Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec13/02)
2 December 2013
Third World Network
Azevedo reports to General Council on Bali issues
Published in SUNS #7705 dated 27 November 2013
Geneva, 26 Nov (Kanaga Raja) -- Following weeks of intensive negotiations
on a potential package of Bali ‘deliverables', the WTO Director-General
on Tuesday reported that the Bali Ministerial Conference will not
have a set of finalised documents "that could allow the ministers
to announce to the world a set of multilaterally agreed outcomes -
the first since the WTO was created."
At a General Council meeting, D-G Mr Roberto Azevedo said that he
will inform the ministers (at Bali) that "we have failed to find
convergence. I will tell them that we came truly close to a successful
outcome, but that, once more, the finish line eluded us."
He said that his recommendation in light of the nature and shape of
the documents before members, "is that I would recommend that
the General Council takes note of the documents which I would simply
use to brief ministers on the state of play as of now - but not as
agreed texts for adoption."
Speaking to journalists at the General Council meeting, Ambassador
Faizel Ismail of South Africa was of the view that (the Bali meeting)
was not a conducive environment for ministers to negotiate because
it's a politically charged environment with the whole glare of the
public and "if we can't solve problems here, we're even more
unlikely to solve problems in a ministerial setting such as Bali."
He further said that there are a complex set of issues that members
are dealing with here. Some have to do with the impasse that has been
continuing for so many years and these have to do with both objective
and subjective factors.
According to a trade diplomat, members that spoke at the General Council
meeting had differing views as to whether negotiations on a Bali package
should continue among ministers at the Ministerial Conference.
At a media briefing Tuesday, D-G Azevedo said that members managed
to make progress in a large number of very difficult areas and there
are ten texts that cover the three pillars - trade facilitation, development
He said that it is his assessment, that he gave to members at the
General Council, "we have good news and we have bad news. The
good news is that we came really close to fully agreed texts. As far
as the Geneva process is concerned, we managed to get convergence
in almost all areas."
He said that the bad news, however, "is that over the last few
days, we've stopped making the tough political calls, positions got
more entrenched and flexibilities virtually disappeared. And this
prevented us from getting to the finish line. We're close but not
According to the D-G, what remains to be negotiated is not something
that can be easily managed by the ministers in Bali. "Holding
negotiations in the short time that we're going to have in Bali would
be simply impracticable with over 100 ministers around the table."
Moreover, he added, many members had, even before the General Council
meeting today, expressed the view that they don't see Bali as a place
"Not for Ministerial negotiations in the traditional sense. And
I agree with them. It would not be feasible. It would not be successful.
We're not going to Bali with a set of finalised documents that could
allow ministers to announce to the world that the WTO finally delivered.
At this point in time, we cannot tell the world that. I will simply
inform the ministers that we have failed to find convergence in Geneva.
I would tell them that we came truly close to a successful outcome
but once more the finish line eluded us," he said.
The reality is that "... we have proved that we can't cross the
final yard here in Geneva. The process here is over. We are in a new
stage now. I will be consulting members. I would do everything I can
do to facilitate the discussions of the members. But now it is up
for them to find the solution that we all want. It is for the ministers
to decide. They will be in Bali. If we are to get this deal over the
line, we will need political engagement and political will. Ministers
will have to decide what kind of future they want to see both for
the issues which are on the table today and for the WTO."
In response to a question, Mr Azevedo said that the process here in
Geneva is over. "If we had more weeks here in Geneva, we would
not do it. If we are to find an outcome - if members want to find
an outcome for Bali - it will have to have political will, and it
will have to have a different way of engagement other than the traditional
negotiations in Geneva. So, this has to go to a higher level. At the
ambassador level - the technical level - this is as good as it gets.
At this point in time, it requires political calls..."
In his report to the General Council, as Chair of the TNC, Mr Azevedo
noted that in recent weeks, members have completed over 150 hours
of negotiations in rooms W, D and E meetings alone.
