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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jul14/15)
30 July  2014
Third World Network
 
Sydney G-20 meet ends without agreement, only Chair's summary
Published in SUNS #7849 dated 22 July 2014
 
Geneva, 21 Jul (Kanaga Raja) -- Trade Ministers of the G-20, at their meeting over the weekend in Sydney, Australia, ended up with no agreement but only a Chairman's summary that (as is customary at such meetings) did not commit any of the participants.
 
According to the summary, participants appear to have expressed their support for the full implementation of all elements of the package of agreements at the ninth Bali Ministerial Conference in December 2013, including the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).
 
The Chairman's Summary of 19 July, read out at the meeting by Australia's Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb and made public thereafter, said: "We undertook to show leadership in our support for the full implementation of all elements of the Bali outcome agreed at the 9th WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2013, including the Agreement on Trade Facilitation, consistent with the agreed timelines."
 
"We agreed this is critical to securing a strong future for the multilateral trading system. We reaffirmed the importance of capacity building to help developing countries implement their commitments," the Chairman's summary added.
 
According to media reports from Sydney, India, however, appeared to have taken a firm stance on the need for visible outcomes on the issue of food security and the other Bali deliverables.
 
The Washington Trade Daily (WTD), in its report citing sources who took part in the meeting, said that India and South Africa told the meeting that they could only join the consensus on the Protocol of Amendment (with respect to the Trade Facilitation Agreement) once they have complete confidence that the remaining issues in the Bali package - concerning development and agriculture, including a permanent solution for food security - are fully addressed.
 
According to the WTD report, India, South Africa, Argentina and Brazil said issues pertaining to agriculture and development have not been squarely addressed in tandem with the TFA's Protocol, and not addressing it head-on is raising a "crisis of confidence" in the world trade body. Argentina said that TF was not a development issue, but only a market access one for developed countries.
 
A Reuters news report from Sydney said that despite reassurances that India received both at the meeting and in public later, Indian officials had said on Sunday that they were not convinced.
 
The Reuters report quoted an Indian official as telling the Business Standard: "The way things are moving, there is no way we can agree to the trade facilitation agreement being pushed by the developed nations at WTO within the prescribed deadline. Food security has always been India's main concern and this time we are not going to concede."
 
[A report Monday in the Hindustan Times (HT, New Delhi), citing Indian official sources, said India has made it clear that state-funded welfare schemes for the poor are non-negotiable, and that it is willing to take the blame for delaying the World Trade Organisation's (WTO's) "trade facilitation" agreement rather than hurt the interests of small farmers.
 
[Ahead of the WTO's two-day General Council meeting that begins on Thursday, India has worked out a hard bargain strategy for drawing up a permanent solution on food subsidies.
 
[India will seek a postponement of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) to 31 December, from 31 July agreed upon at WTO Bali ministerial last December... India will also insist on implementing the TFA only as part of a single undertaking that includes a permanent solution on food security, top government sources told HT. SUNS]
 
At a joint G-20 Trade Ministers' press conference on 19 July, Australia's Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb was asked about the TF Agreement and the 31 July deadline for the adoption of the Protocol of Amendment, to which he replied that "we did have a couple of countries that are concerned about the other elements (in the Bali package) in addition to the trade facilitation - there are nine elements to the Bali decision. Timetables were set for each one."
 
According to the transcript of the press conference that was made publicly available, Robb said that every country there at the meeting did reaffirm their commitment to all nine being completed.
 
"We certainly reached a decision - as a priority - over the next nine days to seek a satisfactory solution to the concerns that a couple of countries have got with the pace of some of these other measures - the pace of attending to these other measures - but there was no dissent on the significance, the importance and the timetable that's laid out in the agreement that everyone signed."
 
Asked if there was any movement that he saw from the Indian delegation and some of the concerns that they have raised in recent days regarding possible renegotiation on food security and their position that they may seek to hold up the implementation, Minister Robb said that he did not think that it is a question of renegotiation.
 
In his view, everyone, including India, recommitted publicly to the package. "It was very much, and has been as I understand it, from some, some of the African nations had a concern about whether they could - they had the wherewithal, the expertise and the funds to properly implement the trade facilitation package."
 
"There was an announcement of a new facility that will be made available. The United States confirmed that they spent a billion dollars on helping developing countries with trade facilitation and that level of commitment was ongoing. The Minister for the European Union said that $400 million has been put aside. Australia committed extra monies; another million dollars on top of the six million that we put in the World Bank."
 
So, said Robb, the bottom line was that around the table, "assurances were given which will be coordinated by the WTO, that no country will be left behind in terms of their needs to implement this at the speed that they wish to and of course the developing countries have got a different timetable to the developed."
 
