Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar14/05)
Geneva, 18 Mar (Kanaga Raja) - The centrality of agriculture and development in the post-Bali work programme as well as the importance of concluding the Doha Round as a single undertaking were highlighted by developing countries at a meeting of the General Council on 14 March.
Developing countries also stressed that the December 2008 draft modalities texts (or Rev.4 texts) on agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA) should be the basis for future work.
These views came in their statements under the agenda item of the report by the Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC).
In his statement as TNC chair, Director-General Roberto Azevedo, amongst other remarks, had said that the first quarter of 2014 "is almost behind us" and that in "the space of just nine months, we must complete this work."
Urging Members to redouble their efforts, Mr Azevedo had said that he will convene a meeting of the TNC on 7 April to report on further progress. (See SUNS #7764 dated 17 March 2014.)
A number of delegations spoke following the report by the TNC Chair.
According to trade officials, Bolivia said that the Bali result was unbalanced against the interests of developing countries and this cannot be repeated. Development must be the central priority, and that agriculture has to be at the centre of any upcoming decisions in the near future.
It said that the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) agriculture work should be the pillar of these negotiations, and the level of ambition here will set the tone and other (levels of) ambition must be commensurate with what progress is seen in agriculture.
Bolivia said that it does not support any future ‘early harvests' and that the single undertaking is the only way to ensure that developing country concerns are adequately addressed. Before turning to any new issues, the twentieth century problems that are part of the Doha mandate must be taken up first, it added.
Lesotho (on behalf of the African Group) said that although there was an important agreement reached at the ninth ministerial conference in Bali, it is very important that Members live up to the commitments made, particularly those going beyond trade facilitation that are non-binding in nature.
It said that the work programme must give priority to these pending Bali issues. It is also very important for Members to take into account the amount of time that is ahead of them and not to delay until the eleventh hour to make progress on these issues.
Agriculture has to be at the centre of the DDA work programme and the process that is employed must involve the key principles that have been the basis for the work pre-Bali, said the African Group.
With respect to the December 2008 draft modalities texts (on agriculture and NAMA), the African Group said that thousands of hours have gone into them, and that is why they should be the principal basis on which Members go forward.
On trade facilitation, the African Group said that there has been good progress made so far but it is very important that developing countries are assisted in determining their needs assessments. They will also need technical assistance to update existing needs assessments. This is particularly the case with Category B and Category C commitments in Section II (on S&D provisions) of the Trade Facilitation Agreement.
[According to the Trade Facilitation Agreement, Category B contains provisions that a developing country Member or a least developed country Member designates for implementation on a date after a transitional period of time following the entry into force of this Agreement. Category C contains provisions that a developing country Member or a least developed country Member designates for implementation on a date after a transitional period of time following the entry into force of this Agreement and requiring the acquisition of implementation capacity through the provision of assistance and support for capacity-building.]
The African Group further said that the rules that have been laid out in Section II and access to technical assistance which is critical to that, must be extended to those developing countries that are in the accession queue. Section II should not be used as a barrier to universal membership.
The African Group said that the principle of the single undertaking should be adhered to in word and deed. While trade liberalisation is obviously important, it cannot in of itself deliver the development promise, it added.
Cuba supported Bolivia, and said that priority should be given to the pending Bali issues, adding that there should be a transparent, inclusive and bottom-up approach.
It stressed that the single undertaking must be at the heart of the work, and that agriculture and development are the central issues. On trade facilitation, it said that the guidelines that were laid out by Ministers (at Bali) must be followed.
It was discouraged that some Members are putting forward a plurilateral agenda, noting that in Room W (at the WTO) recently, a small group of countries had given updates on the TISA (Trade in Services Agreement) negotiations while encouraging others to join. It rejects the plurilateral initiative, like all other plurilateral initiatives.
Indonesia (on behalf of the G-33) said that it wants a transparent, inclusive and bottom-up process. It also wants agriculture to be at the centre of the post-Bali work programme.
It believed that food security, livelihood security and rural development should be at the centre. It further believed that implementing the Doha mandate means doing it through the single undertaking.
The December 2008 draft agriculture modalities text should be the basis of future work, said the G-33, adding that there is need for a permanent solution for food security and public stockholding.
There is also need to address as rapidly as possible the issues of trade-distorting domestic support and export competition in developed countries, it further said.
Kenya (on behalf of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group) said that Members must not devote all of their resources to the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement alone. It would like attention paid to other Bali issues apart from trade facilitation this year that were of importance to developing countries.