"I believe we achieved a lot and we did so hearing all voices
and allowing for a process where everyone knew what was happening
and where the trade-offs were accessible to all. More than that, each
one of you had a chance to defend your national interests to the fullest
He added: "As a result of your effort and engagement, we managed
to conclude negotiations in a large number of difficult and sensitive
Referring to the set of documents that was circulated to the members
in the morning, the D-G said that these ten texts were negotiated
as a package, and that members made compromises and showed flexibility
with the understanding that their contributions would be reciprocated
in other areas of the negotiation.
The ten texts are Agriculture General Services, Public Stockholding
for Food Security Purposes, Export Competition and Tariff Rate Quota
Administration under the agriculture pillar; the Draft Trade Facilitation
Agreement; and five documents under the Development/LDC pillar: Monitoring
Mechanism on Special and Differential Treatment, Duty-Free and Quota-Free
Market Access for LDCs, Preferential Rules of Origin for LDCs, Cotton,
and Operationalisation of the Waiver Concerning Preferential Treatment
to Services and Service Suppliers of LDCs.
"As you know, we have not finished our work in all negotiating
areas and, therefore, none of these texts could be understood to be
fully agreed. Each one of them has a square bracket at the beginning
of the text and another at the end," said Mr Azevedo. "These
documents before you are simply a snapshot of where we are at this
point in time. They consolidate the progress we made so far..."
"Since we will not have further open-ended meetings between now
and Bali, the documents will not be revised," said the D-G.
"I nonetheless encourage Members to continue seeking convergence
wherever this is possible. Any further results will be taken to Bali
and may be incorporated in the consolidated texts at the appropriate
He said that in his assessment, "after the hard effort we put
into the negotiations, we have good news and bad news."
"The good news is that we came very close to fully agreed texts.
As far as the Geneva process is concerned, we managed to get convergence
in almost all areas. Except for the Trade Facilitation text, the other
documents are entirely or mostly clean of square brackets. They are
not agreed texts but they are ‘stable'."
"Even in Section II of the Trade Facilitation text - our largest
iceberg until a couple of days ago - is now virtually ‘clean'. We
still need to conclude work on some of the provisions for LDCs, but
otherwise we have a stable and finalised text," he said.
"I'm afraid the same cannot be said of Section I. We cleaned
much of the text but some issues remain unresolved. I don't think
the challenges in those issues are insurmountable, On the contrary,
I believe the landing zones are discernable to us."
The bad news however, said the D-G, "is that over the last few
days, we stopped making the tough political calls. And this prevented
us from getting to the finish line. We are indeed close, but not quite
there," he said.
What remains to be negotiated is not something that can be easily
managed by the ministers in Bali. "Although we can discern the
landing zones in most - if not all - of the pending issues, the bracketed
areas are too many and too technical in nature."
"Holding negotiations in the short time we'll have in Bali would
be simply impractical with over 100 ministers around the table. I
don't believe that small negotiating meetings behind locked doors
would do the trick either. Anyway, they are not an option. Even at
this critical juncture, I don't believe Members would be ready to
abandon the transparent and inclusive nature of our negotiations."
Moreover, he said, many Members expressly stated that Bali must not
be a negotiating Ministerial Conference.
"I agree with them. It would not be feasible. It would not be
successful. We are not going to Bali with a set of finalised documents
that could allow the ministers to announce to the world a set of multilaterally
agreed outcomes - the first since the WTO was created."
He added: "At this point in time we cannot tell the world that
we've delivered. And I will inform the ministers that we have failed
to find convergence. I will tell them that we came truly close to
a successful outcome, but that, once more, the finish line eluded
us. Failure in Bali will have grave consequences for the multilateral
Above all, said the D-G, "we should not accept the inevitable
simplistic assessments that will show up over the next few days about
why we are at an impasse. This is not about developed versus developing
countries. This not a North -South divide."
He added: "This is also not about lack of time. If we had a few
more weeks, we would still not make it. Over the last few days I began
to see signs of backtracking and inflexibility. Time would not remedy
Again, this is not about a North-South divide. This is not about shortness
of time, he said, stressing that this is about specific, localised
difficulties. All of them perfectly workable if the will is there.
