TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb14/02)
17 February 2014
Third World Network

WTO D-G highlights tasks for post-Bali work this year
Published in SUNS #7738 Friday 7 February 2014

Geneva, 6 Feb (Kanaga Raja) -- The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Thursday pointed to two significant tasks before the membership following the conclusion of the Bali Ministerial Conference last December.

At the first informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) this year, D-G Roberto Azevedo, in his capacity as TNC Chair, said that first and foremost, is the need to implement the decisions and agreements reached in Bali, while the second is to prepare a clearly defined work programme on the remaining Doha Development Agenda (DDA) issues by the end of 2014.

"These two tasks will form the bulk of our work over the course of this year," he added. "And we should remember that the Bali Declaration instructs that those areas where decisions were non-binding in nature must be a priority in our post-Bali work. We must keep a relentless focus on these issues. So the real work starts now," said the D-G.

A number of delegations voiced their views on the post-Bali work following the TNC Chair's statement, with both the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) stressing on the importance of a transparent and inclusive process.

In his statement at the informal TNC meeting, D-G Azevedo, focusing on the issue of implementation of the Bali package, said: "The true significance of the Bali results, and the tangible realisation of their benefits, will only be achieved as a result of the actions that you, the Members, take over the coming months.

This is an important test for the system - and one which we must pass if we want to
move forward and see the benefits of Bali made real."

Noting that the Bali package consists of ten ministerial decisions, the TNC Chair then proceeded to highlight the actions that would be needed to implement each of
those decisions.

On trade facilitation, Mr Azevedo noted that the first meeting of the Preparatory Committee was convened on 31 January, and that a chair has been elected. The Preparatory Committee will swiftly commence the execution of the tasks Ministers gave it in Bali - specifically to ensure the entry into force of the Trade Facilitation Agreement and prepare for its efficient operation, he said.

He also noted that the agreement also calls on the Committee to carry out three immediate tasks: undertaking a legal review of the Agreement; drafting a protocol of amendment to include the Trade Facilitation Agreement in Annex IA of the WTO Agreement; and receiving notifications of Category A commitments.

"Our ability to move the whole of the WTO agenda forward hinges on our ability to fulfil the promises to provide timely and effective technical assistance and capacity building wherever it is demanded by developing and least-developed countries."

To help those countries make full use of the flexibilities set out in Section II (of the TF agreement), and to facilitate preparations for the Agreement's entry into force, the D-G said that the Secretariat will continue its needs assessment program.

"But in addition there is an imperative on developing members to identify what support they need as early as possible," he said.

The D-G also pointed to the three Bali decisions on agriculture, namely, export competition, Tariff Rate Quota (TRQ) administration, and public stockholding for food security purposes.

On public stockholding for food security purposes, Mr Azevedo said that the monitoring activity of the Committee on Agriculture will again depend on how Members decide to push this monitoring agenda.

On the Development and LDC issues, the D-G said that the adoption of an LDC package was a key achievement of the Bali Ministerial - representing a significant step forward towards better integration of LDCs into the multilateral trading system.

"But, here too, Bali represents a beginning, not an end. A significant amount of effort is needed to convert these decisions into concrete gains for the LDCs."

On the operationalisation of the services waiver, he said that the LDCs will need to table their collective request as soon as possible.

"This will kick-start the process, leading towards the high level meeting at which Members will indicate if, and in what areas, they are prepared to give preferential access to LDCs. In parallel, the Council for Trade in Services is convening an informal meeting to discuss the operationalisation of the waiver."

On duty-free quota-free market access (DFQF), the D-G said that Members will need to notify their DFQF schemes and any other relevant changes that they may have adopted.

"In my view, the LDCs should be pursuing this issue in the Committee on Trade and Development. Of course, all members have a responsibility here, and the Secretariat will be on hand to support the process, but the demandeurs must keep up the pressure," he said.

He added that the same goes for the last decision in the LDC package which is on preferential rules of origin. "Members have concrete guidelines before them to make further improvements to their LDC preference schemes."

