Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct14/01)
unchanged on TF, no consensus on next PCTF meet
Geneva, 30 Sep (Kanaga Raja) -- A meeting of the WTO Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation (PCTF) on Monday saw no change in positions with regards to the adoption of the Protocol of Amendment for the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).
Differences also emerged over the date for the next meeting of the Preparatory Committee, or even if it should continue meeting given the current deadlock, with the United States blocking a proposal by the Preparatory Committee Chair to convene another meeting on 7 November.
The US said that the discussions on the resolution of the impasse have moved to the General Council and that its firm view is that given the current situation, the work of the Preparatory Committee has concluded and that it would not agree to further scheduling of meetings at this time.
According to trade officials, the European Union and Australia expressed support for the US position.
Many developing countries objected to the notion that the Preparatory Committee had completed its work.
A number of countries also said that it was up to the Chair to decide when the next meeting of the Preparatory Committee should be convened and asked him to request clarification from the WTO's legal department whether a single member could block a meeting from taking place, trade officials said.
The Preparatory Committee meeting on Monday was the first to be held since the World Trade Organisation (WTO) missed the 31 July deadline for the adoption of the Protocol, which if it had been adopted, would have inserted the TFA into Annex 1A of the WTO Agreement.
A meeting of the General Council that was held on 25 July to discuss the TFA was suspended on account of a lack of consensus on the Protocol.
At that meeting, India had made a strong statement wherein it had said that the TFA must be implemented only as part of a single undertaking including the permanent solution on food security. India had received support from Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela, who had said that they will have difficulty joining a consensus on the Protocol while no progress has been made on the areas of interest to developing countries.
Just a couple of hours or so before the 31 July midnight deadline for the adoption of the Protocol was to pass, an informal Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) meeting was held, at which the Director-General had reported that at present "there is no workable solution on the table" and that he did not have any indication that one will be forthcoming.
As a result, the General Council agenda item of report by the Chairman of the Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation was closed without further action and the General Council meeting, suspended on 25 July, was formally closed without a protocol being adopted (see SUNS #7856 dated 4 August 2014).
According to trade officials, the Preparatory Committee meeting on Monday took up two issues.
One was on taking note of new notifications of Category A commitments (to be implemented when TFA comes into force) by developing and least developed countries (LDCs), while the second was on taking stock of Members' positions with regards to the impasse on the adoption of the TFA Protocol.
In the formal part of the Preparatory Committee meeting, the Chair, Ambassador Esteban Conejos of the Philippines, noted that nearly 40 notifications of Category A commitments have been received by the WTO since the last meeting of the PrepCom early in July.
A number of them were received after the 31 July deadline for submission, he said, also noting that Pakistan was expected to submit its Category A notification later that day.
According to trade officials, a number of delegations welcomed the continued submission of notifications.
The European Union said that the large number of notifications shows the strong commitment of the membership to the TFA. Most of the schedules submitted were relatively ambitious, it added.
Norway, Japan and South Korea also said that the number of notifications that were submitted was encouraging.
With the meeting switching to informal mode, the Chair remarked on the current deadlock over the Protocol, noting that the 31 July 2014 deadline for the adoption of the Protocol had passed without a consensus agreement.
Ambassador Conejos said that he was interested in hearing about "novel developments, ideally positive ones ... Signs of movement on the big issue - the proverbial elephant in the room - would be particularly welcome since we all know that in the absence of a solution for this matter, we won't be able to move forward with our agenda."
According to trade officials, India said that it did not want to reiterate the issues that were raised back in July.
India reported that the issue in question has not yet been resolved and that there was no change in its position.
Dominica, on behalf of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group, said that if and when the impasse is resolved, work on finalising the Protocol must be completed in the Preparatory Committee.
According to trade officials, Dominica said that the missed 31 July 2014 deadline for the adoption of the protocol meant that the subsequent deadline for acceptance of the TFA (31 July 2015) needed to be adjusted.
Trade officials said that several other delegations echoed Dominica's comments, with these delegations saying that since the TFA was adopted by a decision of the Ministerial Conference, any adjustment of that date will require a Ministerial decision or a General Council decision.