The landing zones are reachable.
"But we have proved we can't cross that final yard with normal
negotiating practices. No, we are in a new stage now. The final few
steps must be taken together by members. You will need to talk to
each other over the next few days, to figure out a way forward."
"If we are to get this deal over the line it will need political
engagement - and political will. Ministers will need to decide what
future they want to see - both for the issues on the table here today
- and for the WTO."
"We have reached the end of the process in Geneva. We have come
as far as we can," said Mr Azevedo.
Meanwhile, in its statement at the General Council meeting, South
Africa (represented by Ambassador Faizel Ismail) said that it was
disappointed that the Bali Package has not been concluded.
"Fortunately, we have not been part of the narrative that a failure
to conclude such a package will be fatal to the organisation and the
multilateral trading system. We were not part of the ‘all or nothing'
approach adopted by some."
The reasons for this are simple, it said, adding that the WTO was
and continues to be in crisis - due to the prolonged impasse in the
Doha Round. The main reason for this, in its view, is the high and
unrealistic demands of some members.
"The failure of the Bali package must also lie in its construction.
In the wake of the prolonged impasse in the Doha Round, and LDC-plus
approach to an early harvest favoured by the majority of members became
substituted by a TF-plus approach. Whilst we agreed at several ministerial
and TNC meetings to have balance between 3 pillars that made up the
Bali package: Development and LDC issues; Agriculture issues; and
Trade Facilitation; the final texts are clearly imbalanced."
According to South Africa, the LDC pillar remains weak, postponing
the legitimate demands of the poorest countries into promises of delivery
in the future; the Agriculture pillar contains temporal solutions
that expire in a few years and create an opt-out clause for the largest
economy; and the monitoring mechanism meant to provide creative solutions
for developing country concerns may be more restrictive than the existing
Committee on Trade and Development.
On the other hand, it said, the proposed TF text has become expansive
and extensive containing many new obligations for developing countries
and uncertainties on the delivery of assistance remaining in the text.
South Africa said that its instructions from its Minister Rob Davies
are clear. "Don't bring these texts, especially the highly technically
complex and heavily bracketed TF text to Bali for Ministers to negotiate."
It said that its past experience clearly indicates that Ministerial
Meetings do not offer a conducive environment for negotiations: they
are highly politicised forums, under the full glare of global attention.
It is not the place where Members show flexibilities but positions
harden under the pressure of stakeholders and NGOs.
In its intervention, (according to a text made available outside)
Indian ambassador Mr. Jayant Dasgupta told the General Council that
it shared the D-G's sombre assessment of the situation and the implications
of the failure to deliver a Bali package.
As the D-G had said, India fully agreed with his view that none of
the texts, quite apart from the incomplete TF final draft, has been
fully agreed upon and that each of these texts has one square bracket
at the beginning and one at the end.
As the DG has stated, many delegations have asked for adjustments
to these texts and because of the shortage of time to engage with
the rest of the members on these adjustments, these could not be discussed
or incorporated in the draft texts. These adjustments to the draft
texts would have to be taken up before they can be given final shape.
In this backdrop, India said, Members have to take a pragmatic look
at the various options before us. Most members agreed that Bali should
not be a negotiating Ministerial. At the same time, Members have to
be pragmatic about what can be achieved in the few days remaining
before Bali. Work still remains to be done and some divergences continue
among members on important issues, and members must take a call on
whether they would like to place the unresolved issues before our
Ministers in Bali.
India has not given up hope, and would be willing to join in efforts
to harvest at least those outcomes at Bali which benefit the poorest
countries, and would also be more than willing to join in any effort
before Bali, to close the gaps in the Trade Facilitation text.
Ambassador Dasgupta added: "An equal, if not more important issue
which has been neglected in our work so far is that of the post-Bali
agenda and work programme. The unfinished Doha Agenda must continue
to be the main focus in the post-Bali phase and getting the Ministers
to exchange ideas on how to make this possible, would be extremely
valuable. India remains ready to engage constructively to ensure a