TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Nov13/03)
13 November 2013
Third World Network  

D-G voices concerns over divergences on Bali issues
Published in SUNS #7688 dated  4 November 2013 

Geneva, 1 Nov (Kanaga Raja) - The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Mr Roberto Azevedo, voiced concern over divergences on several key issues in the package of potential deliverables for the Bali ministerial conference, despite there being engagement and members having made progress.

According to trade officials, this assessment was provided by Mr Azevedo at an informal meeting of the General Council on Friday.

A somewhat more upbeat assessment had been given by the Director-General at an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) last Friday (25 October), when he had said that "significant progress" had been made in all three areas - trade facilitation, some elements of agriculture and development/LDC issues - of the proposed Bali package, and that the finish line is "clear and it is in sight" (see SUNS #7684 dated 29 October 2013).

Trade officials said that on the issue of trade facilitation (TF), gaps still persist in a number of areas. Members have not been able to square the relationship between Section I (on commitments) and Section II (on S&D provisions) of the draft consolidated TF negotiating text, they added.

There were also many other areas in TF such as customs cooperation, advanced rulings and customs brokers which have not been resolved yet, they said.

There also remain differences of opinion on the key issues in the agriculture and development pillars, said trade officials.

Trade officials said that the discussions at the informal General Council meeting were largely on technical issues such as what kind of an outcome document will emerge from Bali.

According to trade officials, the Director-General told the informal General Council meeting that we have made real progress in recent weeks and that there has been a lot of engagement. He believed that it could be done, but we are not there yet.

Significant gaps remain, he said, adding that he does not know if we will be successful in delivering a multilateral agreement in Bali. It is still doable but we are not yet there, he said.

According to trade officials, the D-G pointed to two scenarios, one in which we don't have deliverables and we have very little time left. He noted that we can't negotiate an outcome in Bali as there is not enough time for this, and we would have a factual Chair's statement.

According to the D-G, people would see this as a failure and as the end of the Doha Round and there would be little prospect of members getting the Doha negotiations back on track anytime soon. Some would say that it would be damaging to the negotiating function.

On the second scenario of having deliverables, he said that members would have seized the opportunity and sent a message to the world that the WTO is back in business.

We could then have a consensual ministerial declaration that sends a very positive message, he said, adding that it would have to be as short and simple as possible and it might have three things - the regular work, the Bali package (the three pillars) and something about a positive message about the future of the multilateral trading system.

Something about the DDA (Doha Development Agenda) could signal our intentions to explore and address non-DDA issues, which are not yet part of the regular work. But it is premature at this stage to go into too much detail because we don't know what we are going to have, the D-G said.

He further said that the question now is whether we can make calls on what we are going to do next and how to translate these into texts, adding that it is going to be members who will be making the calls.

According to trade officials, the D-G had serious concerns about the degree of convergence in certain areas, and the window of opportunity closing. The next week was going to be critical. Future trade-offs need to be identified in the next few days, he stressed.

He said that on Monday (11 November), he will be sitting down with the General Council Chair, the Deputy D-Gs and the other Chairs to make an assessment of whether the Bali package is achievable and that he plans to render his assessment at a TNC meeting (on 12 November).

He will be focusing his work on trade facilitation because that is where there are the most issues that need to be resolved, also adding that there is need to make sure that all of the issues move forward in unison towards convergence and that this has to happen next week.

We have to find the landing zone and the plane is nearly out of fuel, he concluded.

Also at the informal meeting, the General Council Chair, Ambassador Shahid Bashir of Pakistan, said that MC9 is less than five weeks away and that the time has come to bring all the work together.

The annual reports from the General Council's subsidiary bodies are being finalised, he said, adding that most of them have already been adopted. These annual reports are the main vehicle through which WTO bodies report to ministers. All of these will go to the General Council for its approval and transmission (to MC9).

(Trade officials said that no date has been set as yet for the General Council meeting.)

On the mandates of ministers from MC8 (the last ministerial conference held in Geneva in 2011), the General Council Chair said that work is on track, and in some cases, they point to action from ministers.

Several delegations spoke at the informal General Council meeting.

According to trade officials, Morocco (on behalf of the African Group) said that for the African Group, there is only one scenario, that of success at Bali. At no point has it envisaged failure, and that it does not take on the failure or disaster scenario.

The African Group will be constructive and pragmatic, it said, adding that it is not only the Bali package that is at stake but the future of the multilateral trading negotiations and of the DDA. If we miss this opportunity, the organisation will be hit, it said.

It said that time is short and that political will is needed. The outcome in Bali is one on which the future of the organisation hinges.

Cuba voiced hope for success in Bali, but stressed that the development objectives cannot be relinquished. There must be a balanced solution at Bali. While it has seen progress over the last two months, we are however not at a position yet where the result is balanced.

It would like to see that any outcome that is anchored, be anchored in the development objectives, and that any work programme must be multilateral in nature.

The issues of implementation must be taken into account, and there must be an inclusive process over the course of the next week or ten days. There cannot be a situation where texts are imposed on other members, it said.

Immediate solutions must be offered for LDCs, especially duty-free quota-free market access for LDC products (DFQF) and cotton, said Cuba, adding that these have been issues that have been on the agenda for a very long time.

Barbados agreed that there is a lot of work to do, but asked shouldn't members be having more in-depth discussions on the post-Bali work programme. Is it going to be ministers who will take this up, and should it not be ambassadors who should be doing this, it further asked.

According to trade officials, India said that the D-G has painted a realistic but sombre picture.

We know that there will be a very heavy price to pay for the membership, the organisation and the multilateral trade negotiations, India said, adding that they will all suffer without a successful outcome at Bali.

It supported what the African Group coordinator had said, adding that there is need to work very hard in terms of finding solutions.

According to India, one of the questions (before the TNC meeting on 12 November) will be how do we put together all the elements of the trade facilitation discussion. It added that there is need to talk about what kind of document we are going to have and how these disparate parts of Trade Facilitation, agriculture and development come together.