It stressed that the single undertaking must be applied not only for the DDA but also for the Bali package, binding and non-binding issues alike. Development, agriculture and LDC issues were of great importance to the ACP Group.
It would like to see the December 2008 draft modalities texts as the basis for future work in the post-Bali work programme.
The ACP Group took note of the work in the Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation, saying that it noted that the work of the Committee comes under the General Council, and that what should be taken into account in the Committee's work are the capacity constraints of developing countries, as well as the consensus rule.
Uganda (on behalf of the Least Developed Countries) welcomed the Bali outcome, noting that while the non-binding outcomes for LDCs were important, a lot of work remains to be done.
On the question of the services waiver, it is very important that developed countries are working to improve the access for LDC services providers so that they can be given the capacity to do business in developed country markets through extended preferences which have real commercial value and economic benefits for LDCs, it said.
Uganda said that there is need to ensure that Section II of the Trade Facilitation Agreement is one which addresses LDC interests that pertain particularly to needs assessments and that this is something where the Enhanced Integrated Framework has been very important in helping to assess these needs.
It also said that acceding LDCs should have greater certainty and clarity with respect to Section II of the Trade Facilitation Agreement and that the technical assistance elements of Section II should be extended to acceding LDCs as well as LDC members.
Uganda also pointed to what it said is a contradictory message in terms of plurilateral issues - the triumph of multilateralism at Bali but at the same time there is an energetic pace of plurilateral and regional agreements, many of which account for 70 percent or more of global trade.
There is no understating the potential damage these agreements could bring to the LDCs, it added.
On the Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation, it said that there should be technical assistance extended to fund participation of capital-based officials in the meetings of the committee. It welcomed a pledge from the European Union in this regard.
It also said that the single undertaking should be the guiding principle, with development as the central pillar. Efforts should be made to take into account the resource-constraints of LDCs.
Brazil (on behalf of the G-20) said that the post-Bali work programme must focus on the implementation of the Doha development mandate which is centred on agriculture.
For too long, it said, agriculture has been left behind and it is high time that the distortions that are prevalent in agriculture trade are addressed, and that the level of ambition that comes in agriculture will be the key determinant for determining the level of ambition in other elements, and they will be the benchmark for the landing zones everywhere.
The December 2008 draft modalities text (Rev.4 text) should be the basis for the work, said the G-20.
Jordan (on behalf of the Arab Group) welcomed the Bali package, saying that the package while important, did not fully take into account the Arab Group's needs. The WTO needs to fulfill the mandate of the Doha Round to deliver on real development outcomes.
The single undertaking must be employed, as must a transparent and inclusive process, it said, adding that no new issues should be put on the table before concluding the DDA. The new issues could be discussed in other formats, such as workshops and seminars, but the idea that new issues will be taken up before the Doha Round is concluded is unacceptable, it added.
The Arab Group stressed that agriculture is central and that without an agriculture outcome, there will not be additional successes like what Members had in Bali. Food security and public stockholding should be prioritised. The issues of export competition and cotton should also be prioritised.
On the Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation, the Arab Group said that Members need to address concerns about Section II of the Trade Facilitation Agreement.
Nigeria supported the African Group, the ACP, the G-33 and the G-20 statements. It expressed hope that the momentum launched in Bali will be sustained. It agreed that implementation as well as a clearly defined work programme for the DDA are important.
It called on all Members to adhere to the MC9 (ninth ministerial conference) mandate for the Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation. The Rev.4 texts should be the basis for discussions going forward on agriculture and NAMA. There is need for a balanced outcome across all the issues and the process must be conducted in a transparent and inclusive way, it said.
Chinese Taipei (on behalf of the Recently Acceded Members) said that the multilateral trading system is the central means for regulating and liberalising global trade, and this means that the DDA needs to be concluded. But there is need for flexibility and to look at all possible approaches.
The development dimension is the central pillar, it said, adding that in view of the extensive contributions made by the recently acceded members, they must be given a degree of flexibility and this must be given due consideration.
The issues of agriculture, NAMA and services should be treated together and the Rev.4 texts should be the basis for future work in agriculture and NAMA, it said.
Pakistan said that the path ahead must take into account progress already made, and that the transparent and inclusive nature of the pre-Bali work needs to be continued.
The LDC issues must be prioritised, and that the issues of agriculture and development are central, it said, voicing agreement with the statements of the G-33 and the G-20.
