TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr12/02)
2 April March 2012
Third World Network

Wide divergences surface in NAMA talks on tariffs
Published in SUNS #7332 dated 19 March 2012

Geneva, 16 Mar (Kanaga Raja) -- A discussion in the WTO Negotiating Group on Market Access for Non-Agricultural Products (NAMA) on the tariff component of the negotiations saw wide divergences among the membership on how to proceed.

At an informal meeting of the Group on 14 March, trade officials said that the first discussion on tariffs in almost four years proved inconclusive, with the Chair, Ambassador Luzius Wasescha of Switzerland, proposing some new ideas.

The tariff component of the NAMA negotiations encompasses the formula for tariff reduction, with different coefficients for developed and developing countries, as well as the flexibilities for developing countries in the application of the tariff reduction formula.

According to trade officials, many developing countries stressed the need to respect Special and Differential Treatment (S&D), the balance with the agriculture negotiations and the principle of "less than full reciprocity" in tariff reduction commitments with respect to the commitments of developed countries.

Trade officials said that Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela and others insisted on balance as being essential, while Australia and Canada spoke of the need for a good market access outcome.

Several developing countries also voiced the view that any new idea such as Initial Negotiating Rights -- Article XXVIII of the GATT, or the "Request and Offer modality", is worth discussing.

But most seemed to prefer the December 2008 draft modalities, the base of the current Chair's text, saying that these modalities were the result of difficult negotiations, trade officials added.

The US expressed regret that there was no robust discussion on the tariff element of the NAMA negotiations, something that it said it had hoped for.

But the US said it was ready to discuss some Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) such as in textile labelling and re-manufacturing provided the discussion does not move the file backwards.

According to trade officials, the European Union said that it is open to a discussion on all issues, including some that other delegations were insisting on dropping, such as the NTB-related Horizontal Mechanism and export restrictions.

The Chair concluded that there were a lot of ideas that deserved further reflection, and that he would continue consultations with different small groups of members on how to design a way to move forward the discussion on NTBs and tariffs, taking into account the wishes of ministers expressed at the eighth WTO Ministerial Conference last December.

Meanwhile, earlier in the week, trade officials said that the negotiating group held a half hour "non-discussion" on NTBs grouped under the so-called "Wagon II" (See Annex D of document TN/MA/W/103/Rev. 3/Add. 1).

Wagon II issues include export licensing, export taxes, unilateral trade measures, fireworks, lighters, and forestry products (this last issue was withdrawn at the request of its main proponent, New Zealand).

At an informal meeting on 12 March that focused on NTBs, trade officials said that Cuba, supported by Ecuador, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Nicaragua and Brazil, said that it wanted a deep debate on the unilateral trade measures imposed against the country (the US embargo against Cuba), which it said were "inconsistent and incompatible" with WTO principles.

According to trade officials, the US said that it did not support a discussion of this NTB, reiterating its long-standing claim that it would never gain consensus.

According to trade officials, Cuba responded by blaming the "hypocrisy" of certain countries that claim to be committed to progress in the negotiation but in fact are torpedoing any progress.

The European Union, China and Switzerland said that they wanted to focus on NTBs in "Wagon I" (which was discussed at an earlier meeting of the group on 8 March. See SUNS #7327 dated 12 March 2012).

The EU said it did not want to activate work on Wagon II, while Switzerland was of the view that the time was not ripe for a discussion on this wagon.

According to trade officials, Japan said that its own proposal for disciplines on export licensing was getting more co-sponsors.

Noting the divergence of opinions and positions, the Chair reserved his concluding remarks for after the discussion on tariffs on 14 March, and adjourned the meeting. +