Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb12/09)
Geneva, 14 Feb (Kanaga Raja) -- "The world economic outlook remains rather grim and domestic crisis-related issues are absorbing leaders' political energy, with not much left for international cooperation," the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) said Tuesday, adding that in these circumstances, "we should not expect any major breakthrough any time soon, whether on trade, on climate change or on macroeconomic coordination."
"The current political environment dictates that the most realistic and practical way forward is to move in small steps, gradually moving forward the parts of the Doha Round which are mature, and re-thinking those where greater differences remain. I believe that non-prescriptiveness is the right thing to do in the present cool temperature. Of course, we can raise the temperature degree by degree as we progress, but for now, let us begin low, which is where we are," said Mr Pascal Lamy.
Lamy, in his capacity as Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), gave his rather sombre assessment at the first meeting of the General Council for this year.
He added: "But it is I believe our responsibility to avoid further rocking the boat and to ensure that existing multilateral systems are not damaged. And the best way to do that is to keep improving them, be it marginally, during this difficult period. We all have a collective responsibility to maintain and sustain the multilateral trading system for the future. That is my own sense of how we should move forward at this stage."
2012 cannot and should not be a wasted year, he stressed.
Lamy said that the follow-up task before members now is to implement decisions and to operationalise elements for political guidance (resulting from the eighth ministerial conference last December) in a "pragmatic and realistic manner as we seek to find convergence to move forward our negotiations."
The TNC Chair went on to highlight several important messages that he had heard since the beginning of the year.
First, he said, there was a collective sense to use 2012 to move in small steps on issues where consensus exists and keep expectations manageable - that is, "a strong sense of pragmatism, avoiding dogmatism."
Second, a shared sense against prescriptiveness. The collective view he believed is that Members should be realistic and not set unattainable targets or packages which would lead to hostage taking.
Third, said Lamy, there seemed to be emerging consensus that certain issues such as those pertaining to LDCs (Least Developed Countries) and Trade Facilitation could be part of deliverables relatively soon.
"Four, during my meeting with business representatives, I heard clear concerns that the proliferation of bilateral and regional trade arrangements risked scattering the global multilateral playing field. Attention should be paid to fostering convergence among both, instead of potential for divergence, in particular on their regulatory content."
Turning to the work in Geneva, Lamy said that he was aware that some of the members have already started informal contacts amongst themselves aimed at trying to advance areas of importance to their delegations. "This is encouraging. And I hope this will be useful input from you to the negotiating groups."
The TNC Chair noted that three negotiating groups have so far met. "The Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation had a good start. Members agreed on a detailed program for the first half of the year with a series of facilitator sessions as a complement to regular work in the Group."
The work in the DSU (Dispute Settlement Understanding) negotiations also resumed as planned, with consultations held in the week of 30 January on Member-control and flexibility, strictly confidential information, panel composition and third party rights.
[The DSU talks, though included in the Doha Work Programme launched at Doha in 2001, is not however part of the "single undertaking" as the other negotiations. - SUNS]
According to Lamy, the discussions were constructive, with, in particular, substantial progress towards draft language on participation of third parties in consultations. The next set of meetings is expected to take place in early March, at dates to be confirmed soon.
The Negotiating Group on Market Access met on 24 January to discuss the organization of future work which the Chair intends to pursue with bilateral consultations.
Lamy then offered his own views about how he saw members moving forward the negotiations.
"The current political environment dictates that the most realistic and practical way forward is to move in small steps, gradually moving forward the parts of the Doha Round which are mature, and re-thinking those where greater differences remain. I believe that non-prescriptiveness is the right thing to do in the present cool temperature. Of course, we can raise the temperature degree by degree as we progress, but for now, let us begin low which is where we are."
Lamy said: "In practical terms, I have encouraged all Chairs to informally consult at this stage to determine what each of their groups can do, step by step, in an informal manner. This of course, with the exception of Trade Facilitation and Dispute Settlement where Members have agreed on detailed work plans that they are already implementing. I have also encouraged all Chairs to have a programme of consultations and themes to ensure that their consultations do not end up flat."
"I would also strongly caution against any dogmatic debates over concepts or principles, that would only risk poisoning this cautiously optimistic atmosphere currently prevailing and as a consequence, our discussions and not lead us anywhere. So in summary, calm, cool and pragmatic are the ways to move our pieces forward at this moment. These are the ways I see to deliver on the to-do list adopted at MC8 [eighth ministerial conference]," he added.
Lamy recalled that at MC8 he had indicated his intention to convene a "Panel of Multi-stakeholders of the WTO" to look at "the real drivers of today's and tomorrow's world trade, at today and tomorrow's obstacles to trade, at today and tomorrow's trade patterns, and, at how to keep transforming trade into development, growth, jobs and poverty alleviation."
"I see these as the terms of reference for the panel, convened under my responsibility and comprising business leaders, trade politicians, civil society and academics with deep knowledge of the multilateral trading system. I see the output of the panel as a pragmatic contribution to offer to you, the Members of the WTO, on what will be the driving forces of trade in the years to come. I will keep Members informed about developments on this front," said Lamy.
A number of delegations spoke following the report by the TNC Chair. +