importance of the work of regular WTO bodies including their role in the oversight of implementing existing Agreements; dispute avoidance; transparency through monitoring and reporting and as a forum for the consideration of trade-related issues raised by Members. Ministers call for strengthening and improving their functioning.

"4. Ministers recognize the important asset that the WTO Dispute Settlement system represents and commit themselves to strengthen it, including through concluding the DSU review negotiations.

"5. Ministers welcome the accessions of Vanuatu, Samoa, and the Russian Federation to the WTO and recognize the contribution of accession to strengthening the multilateral trading system. Ministers remain committed to efforts to facilitate accessions, in particular of least-developed countries."

On "Trade and Development", the text states:

"1. Ministers reaffirm that development is a core element of the WTO's work. They also reaffirm the positive link between trade and development and call for focused work in the Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) which is to conduct this work in accordance with its mandate and report the results achieved to Ministers at the ninth session. Ministers call on WTO Members to fully operationalise the mandate of the CTD as a focal point for development work.

"2. Ministers reaffirm the need for the WTO to assist in further integrating developing countries, particularly LDCs and, without creating a sub-category of WTO Members, small, vulnerable economies, into the multilateral trading system.
"3. Ministers acknowledge the needs of LDCs and commit themselves to ensure that LDCs' interests are given due priority in the future work of the WTO. In this regard, they have taken decisions concerning LDC accession in document WT/COMTD/LDC/19, extension of the LDC period transition under Article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement in document IP/C/59/Add. 2, and LDCs services waiver in document TN/S/37. Ministers also urge the full implementation of Decision 36 of Annex F of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration of 2005 on measures in favour of Least-developed countries. Ministers also welcome the Istanbul Programme of Action for Least-developed countries for the decade 2011-2020.

"4. Ministers confirm their commitment to on-going dialogue and engagement to progress the mandate in paragraph 11 of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration to address cotton "ambitiously, expeditiously and specifically", within the agriculture negotiations. Ministers highlight the value of on-going reporting on cotton, and invite the Director-General to continue furnishing periodic reports on the development assistance aspects of cotton to each Ministerial Conference. Ministers commend the work being undertaken within the Director-General's Consultative Process to advance developmental assistance aspects of cotton.

"5. Ministers reaffirm the integrality of special and differential treatment provisions to the WTO agreements and their determination to fulfil the Doha mandate to review them with a view to strengthening them and making them more precise, effective and operational. Ministers agree to expedite work towards finalising the Monitoring Mechanism for special and differential treatment. They also agree to take stock of the 28 Agreement-specific proposals in Annex C of the draft Cancun text with a view to formal adoption of those agreed.

"6. Ministers take note of the progress achieved on Aid for Trade and of the Third Global Aid for Trade Review. They agree to maintain, beyond 2011, Aid for Trade levels that at least reflect the average of the period 2006-2008 and to work with development banks to ensure the availability of trade finance to low income countries. Ministers reiterate their commitment to funding the WTO Global Trust Fund in a predictable and timely manner to enable the Secretariat to continue to provide the Technical Assistance and Capacity Building required.

"7. Ministers acknowledge WTO's co-operation with other development-related organizations, in particular, the International Trade Centre (ITC). Ministers reaffirm the ITC's role in improving and enhancing trade support institutions and policies for the benefit of exporting efforts; and in strengthening the export capacity of enterprises to respond to market opportunities. Ministers encourage the ITC to support and assist developing countries to address business environment and market access issues affecting the private sector."

The text on the Doha Development Agenda states:

"1. Ministers deeply regret that, despite full engagement and intensified efforts to conclude the Doha Development Agenda single undertaking since the last Ministerial Conference, the negotiations are at an impasse.

"2. Ministers acknowledge that there are significantly different perspectives on the possible results that Members can achieve in certain areas of the single undertaking. In this context, it is unlikely that all elements of the Doha Development Round could be concluded simultaneously in the near future.