The Solomon Islands endorsed the LDC and ACP statements. Members must make some tough decisions, now that they have achieved success in Bali. While the outcome at Bali was important, it was far from delivering everything that was needed.
There is need for permanent and binding solutions in areas of importance to LDCs, including Duty-Free Quota-Free (DFQF) market access (for LDC products) to rich country markets as well as the services waiver, it said.
On trade facilitation, it called for a simple and transparent mechanism for the delivery of technical assistance.
According to trade officials, India endorsed the African Group, ACP, LDC statements as well as the G-20 and G-33 statements. It said that there are a couple of things that people need to consider. It agreed that Members have to be flexible, but they have to be flexible all around, and that this has to be the approach to the level of ambition.
Then there is also the whole question of whether there is a single undertaking or an early harvest, and where do Members start from, it said. Do Members start from the December 2008 draft modalities texts or do they use the 2011 texts, it asked.
Members need to approach the rationale for moving forward in a low-key setting, it said, adding that there is need to conclude the Doha Development Agenda in one go.
South Africa said that it had read the speech by the Director-General to the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington and that the D-G was right about US leadership. Certainly, US leadership was instrumental in the creation of the multilateral trading system as well as the Bretton Woods Institutions, it said.
It noted that the US was also the driving force behind each of the previous trade rounds, adding that for developing countries, this experience has been mixed. Agriculture was excluded from the GATT rounds at the initiation of the US and due to the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union.
In addition, said South Africa, the issue of textiles was largely sidelined and the multi-fibre arrangement was put in place, which was not exactly a system of opening trade.
It said that the Uruguay Round went some way to addressing these problems but many writers would say that the situation now - the rules of the WTO - remain unbalanced, hence, the importance of the DDA in redressing this (situation).
Bali was important on many levels not least the fact that it deflated the Doomsday scenario, and the notion that the DDA was dead, said South Africa.
It took issue with some analysts who say that tariffs are no longer an issue because global value chains have dealt with this. These analysts, rather than criticising key players today for prioritising plurilateral and regional agreements, say that these governments should impose whatever comes out of these other plurilateral or regional negotiations on the wider WTO membership.
It said that developing countries agreed to trade facilitation in Bali on the basis that issues like cotton and DFQF market access will be taken up afterwards.
It agreed that there have been a lot of changes in the world, but the US remains the largest economy while many emerging countries continue to face difficult development challenges. US leadership will be important in terms of concluding the round but in fact we all must work together if we are to move the multilateral trading system forward, it added.
The European Union said that what Members are doing this year holds the potential to shape the activities of the WTO for many years to come. The top priority should be implementation of the Bali package, and the development of a DDA work programme.
Only a balanced approach can provide a recipe for success, and the DDA does not end with the ‘troika' of issues (agriculture, NAMA and services) and that there are other important issues as well, it said, adding that development and the LDC issues are also of paramount importance.
Qatar endorsed the Arab Group statement, while Paraguay endorsed the G-20 statement.
Saudi Arabia said that there has to be a horizontal balance across the issues and that the interests of the recently acceded members must be taken into account.
Jamaica endorsed the ACP and G-33 statements. It said that there must be faithful implementation of the Bali package. There must be a bottom-up approach and transparency and inclusiveness, and the process must be Member-driven.
According to trade officials, the US said that it is worth recalling the buoyant mood of Bali. We know that Bali was an enormous test and we met that test. It was a remarkable signal to the world and now we have a new test - whether we can implement successfully, said the US, adding that from what it has seen so far, it is very encouraged.
It said that there have been some strange comments made in this meeting about the US, noting that the US will be having its trade policy review this year and that there can be intensive comments made at this point. The last trade policy review of the US indicated that it was the most open large economy in the world.
It said that it is proud of its role in building the multilateral trading system. It is proud as well of the official development assistance (ODA) that it has spent, it said, noting that it has spent billions of dollars on ODA, specifically on trade capacity-building.
The US further said that not only does its commitment to the trading system pertain to the past, it also pertains to the present. It noted that President Barack Obama met with Director-General Azevedo this past Monday in Washington, and it was not an accident that the D-G was able to meet with President Obama.
Japan noted that there have been rapid changes in the world economy today from where we were in 2008.
Bangladesh supported the LDC group statement.
Egypt voiced support for the African, LDC, ACP and Arab Group statements, as well as that of the G-33 and G-20. It stressed that the development dimension must be at the heart of the work of the WTO and the DDA.