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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jul14/05)
11 July  2014
Third World Network  

South stress on para 47 of Doha Declaration at TF meeting
Published in SUNS #7838 dated 7 July 2014

Geneva, 4 Jul (Kanaga Raja) -- A meeting of the WTO Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation saw continued differences among Members over the possible language for the Protocol of Amendment for the Trade Facilitation (TF) agreement that would reference paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration, which highlights the principle of the Single Undertaking.
 
A number of developing countries made interventions on the first day of the two-day (2-3 July) meeting reiterating the need for the language in para 47 to be in both the draft Protocol of Amendment and the draft General Council decision that will adopt the Protocol.
 
According to trade officials, those that emphasised the need for the language in para 47 included India, South Africa, Lesotho, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Bolivia and Cuba.
 
India told the meeting on 2 July that until it has an assurance and visible outcomes that convince developing countries that Members will engage in negotiations with commitment to finding a permanent solution on public stockholding and other Bali deliverables, especially those for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), it will find it difficult to join the consensus on the Protocol of Amendment (see below).
 
Several interventions by India made clear that its statement reflected the position of the new government in the light of its assessment of the situation on the Doha Development Round, the Bali ministerial decisions, and the focus since then in Geneva on only one aspect of the Bali decision, namely the Trade Facilitation Agreement.
 
The Chair of the Preparatory Committee, Ambassador Esteban B. Conejos Jr of the Philippines, called on Members to continue their efforts to find a compromise over the draft language aimed at bringing the new TF agreement into legal effect.
 
The Chair said that this remains the pivotal issue which needs to be overcome in order to secure agreement on the Protocol.
 
According to trade officials, in his concluding remarks, the Chair said that Members needed to find a compromise by the end of next week in order to ensure that the draft Protocol of Amendment could be adopted by the WTO's General Council, at its meeting to be held on 24-25 July.
 
The Preparatory Committee is to hold its next meeting on 10 July.
 
Paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration states: "With the exception of the improvements and clarifications of the Dispute Settlement Understanding, the conduct, conclusion and entry into force of the outcome of the negotiations shall be treated as parts of a single undertaking. However, agreements reached at an early stage may be implemented on a provisional or a definitive basis. Early agreements shall be taken into account in assessing the overall balance of the negotiations."
 
Some African countries had earlier proposed that the TF agreement be implemented on a provisional basis in line with para 47 of the Doha Declaration.
 
The Preparatory Committee, established by the Bali Ministerial Conference, was tasked, among others, to draw up the Protocol of Amendment for the TF agreement to be inserted into Annex 1A of the WTO Agreement.
 
According to the Bali Ministerial Decision, the General Council is to meet no later than 31 July 2014 to annex to the Agreement notifications of Category A commitments (to be implemented when agreement comes into force), to adopt the Protocol drawn up by the Preparatory Committee, and to open the Protocol for acceptance until 31 July 2015.
 
The Protocol is to come into force upon acceptance by two-thirds of the Members (in accordance with Article X: 3 of the WTO Agreement).
 
According to trade officials, Lesotho, on behalf of the African Group, read out to the Committee on 2 July the African Union Summit (held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea) decision with regards to the TF Agreement.
 
[The decision, amongst others, reaffirms commitment to the Doha Development Agenda and to its rapid completion in accordance with its development objectives. It also reaffirms commitment to all the decisions the Ministers took in Bali which it said are an important stepping stone towards the conclusion of the Doha Round. To this end, it acknowledges that the Trade Facilitation Agreement is an integral part of this process.
 
[In this regard, the decision reiterates that assistance and support for capacity-building should be provided as envisaged in the Trade Facilitation Agreement in a predictable manner so as to enable African economies to acquire the necessary capacity for the implementation of the agreement.]
 
According to trade officials, at the Preparatory Committee meeting, Lesotho mentioned the issue of funding in relation to the implementation of the TF agreement, saying that this issue has been largely unaddressed, and that there has been no institutionalised consideration of the African Group's concerns on the funding issue.
 
It stressed that the availability and accessibility of funding should not be downplayed, otherwise it will have negative implications with respect to the categorisation of measures.
 
According to trade officials, Lesotho also informed the Preparatory Committee that the African Group will be engaging in internal discussions following the Committee meeting to discuss the outcome of the African Union summit
(decision).
 
According to trade officials, India, referring to the recent elections in the country, said that it could not speak or take a position on the issue at that time due to its upcoming elections, but that now it has instructions from the new government.
 
India said that it is deeply disappointed and concerned at the completely uneven progress in the areas of work mandated by Ministers in Bali.
 
"The pace of implementation of the Bali Decisions has been heavily skewed in favour of Trade Facilitation and virtually all other Decisions have been relegated to the background. This is unacceptable," it said.
 
According to India, there is growing disenchantment, anguish and anger in its domestic constituencies and a sense of deja vu as once again they see the interests of developing countries being subordinated to the might of the developed world.
 
In round after round, developing countries have been called upon to concede more and more, with little being offered in return. But hope springs eternal and it was that which has spurred developing countries to set the past aside time after time and continue to negotiate in good faith.
 
"We are deeply concerned that the Ministerial Decision on Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes is getting sidelined. In this and other areas, instead of engaging in meaningful discussion, certain Members have been attempting to divert attention to the policies and programmes of selected developing country Members. The issues raised are in no way relevant to the core mandate that we have been provided in the Bali Decisions. In the process, we have lost crucial negotiating time."
 