"The developed are expected to implement these things immediately and the developing countries, to implement in a program that they can properly absorb and fund - and be funded. But they'll be helped with the funding and the technical expertise," Robb added.
 
"So, there is work to be done [over] the next few days to, I think, even further satisfy India and maybe other countries. I think the Africans are - I think their problem has been properly attended to and I think there was strong resolution around the table that India's issues too with food security would and should and will be addressed as decided previously ... I think there'll be discussions about how to satisfy India, that they won't be left behind."
 
Asked to elaborate on the specific concerns raised by India and the response of the G20 member nations to those concerns during the meeting, Robb said that "India did and has said for some days I think, that they were concerned that ... one of their principal concerns which was the food security issue which was very much a part of the Bali package, that it would not be properly attended to. But the deadline for that is in fact 2017 and it is somewhat, in a technical sense, open-ended."
 
"So, the capacity to adopt those food security measures exists and if it's not resolved by 2017, which everyone feels that it certainly will be, but it just goes on. So, that was a comfort factor that has been there for India but they have raised this concern and everyone around the table gave a country commitment that they expected every one of the measures to be properly introduced and India also said that they still remain fully committed to the full package and the timetable but still expressed reservations about what is the process to ensure that their issue is properly addressed," he added.
 
"Now, discussions have been held over the last couple of days. They will continue," he said, adding that the group did agree that the first priority is to properly satisfy that concern sometime in the next nine days and "then hopefully, life will move on and the measures will come - that measure will come into effect on the 31st."
 
Many countries indicated they're ready to sign up on the 31st and immediately implement it including places like South Africa and China and others, according to Minister Robb.
 
Earlier last week, India had reiterated the stand that it had taken at a 2 July meeting of the Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation on withholding consensus on a Protocol of Amendment with respect to the TFA.
 
An official press release issued in New Delhi on 16 July cited the Indian Commerce Ministry countering some Western media reports that India was no longer blocking the adoption of the Protocol by linking it to visible progress on food security and other Bali outcomes.
 
[A Reuters news agency report from India citing the Commerce Secretary was picked up immediately in Washington by the Deputy US Trade Representative and ambassador to the WTO, Mr. Michael Punke, who told a House committee hearing and in media briefings therefter that India was no longer blocking the TF protocol, and that he and the USTR would be discussing it with India in Sydney. He had also been reported as making some references to the US proposal tabled in Geneva (see SUNS #7848 dated 21 July 2014).
 
[In a reference to that paper, a flyer distributed at the meeting by the US civil society group, Public Citizen, had depicted a portrait of Marie Antoinette but with apparently Punke's face, and, parodying her remarks, saying ‘Let them eat imports'. SUNS]
 
The Indian Commerce Ministry press release had said: "It seems that by attributing ‘wrong statement' to India, an effort is being made to divide developing countries who have taken a clear stand on the issue."
 
The press release quoted a statement made by India at the 2 July Preparatory Committee and said that this reflected the correct position.
 
The Indian statement at the Committee had said: "Till we have an assurance and visible outcomes which convince developing countries that Members will engage in negotiations with commitment to find a permanent solution on public stockholding and all other Bali deliverables, especially those for the LDCs, India will find it difficult to join the consensus on the Protocol of Amendment." (See SUNS #7848 dated 21 July 2014.)
 
On the eve of the G-20 Trade Ministers' meeting in Sydney, a large group of civil society organisations and trade unions had also called on the Trade Ministers and WTO Ambassadors to condition the entry into force of the Trade Facilitation Agreement to the conclusion and fulfilment of the Development mandate of the Doha Round of trade negotiations. (See SUNS #7848 dated 21 July 2014).
 
In the Chairman's Summary of 19 July, the G-20 Trade Ministers agreed that trade is a vital engine of economic growth that creates quality jobs.
 
"We welcomed the individual contributions to domestic actions to support trade growth that G20 members are taking as part of national growth strategies, which aim to lift our collective GDP by more than 2 per cent above the current trajectory over the next five years."
 
They reaffirmed their G20 St Petersburg commitment to standstill and roll back protectionist measures introduced since the Global Financial Crisis, and urged other countries to address protectionist measures.
 
They also reaffirmed the importance of aid-for-trade as a means of poverty reduction through the promotion of sustainable economic growth in developing countries.
 
"We discussed global supply chain barriers and how domestic reform and liberalising services will generate particularly large economic gains because there is a compound effect on international competitiveness. We agreed that barriers to trade in services hamper economic growth and need to be addressed through both domestic reform and international cooperation."
 
The G-20 Trade Ministers further said: "We committed ourselves to build on the momentum from Bali to conclude the Doha Development Round. We welcomed the efforts of the WTO Director-General, and undertook to work with other WTO members, and each other, to achieve a balanced and timely post-Bali work program by December 2014."

 


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