On the monitoring mechanism on special and differential treatment, the TNC Chair said that Members will take this forward through a Dedicated Session of the Committee on Trade and Development.

The D-G also highlighted those items that were held over from Bali for example, the Cancun 28 proposals and the six Agreement-specific proposals.

He said that these items are under active consideration in the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development and this work will need to be picked up as soon as possible.

On the issue of cotton, Mr Azevedo said that he understands that informal consultations are underway to call a meeting of the Director-General's Consultative Mechanism. "And that meeting would likely be held back-to-back with a dedicated discussion on cotton in a meeting of the Committee on Agriculture in order that we can move this issue forward."

With respect to the DDA work programme, the D-G pointed to the need to get talks going again and prepare a clearly defined work program on the remaining DDA issues by the end of 2014.

Noting that he has begun some early consultations on these issues, the D-G said: "I think that in order to look forward, we must also look back. We must learn from the mistakes of the past - and also, now, from the success in Bali. Bali offered us a number of good lessons in how to be successful multilaterally."

"But I believe it will be very difficult to replicate the approach where we avoided the core issues - agriculture, industrial goods, services - and found harvests elsewhere. Most likely, any future multilateral engagement will require outcomes in agriculture. This was a central pillar of the DDA and, if agriculture comes into play, then so do the other two legs of the tripod: industrial goods and services," he added.

He further said: "We may even conclude that we're not yet ready to properly tackle these three areas, but we can't avoid the conversation. Even though we can't replicate Bali precisely, there are lessons learned that we must keep in mind. Our dialogue about the future is just beginning, but I believe that some parameters seem to be already framing this conversation."

He proceeded to lay out these parameters, as he perceived them, the first being that "development has to be preserved as the central pillar of our efforts. Above
all, we must have tangible results for the poorest members. This remains a
development round."

Second, he said, "is that we must be realistic and focus on those things which are doable. Instead of abstract goals, let's look at what we can do and set goals that are reachable. Members have to be honest with each other and with their domestic constituencies about what can realistically be expected from the negotiations. We must find a balance between ambition and realism."

According to the D-G, the third parameter is that the big issues in the DDA are inter-connected, and therefore they must be tackled together. So, again, as it was in Bali, balance is key.

"We must find an approach in which all members contribute and all members benefit. And, again, where no one is faced with impossible demands. Bali worked because all members wanted it. Everyone has to see themselves in the issues on the table."

Fourth, in order to make headway in these areas, "we must be ready to be creative and keep an open mind to new ideas that may allow members to overcome the most critical and fundamental stumbling blocks. This creativity, however, has to be coherent with the DDA mandate, which is flexible enough to accommodate new paths. Let me [be] very clear about this: I am not proposing changing the DDA mandate - quite the opposite really."

Fifth, said the D-G, the process must continue to be inclusive and transparent, engaging all members at all stages of the negotiations. This was a very important factor in Bali.

"Sixth, our efforts must have a sense of urgency. This was an essential element of the success in Bali. We must be careful, however, not to rush recklessly into another cycle of failures due to bad planning. We cannot afford to wait another 18 years for a result."

"Finally, I think that, as well as being open-minded to new ideas, we should also
be open-minded about how far-reaching our next steps will be," said Mr Azevedo.

"Of course what we want to do is to find a path towards conclusion of the round. It may be that it can be done in one step - or we may need more than one step. Again, that is something that we have to discuss. But whatever we do we will always be moving in one direction - and that is towards the conclusion of the Round," he added.

As time is of the essence, the D-G said that he has asked the Chairs of the Negotiating Groups to start a dialogue with members on issues that we may be able to take forward - using these parameters as a guide for discussions.

He said that he does not intend to impose any strict time-frame on this initial process, but that he has asked the negotiating chairs to feed back with some initial thoughts and findings from their consultations, if possible at the General Council on 14 March.

"Bali represents not just a huge achievement for all of us - but also a huge opportunity. There is real political momentum and we must build on it. The work has only just begun. 2014 should be the year that we implement our first negotiated outcomes - and the year that the Doha round is put back on track. It will not be easy, but it is achievable," the D-G concluded.