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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct13/08)
16  October 2013
Third World Network  

Pace still too slow, challenges remain to close gaps, says D-G
Published in SUNS #7673 dated  11 October 2013

Geneva, 10 Oct (Kanaga Raja) -- The pace of substantive advancement "is still far too slow for our Bali target... (and) significant challenges remain to close gaps on a number of important issues", WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo reported at a meeting of the General Council on Wednesday.
 
In his capacity as Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), Mr Azevedo stressed that more intensified engagement with required flexibility and urgency are needed.
 
Intensive consultations have been ongoing since early September on the three potential Bali issues of trade facilitation, some elements of agriculture and development/LDC issues.
 
Speaking following the TNC Chair's report, the Asian Group of developing countries stressed, among others, the importance of the issues of the S&D monitoring mechanism, simplified rules of origin for LDCs, public stockholding for food security, export competition and transparency in Tariff Rate Quota (TRQ) administration.
 
In his statement at the General Council meeting, the Director-General said that "we are approaching the moment of truth in our preparations for Bali". Overall, the discussions have been focused, precise and business-like, and delegations have been talking to one another in ways that members have not seen for a number of years.
 
"Trust has been growing, compromises suggested and flexibility is being shown. Clearly, the tenor to our negotiations has improved and I can say that delegations are in a solution finding mode. But, despite this suitable ambiance, the reality is that the pace of substantive advancement is still far too slow for our Bali target. Significant challenges remain to close gaps on a number of important issues."
 
Mr. Azevedo recalled that at the (TNC) meeting on 23 September, he had told members that "we must aim to conclude the main part of our negotiations in Geneva by the end of this month."
 
That was why last week, he had cautioned delegations that, "if we keep the current pace, we could miss our end of October goal to have all landing zones clearly identified."
 
According to the D-G, many of the issues where convergence is either very slow or non-existent are political. "At this late stage, what we urgently need are fresh instructions from Ministers, and instructions of the kind that move us towards convergence."
 
That is why last Monday he had sent a letter to all Ministers to emphasise the need for their immediate, personal and active engagement, and he has already had a positive response to this letter from a number of Ministers, Mr. Azevedo said.
 
[In his letter addressed to Trade Ministers, the Director-General had said that the fundamental significance of the Ministerial Conference for the WTO, its 159 Members and the multilateral trading system cannot be understated. The credibility of the WTO negotiating function is at stake and, by extension, the credibility of this organisation as a whole.
 
["This Ministerial Conference must send an unequivocal message to the world: the WTO can negotiate and deliver multilateral trade deals. The best way to send this message is to have a successful negotiated outcome at Bali in December," he had said.
 
[Noting that progress is not quick enough given the small amount of time that is left to put a deal together, he stressed that more flexibility on key negotiating issues is still needed. "This is why I now need your direct, personal involvement to ensure we can craft an acceptable Bali outcome. I have no doubt that such a deal is in sight, but only if you can give your Ambassadors and negotiators the new instructions they need to be able to reach agreement," he told the Ministers.
 
[On trade facilitation, the D-G informed Ministers that all the parts of the current draft text have been covered and seen some results. There are however, a number of topics that are not yet converging: customs cooperation; flexibilities for developing countries and LDCs and implementation plans; customs brokers; pre-shipment inspection; consularisation; and certain transit issues.
 
[On agriculture, he had said that there are signs of convergence on an interim solution - in the form of a ‘peace clause' - concerning the G-33 proposal on food stockholding, but the elements still need to be finalised; export competition remains a sensitive issue where there is a need to quickly find an acceptable way forward; the proposal on TRQ administration is considered as one that can realistically be part of a balanced outcome in Bali, "but I am troubled by continued differences on its Special and Differential treatment (S&D) aspects."
 
[On development, the D-G said that members have started to close some gaps on the Monitoring Mechanism for S&D provisions, but remaining gaps need to be urgently closed, including the Mechanism's relationship with relevant technical bodies. On LDC issues, he told Ministers that a landing zone needs to be found regarding the proposal on preferential rules of origin.
 
[On cotton and the implementation of the services waiver, he said that he has encouraged the LDCs to redouble their efforts to table their ideas quickly. "I can only emphasise the importance that we all need to attach to addressing the concerns of the poorest amongst us, including where duty free/quota free market access is concerned."
 
[In the letter to Ministers, the D-G had stressed: "I am firmly of the view that we must put this package together by early November at the latest. We cannot go to Bali with issues unresolved and texts full of square brackets. This would be a recipe for failure. So we must have a clear idea of landing zones and conclude the main parts of our negotiations by the end of October."]
 
