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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr13/03)
9 April 2013
Third World Network

Progress on trade facilitation "too slow" for a deal in Bali - Chair
Published in SUNS #7550 dated 21 March 2013
 
Geneva, 20 Mar (Kanaga Raja) -- Progress in the negotiations on Trade Facilitation is "too slow" to meet members' expectations of being in a position to present an Agreement on Trade Facilitation (TF) in time for the ninth ministerial conference taking place in Bali this December, the Chair of the WTO Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation has warned.
 
Providing this assessment on the last day of a week-long session of the negotiating group (11-15 Mach), the Chair, Ambassador Eduardo Ernesto Sperisen-Yurt of Guatemala, said: "Based on our existing process, we will not make it by December."
 
While some progress had been made during the week, and that has helped to clean up the Draft Text (TN/TF/W/165/Rev. 14 of 17 December 2012) based on the facilitator-led process at expert-level (involving facilitators from some 17 countries), the Chair said: "There are still many points of disagreement in the Draft Text, covering virtually all components."
 
The Chair went on to say that if members shared his assessment of the situation, "then we have to ask ourselves what we can do to accelerate progress," noting that at the last meeting of the negotiating group, many members suggested the introduction of a broader, more horizontal approach that will allow work to be taken up more holistically and to address key choices that will have to be made across-the-board in the Draft Text.
 
The Chair said that members have been applying that approach to Part 2 of the draft agreement since January (on special and differential treatment provisions for developing and least-developed countries), under the leadership of Michael Stone (of Hong Kong-China) - it has involved moving away from trying to deal with the draft text in a piecemeal way, section by section, and instead taking a look at the provisions in their broader context.
 
As a supplement to the current negotiating method, the Chair proposed extending the approach that members have been applying since January on Part 2 of the draft agreement, to Part 1 of the draft agreement (relating to commitments on issues such as publication and availability of information, advance rulings and appeal procedures, disciplines on fees and charges, release and clearance of goods, consularisation, formalities with respect to importation and exportation and transit, and customs cooperation).
 
This would involve the appointment of three additional "Friends of the Chair" to complement the work that Mr Stone is already tasked with doing.
 
The three additional "Friends of the Chair" will be Ambassador Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria, Ambassador Mario Matus of Chile and Ambassador Remigi Winzap of Switzerland.
 
Ambassador Sperisen-Yurt elaborated on his proposed negotiating process, saying that firstly, the process would apply, in the first instance at least, to the negotiations between now and the next negotiating group meeting, which he proposed will take place from 21 to 24 May. At the May meeting, members shall review how this process is working and, as necessary, make further adjustments.
 
Secondly, the "Friends of the Chair" will be tasked to carry out consultations - under the Chair's overall guidance - on "key sticking points" in the draft text that are preventing the facilitators from making progress on cleaning out the square brackets (currently some 650, according to trade officials).
 
According to the Chair, the aim is to explore whether further progress can be made towards agreement on the draft provisions by taking them up in a broader context than has been the case until now. The Friends could, for example, seek to narrow differences in the underlying principles that may be blocking progress, or consider whether an emerging consensus on what is being sought to achieve in a provision or a paragraph is in fact well reflected in the current draft.
 
(The Chair did not spell out the key sticking points in the negotiations. According to trade officials, members have differed, amongst others, over the period of implementation with some countries wanting a long period of implementation, on the possible exemptions, and on the issue of special and differential treatment.)
 
The Chair's proposal is that the current facilitator-led process at expert level be suspended but that it will remain on-call to be reactivated whenever a Friend of the Chair asks for help from the expert level to work their findings into the draft consolidated text.
 
The Chair also proposed holding a short one-day informal meeting of the Negotiating Group sometime in mid-April that would allow the Friends of the Chair to report back on the progress they are making so that all the members are kept fully in the picture.
 
The Chair stressed that the "Friends of the Chair" are not being tasked with producing some kind of a Chair's - or Friends of the Chair's - text.
 
According to trade officials, members agreed with the Chair's assessment at the end of the week-long session.
 
Trade officials said that during the week, delegations adopted several revised texts emerging from the "facilitator-led process".
 
The improved language in areas such as publication, separation of release, penalties, appeals, perishable goods and e-payment, will be incorporated into the soon-to-be-released 15th revision of the draft consolidated negotiating text, they added. +

 


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