"3. Despite this situation, Ministers remain committed to work actively, in a transparent and inclusive manner, towards a successful multilateral conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda in accordance with its mandate.

"4. In order to achieve this end and to facilitate swifter progress, Ministers recognize that Members need to more fully explore different negotiating approaches while respecting the principle of transparency.

"5. In this context, Ministers commit to advance negotiations, where progress can be achieved, including focusing on the elements of the Doha Declaration that allow Members to reach provisional or definitive agreements based on consensus earlier than the full conclusion of the single undertaking.

"6. Ministers also stress that they will intensify their efforts to look into ways that may allow Members to overcome the most critical and fundamental stalemates in the areas where multilateral convergence has proven to be especially challenging.

"7. Ministers maintain that, in their negotiations, they will continue their work based on the progress already made. Ministers affirm that any agreements reached, at any time, have to respect fully the development component of the mandate."

Meanwhile, according to the LDC services waiver (annexed to document TN/S/37), whose draft text has been proposed for submission to MC8 by the Chair of the services negotiations: "Notwithstanding the provisions of Article II: 1 of the GATS, Members may provide preferential treatment to services and service suppliers of least-developed countries with respect to the application of measures described in Article XVI and any other measures as may be annexed to this waiver, than to like services and service suppliers of other Members. Any such treatment shall be granted immediately and unconditionally to like services and service suppliers of all least-developed country Members. Preferential treatment with respect to the application of measures other than those described in Article XVI, is subject to approval by the Council for Trade in Services in accordance with its procedures and will be annexed to this waiver."

"Each Member according preferential treatment pursuant to this waiver shall submit a notification to the Council for Trade in Services. The notification shall specify the preferential treatment made available, the sectors or sub-sectors concerned and the period of time during which the Member is intending to maintain those preferences. A supplemental notification shall be made if the preferential treatment is subsequently modified. The notifications shall be made before the preferential treatment is granted or modified," it adds.

"Any preferential treatment accorded pursuant to this Waiver shall be designed to promote the trade of least-developed countries in those sectors and modes of supply that are of particular export interest to the least-developed countries and not to raise barriers or create undue difficulties for the trade of any other Member. Such preferential treatment shall not constitute an impediment to the reduction or elimination of market access barriers on a most-favoured-nation basis," it further states.

"This Waiver shall terminate upon the expiration of a period of 15 years from the date of its adoption."

Meanwhile, the Sub-Committee on Least-Developed Countries, at its meeting on 28 November, agreed to submit the draft decision on LDC accession to the General Council, with the recommendation that it be forwarded to the eighth session of the Ministerial Conference for its consideration.

The draft decision on LDC accession (highlighted in document WT/COMTD/LDC/19) states:

"Ministers reaffirm the LDC accession guidelines adopted in 2002. Taking note of the accession proposal made by the LDCs, Ministers direct the Sub-Committee on LDCs to develop recommendations to further strengthen, streamline and operationalise the 2002 guidelines by, inter alia, including benchmarks, in particular in the area of goods, which take into account the level of commitments undertaken by existing LDC Members. Benchmarks in the area of services should also be explored.

"We recognize that transparency in the accession negotiations should be enhanced, including by complementing bilateral market access negotiations with multilateral frameworks.

"We reiterate that S&D provisions, as stipulated in the 2002 guidelines, shall be applicable to all acceding LDCs, and that requests for additional transition periods will be considered taking into account individual development needs of acceding LDCs.

"We underline the need for enhanced technical assistance and capacity building to help acceding LDCs to complete their accession process, implement their commitments and to integrate them into the multilateral trading system. Appropriate tools should be developed to assess the needs and to ensure greater coordination in the delivery of technical assistance, making optimal use of all facilities, including the EIF.

"We instruct the Sub-Committee on LDCs to complete this work and make recommendations to the General Council no later than July 2012." +

 


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