India also noted with concern that many systemic issues raised by Members regarding the interface between the Trade Facilitation Agreement and the single undertaking remain unaddressed. This is an important issue which has a bearing on the completion of the DDA and cannot be brushed aside.
 
"Till there is more clarity on this issue and Members' concerns are satisfactorily addressed, it will not be prudent to finalise the Protocol of Amendment," India underlined.
 
India further said that its delegation has repeatedly expressed concern about the uneven pace of work at previous meetings of the Preparatory Committee but despite that the imbalance in progress has persisted for months.
 
It urged all Members to show commitment to expedite the delivery of outcomes in the Bali mandate so that "we can ensure balance in the post-Bali work programme."
 
"Till we have an assurance and visible outcomes which convince developing countries that Members will engage in negotiations with commitment to finding a permanent solution on public stockholding and other Bali deliverables, especially those for the LDCs, India will find it difficult to join the consensus on the Protocol of Amendment," the Indian statement, which the government in New Delhi has made public, said.
 
According to trade officials, South Africa emphasised the legal right to bring up the issue of para 47, saying that it is part of the Doha Declaration and that it is not unlawful to suggest that this language should be referred to in the Protocol.
 
South Africa pointed out, where is the decision in Bali with regards to whether the TF agreement should be implemented on a provisional or definitive basis, saying that this discussion never happened. There never was a political discussion on how it would be implemented, neither before nor during the Bali Ministerial, it added.
 
According to trade officials, Uganda also stressed the need for reference to para 47. It said that in the lead-up to Bali there was never a discussion on how the TF agreement would be implemented, so members should not be surprised that some delegations, like Uganda, are asking questions on this issue.
 
This is not the first linkage to the DDA, it said, pointing out that the DFQF (duty-free quota-free market access for LDCs) decision at the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Conference provides a linkage to the conclusion of the Doha Round.
 
Uganda also pointed to the (decision on) elimination of export subsidies (by developed countries) by 2013, asking what happened to that decision.
 
For these reasons, it believed that subjecting the entry into force of the TF agreement with the Single Undertaking would be consistent with all pre-existing mandates.
 
Interventions from several members also insisted there could be no "cherry picking" either of the Bali decisions or various ministerial decisions on the Doha Development Round, nor any hierarchy among ministerial decisions and that all of them are equally valid.
 
According to trade officials, the US, referring to the para 47 proposal that was put forward as a room document, pointed to a high degree of lack of clarity in country positions and the actual rationale and the basis for these positions. There is still no clarity on the positions discussed - whether these are firm positions.
 
It expected position papers by members to be put in writing, or at least to request consultations, saying that it has not had any request for consultations. It is unfortunate we are having this conversation, it added.
 
According to trade officials, Canada said that some of the interventions it heard were very discouraging and unhelpful, and went well beyond the mandate of the Preparatory Committee.
 
It is unfortunate that one or more delegates said that they would not allow the Committee to deliver on the work assigned to it within the timeframes given by Ministers in Bali. That is an indefensible position to take at this stage, it said.
 
The Bali guidance clearly says expeditious entry into force of the TF agreement, which in no way means provisional, it added.
 
The US again intervened, saying that it largely agreed with Canada. The discussion over provisional versus definitive implementation is not a conversation that we should be having at all, it said, adding that Article X: 3 of the WTO Agreement allows each member to decide when, how and if they will accept the agreement. Nobody can impose a course of action on members.
 
The US further maintained that many developing countries and least developed countries plan to use the TF agreement to put in place technical assistance and capacity-building. That effort is now being taken hostage by an issue that is not really an issue, it said.
 
Russia said that the provisional application of the TF agreement was never on the table.
 
According to trade officials, the European Union said that its only mandate was to focus on the operational part of the Protocol.
 
It was curious about the debate over the provisional verus definitive application of the TF agreement. It asked how can you provisionally apply an agreement when it enters into force. This is something that it would like to discuss bilaterally. It is a legally very challenging concept.
 
The EU said it cannot accept any conditionality beyond Article X: 3, either in the Protocol or in the (General Council) decision document.
 
According to trade officials, a number of developing country and least developed country (LDC) delegates made reference to the need for further clarification from donor countries on securing the technical assistance necessary to implement their TF Agreement commitments.
 
Meanwhile, Norway and Cote d'Ivoire spoke at the meeting on 3 July.
 
According to trade officials, Norway said it is greatly concerned that the Committee seemed unable to complete its mandate.
 
According to Norway, most members have signalled their intention to implement the agreement on a definitive basis, and that those who are hesitant have the option of not ratifying the TF Agreement. It however urged Members not to do so.
 
According to trade officials, Cote d'Ivoire also emphasised the need for reference to para 47 in both the Protocol and the General Council decision to adopt the Protocol. It said that there is some frustration among members that what is happening is not balanced, hence it is important that mention be made of para 47 and that the focus be placed on the Single Undertaking.
 
According to trade officials, the Chair of the Preparatory Committee said that he was pleased to note that several more WTO members have submitted notifications on their Category A commitments, with more expected over the course of the month.
 
So far, notifications of Category A commitments have been received from China, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong-China, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Singapore. +

 


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