In his statement at the General Council on Wednesday, Mr Azevedo said that in recent days, he has been continuing his outreach to Ministers, citing in this context, his attendance last weekend at the 25th APEC Ministerial Meeting in Bali. On his way back from Bali, he also had the opportunity to stop over in New Delhi for discussions with Indian Minister of Commerce Anand Sharma.
 
"These meetings provided a useful and timely opportunity to gauge the level of support and concern for our MC9 prospects. I must say I was deeply encouraged by the strong commitment from these Ministers to a successful Bali outcome. They understand what is at stake."
 
Furthermore, the D-G added, there was strong resolve by Ministers to instruct their negotiators to deliver an outcome within the timeframe he has set out, that is, in a matter of three weeks.
 
"It is clear that Ministers remain firmly committed to preserve the credibility of the multilateral trading system and its negotiating arm. I was also encouraged to hear the reaffirmation from Ministers that they continue to place development at the heart of the negotiations. They also continue to attach utmost importance to delivering convincing outcomes for LDCs."
 
As to the next steps, Mr Azevedo said that "from next Monday we will be entering the final stages of our Bali preparatory process - the moment of truth will have arrived."
 
He strongly urged members "to engage in intensive consultations with your capitals to ensure you are in a genuine solution-finding mode. I would also suggest that you start to clear out your diaries of evening and weekend engagements for the upcoming period so that you are able to devote maximum time and energy to securing the consensus we need."
 
He added: "I may be calling you unexpectedly and in short notice - alone or with others - depending on the hurdle we need to overcome. Starting next Monday, every hour is a working hour and every day is a working day."
 
According to trade officials, only three delegations took the floor following the D-G's statement, these being Nepal (on behalf of the LDCs), Jamaica (on behalf of the ACP Group) and Saudi Arabia (on behalf of the Asian Group of developing countries).
 
Nepal asked for the statement that it had made at an earlier TNC meeting to be read into the record.
 
[The TNC held two meetings in the month of September, one on 23 September and the other on 30 September. At the meeting on 30 September, Nepal had, amongst others, laid stress on a balanced package, saying that the Bali outcome cannot serve the interests of some members and leave others, especially the most vulnerable, behind, and that it should be the result of balanced progress on all pillars. It had also underlined that LDC issues should be given priority, and that Bali will have no meaning if it does not deliver for the LDCs. (See SUNS #7666 dated 2 October 2013).]
 
According to trade officials, Saudi Arabia said that there must be a balanced Bali package across the three issues.
 
It stressed the importance of getting agreement on the S&D monitoring mechanism, on simplification of rules of origin for LDCs, on public stockholding for food security, on export competition, on transparency in TRQ administration and on trade facilitation.
 
Getting agreement on a Bali package is absolutely essential and members cannot afford to miss an opportunity to get trade and development back on track, it added.
 
Jamaica said that it shared the D-G's sobering assessment, adding that while the ACP Group welcomes the progress to date, it recognises the need to accelerate the work.
 
Under the agenda item of the ninth session of the Ministerial Conference, the Chair of the General Council, Ambassador Shahid Bashir of Pakistan, said that the Council must fulfil its standing obligation to undertake an overview of WTO activities (where all the chairs submit documents that go to the ministerial conference and that these report to ministers on what has been going on in that particular committee or council.)
 
According to trade officials, the Chair said that these annual reports are the main vehicles through which the WTO bodies report to ministers, and that these annual reports will be considered by the Council so that they can be forwarded to the ministerial conference.
 
With respect to the roster of non-Bali-package issues to be taken up, trade officials said that the Chair highlighted the seven issues from MC8 (in 2011) - TRIPS non-violation complaints, E-Commerce, Work Programme on Small Economies, the LDC transition period under the TRIPS Agreement, the accession of the LDCs, the services waiver for LDCs, and the Trade Policy Review Mechanism.
 
The Chair said that work is fully on track in all of these areas, noting that the TRIPS non-violation moratorium expires at MC9 and that the (TRIPS) chair has been having intensive consultations on this.
 
According to trade officials, he also said that on E-Commerce, he will continue consultations (former Deputy D-G Harsha Singh was in charge of the negotiations before leaving office end September) to try and finalise a draft ministerial decision that was agreed ad referendum on 25 September and prepare it for transmission to Bali.
 
Meanwhile, trade officials said that there is still no consensus as yet on the participation of International Governmental Organisations (IGOs) at MC9, adding that the General Council Chair is continuing to work on this.
 
The IGOs that have already been approved so far for MC9 are the International Trade Centre (ITC), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), trade officials added.

 


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