Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jul14/03)
renews his pitch for completion of TF agreement
Geneva, 27 Jun (Chakravarthi Raghavan*) - The WTO Director-General and chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), Mr. Roberto Azevedo, renewed his pitch Wednesday for the membership to complete the process to bring the Trade Facilitation (TF) Agreement into the WTO framework and warned against efforts of some members (not otherwise identified) to link this to the Doha Single Undertaking.
Mr. Azevedo's predecessor as DG, and proponent of TF as a ‘Singapore issue' on the Doha Round, Mr. Pascal Lamy, has recently (in remarks in Australia) estimated that the TF, largely requiring implementation by developing countries, will be equivalent to a 10% tariff cut.
The text of Azevedo's speech at the TNC, posted on the WTO website, suggested that he was attempting to be more circumspect and less strident, than in some of his remarks in meetings outside Geneva (such as at Kampala in meetings with CSOs and others - see SUNS #7816 dated 4 June 2014), in separating the TF from the Doha Single Undertaking, as sought by the US and EU.
The WTO DG, in his speech to the TNC, also explicitly conceded the ownership of the negotiation process to the membership.
Dispelling "certain rumours" he had heard in the corridors on the process ahead, Mr. Azevedo said there would be no paper from him or anyone else "to provide a magical path forward". This was not going to happen, he insisted, and it would be a bottom-up process and any roadmaps would have to come from the members.
And while he had been talking to individual delegations, he denied he had been holding meetings with "small groups of delegations". And while he would try to "help and facilitate" conversations among members, "this is your process - it has to be led by you."
In making these remarks, Mr. Azevedo presumably was responding to criticisms of his role in the run-up to and at Bali, and since then, including on visits to some capitals and remarks reported in the media. This effort or intent of his, probably, was more than undone by the media office which headlined the item as "Azevedo warns against revisiting Bali decisions".
The media office headline was reflected in several media reports Thursday that said Azevedo "warned members" about grave implications if some members continued to insist on revisiting the hard-won Bali trade package by insisting on provisional implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement.
Both before Bali and after, the TF has been promoted as benefiting developing countries, and LDCs baited with promises of aid and technical assistance for implementation. Both the US and EU have not agreed however to write such promises into the TF itself as a commitment.
At the TNC on 25 June, however, Mr. Azevedo himself could only speak of his and the secretariat's efforts of talking to donors "to try to find a solution that would allow the WTO to assist those seeking technical assistance and capacity building support."
Though, implementation of the TF is not "an immediate part of our work", it could be "of great relevance to our chances of making progress here," Azevedo told the TNC.
He then went on to speak about "actions on the part of some delegations" that could compromise what was negotiated in Bali last December, and said: "I have no doubt that you are all very much aware of the implications of revisiting what was agreed in Bali. It would not only compromise the Trade Facilitation Agreement - including the technical assistance element. All of the Bali decisions - every single one of them - would be compromised. Everything we worked together to achieve in Bali would potentially be lost."
Though he did not identify any country or group of countries, but merely spoke of "some delegations", at a meeting of African trade ministers in Addis Ababa in April 2014, the ministers felt that the Bali outcomes "were not the most optimal decisions in terms of African interests," according to the African Union Trade Commissioner, Ms. Fatima Acyl.
The African ministers instructed their negotiators "to formally submit language on the Protocol of Amendment - the legal instrument that will incorporate the TF Agreement into the WTO framework and bring it in force - to the effect that the Trade Facilitation agreement will be provisionally implemented and (definitively) on completion of the entire Doha Round of negotiations".
In pursuance of the decision of their trade ministers, some African countries have proposed language to reflect that the TF implementation would be provisional, as envisaged in para 47 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration.
This is being cited by WTO officials as jeopardising the Doha Work Programme. And some WTO-friendly US blogs and newsletters have been attacking the Trade Commissioner and Ministers as jeopardising the credibility of the WTO, without ever noting that the US has been in the forefront of disregarding the Marrakesh legal commitments and resiling from further agricultural reforms and ending their subsidies.
Some delegations also appear to have received queries from such media accusing them of going back on their Bali stand. Some of these communications seen by this writer are couched in threatening language.
If African ministers at Addis Ababa felt their interests are in jeopardy by implementing the TF definitively, Mr. Azevedo himself has perhaps given ground for this.
Immediately after Bali, in terms of the post-Bali work programme, he had spoken of the need to focus on "doable" and "achievable" of the Doha Development Agenda, and said that the 2008 texts should not be insisted upon, as they are not ‘doable'.
In their own interventions since Bali, the US and EU have made clear their inability to implement the agriculture chapter of the Doha Development Agenda.
In his own remarks, at the April TNC, Azevedo had spoken of "cherry picking" on the Doha agenda for the post-Bali Work Programme to conclude the negotiations. And though the majority of developing countries at that TNC had disagreed and insisted on the Doha Single Undertaking, he has continued to advocate "cherry picking", including in some explicit remarks at Kampala, asking LDCs and developing countries not to insist on the 2008 texts, and telling them that S&D was only their request which the US and EU would not concede.
Apart from TF, the rest of the Bali decisions have been at best promises of "best endeavour", and as voiced at Wednesday's TNC, six months after Bali there has been no efforts even to carry out these "best endeavour" efforts.
The TF has been presented and promoted (by the WTO, the US, and US businesses such as the US Chamber of Commerce) as beneficial to developing countries.
However, in May this year, Mr. Azevedo's predecessor, Mr. Pascal Lamy, has said in Australia that the TF largely requires implementation by developing countries, and when they did so, it would be the equivalent of a 10 percent tariff cut by the developing countries.
Implementing TF as a standalone accord and placing it in the WTO framework, without any other part of the Doha Single Undertaking, would thus appear to be a 10 percent tariff cut benefit to the US and EU corporations, without any payment by the US and EU to the developing countries on any development issue on the Doha Single Undertaking.
At the TNC this time, in speaking of the second phase of the post-Bali Doha Work Programme, Mr. Azevedo made no mention of the "doable" and "achievable" or "cherry picking" the agenda. However, the Agriculture chair, in presenting his report and assessment, spoke of "being realistic" about the "doable" on agriculture.
(* Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Editor Emeritus of the SUNS.)