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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jul14/07)
21 July  2014
Third World Network  

TF legal texts adopted, but still no consensus on Protocol
Published in SUNS #7843 dated 14 July 2014

Geneva, 11 Jul (Kanaga Raja) -- The WTO Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation on Thursday formally adopted the legal texts of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), but consensus still eluded Members on the Protocol of Amendment, which would bring to legal effect the TFA by inserting it into Annex 1A of the WTO Agreement.
 
According to trade officials, at a brief meeting, the Preparatory Committee firstly formally adopted the legal texts of the TFA in all three of the WTO's official languages - English, French and Spanish.
 
The Bali Ministerial Conference, by its Decision of 7 December 2013, had concluded the negotiation of the TFA "subject to legal review for rectifications of a purely formal character that do not affect the substance of the Agreement."
 
Earlier in May, the Committee had completed the legal review of the English text of the TFA, and, according to trade officials, following the completion of the translations, were sent to the capitals of Spanish- and French-speaking countries (see SUNS #7798 dated 7 May 2014.)
 
At the meeting on Thursday, the Chair of the Preparatory Committee, Ambassador Esteban B Conejos Jr of the Philippines, said that he was heartened to see that the legal "scrubbing" of the TFA had proceeded so smoothly.
 
According to trade officials, El Salvador thanked Ambassador Alfredo Suescum of Panama for facilitating the work on the Spanish text.
 
On the Protocol of Amendment, the Chair reported that Members were not yet in a position to adopt the Protocol.
 
The Preparatory Committee was tasked to among others, draw up the Protocol of Amendment for the TFA 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 the 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).
 
The Preparatory Committee held a two-day session last week that saw continued differences among Members over the possible language for the Protocol that would reference paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration, which outlines the principle of the Single Undertaking.
 
[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 definitive basis. Early agreements shall be taken into account in assessing the overall balance of the negotiations.]
 
In their interventions on the first day of that two-day meeting (2-3 July), a number of developing countries reiterated 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.
 
Those that emphasised the need for the language in para 47 included India, South Africa, Lesotho, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Bolivia and Cuba.
 
India had told that meeting 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 SUNS #7838 dated 7 July 2014).
 
[According to a report in the Washington Trade Daily (WTD), ahead of the Preparatory Committee meeting Thursday, the Chair of the General Council Ambassador Jonathan Fried of Canada held consultations with the ambassadors of some of the seven countries (India, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Bolivia and Cuba) that had refused to join the consensus on the Protocol.
 
[The WTD also reported that Director-General Roberto Azevedo held "confessionals" with Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, India, Cuba and Bolivia to discuss their concerns, and had conveyed his worries over the work on trade facilitation not being completed by the end of the month. The seven countries, however, are reported to have reiterated their concerns that their core issues on development have yet to be addressed.]
 
At the Preparatory Committee meeting on Thursday, the Chair reported that consensus (on the Protocol) "still appears elusive as of today" and that he saw no point in engaging in another round of repetitive discussions on outstanding issues unless delegations had positive developments to report.
 
According to Ambassador Conejos Jr, this conversation "will need to take place at another time, and possibly at another level."
 
According to trade officials, the Chair said that his door remained open to anyone wishing to see him. He also urged delegations to reach out and talk with each other.
 
According to trade officials, no delegation took the floor.
 
Given that the agenda for the General Council meeting of 24-25 July will need to go out to Members shortly, the Chair said that, in the absence of an approved Protocol from the Preparatory Committee, the item inscribed on the General Council agenda on this issue will be a report from the Preparatory Committee Chair.
 
Ambassador Conejos Jr said that the possibility of an agreement remains on the table. He urged Members to do their best and get an agreement before 24 July.
 
The Chair told Members that there were no additional meetings of the Preparatory Committee scheduled, but that he would inform Members promptly if that situation were to change.
 
Some trade diplomats suggested that Mr. Azevedo, as well as the US and EU, are likely to try to bring this matter up before the scheduled meeting of senior officials and trade ministers of the G-20, which is being held in Sydney. Australia is hosting this year's G-20 summit.
 
Meanwhile, the issue of trade facilitation also appears to have came up at an informal meeting of the Negotiating Group on Market Access (NAMA) on 9 July.
 
According to trade officials, several Members pointed to the difficulty of moving forward in the NAMA negotiations if the Trade Facilitation deal made in Bali unravels and some Members backtrack on what was agreed.
 
According to trade officials, the Chair of the Negotiating Group, Ambassador Remigi Winzap of Switzerland, urged Members to comply with what has been already agreed.
 
At the informal NAMA meeting, the Chair reported on his recent consultations, saying that Members continue to go in different directions on the key issues, in particular, as to what should be the starting point.
 
According to trade officials, the US and other developed countries consider the Rev. 3 draft modalities text of 2008 to be unacceptable, whereas many developing countries, including India, said that it should be the basis.
 
The Chair said that the Rev. 3 text provides no solution to bridge the gap and asked Members to consult among themselves to find a way forward. He also said that trust and confidence among Members is missing.
 
According to trade officials, India stressed on the need for balance and parallel negotiations between Agriculture and NAMA, with several developing countries also insisting on this link.
 
Cuba said that several Members are taking the NAMA negotiations hostage to the acceptance of the TF Agreement.
 
The NAMA Chair also said that ambition in NAMA has to go hand-in-hand with ambition in Agriculture.
 
According to trade officials, China said that there should be consideration of the situation of the Recently Acceded Members (RAMs) and the high level of liberalisation commitments that they had already undertaken.
 
The US, however, said that the issue of RAMs as it was in 2008 is different now. It said that it was still waiting to hear what the Ďadvanced' developing economies were ready to contribute to the NAMA negotiations.

 


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