The Chair said that it was also his understanding that a date change would require a Ministerial or General Council decision, but that he would raise the matter with the chairs of the TNC and the General Council.
According to trade officials, the bulk of the discussions on Monday were devoted to the date of the Preparatory Committee's next meeting or even whether the PrepCom should continue meeting given the current impasse.
The discussion on this issue was kicked off by the US, which said that the PCTF has not been able to complete its work by the deadline set in Bali.
According to trade officials, the US said that the discussions on the resolution of the impasse have moved in totality to the General Council. Indeed, discussions have already taken place there, and if they continue, they should take place in that body, it added.
Its understanding is that further work on resolution should take place in the General Council and not within the Preparatory Committee, which has completed its work.
According to trade officials, the US again underlined this under the agenda item of 'other business' where the Chair had proposed that the Preparatory Committee hold its next meeting on 7 November.
The US said that linkages had been made and that the discussions have moved to the General Council. Its firm view is that given the current situation, the work of the Preparatory Committee has concluded and it would not agree to further scheduling of meetings at this time.
According to trade officials, the EU and Australia supported the US position.
The EU said that it believed that there is need for consensus in order for any meeting to be scheduled. Members should concentrate on focusing on the single issue that is preventing them from moving ahead, i. e. the adoption of the Protocol.
According to trade officials, it also said that in terms of (setting) precedent, the most serious precedent was that members failed to respect the deadline for implementing a Ministerial agreement reached in Bali. This has serious systematic implications for the organisation and that is a sad fact.
Even if a meeting is convened on 7 November in such a situation, what progress would we have, it asked.
According to trade officials, the EU said that members should wait until the 6 October TNC meeting, where Director-General Roberto Azevedo is due to report on the outcome of his efforts to find a solution to the impasse, before deciding whether to proceed with the 7 November meeting.
Australia said that the Preparatory Committee is a technical body while the stand-off that members are facing is a political one because of the decision of one member not to implement the TFA.
It questioned the usefulness of holding technical meetings when no political solution is in sight.
Many developing countries, however, voiced objection to the notion that the PCTF had completed its work, and a number of countries also said that it was up to the Chair to decide when the next meeting of the PCTF should take place.
According to trade officials, those that stressed that the PCTF's work was not complete and/or that the Chair's proposed date of 7 November for the next meeting should be maintained included Egypt, Barbados, Ecuador, Nepal, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and India.
According to trade officials, India said that in its view, the Preparatory Committee was assigned a certain mandate which includes the ongoing receipt of Category A notifications.
This work has not yet finished, so the Preparatory Committee is required to meet, it said, endorsing the Chair's proposal to hold a meeting on 7 November.
Egypt said that it is only Ministers who can decide on whether the Preparatory Committee has completed its work.
Brazil said that there is need for clarification as to whether one member can prevent a meeting from taking place.
Indonesia expressed concerns over the hold-up of work in other fora. It said that it was dismayed that the differences over the TFA Protocol were affecting other work mandated by ministers in Bali. It said that "two wrongs do not make a right."
Lesotho, on behalf of the African Group, also said that it did not support the linkages being made between the challenges that the PCTF was addressing and other decisions which emerged from Bali.
According to trade officials, Uganda, on behalf of the LDCs, said that it did not believe that the current impasse was insurmountable. It called for an expeditious resolution of the matter, noting the negative impact on development-related issues.
Uganda also said the impasse should not stop work on other Bali decisions including work on the Bali work programme. Does anyone expect the LDCs to undertake reforms set out in the agreement without capacity building, it asked, underlining that the LDC issues should not be sacrificed.
Has the Committee completed finishing its work, Dominica asked, adding that it is not clear that is the case. It believed that the appropriate forum for concluding the Protocol has to be within the Preparatory Committee.
According to trade officials, Barbados expressed support for Dominica and India.
Ecuador said that the Chair has to decide on whether or not to convene a meeting, adding that the notification of Category A commitments has not been concluded.
Nepal supported India and Dominica. Given that the drafting of the Protocol is not finished, it agreed on the proposal to convene a meeting on 7 November.
According to trade officials, Cuba agreed that the work should continue in the Preparatory Committee.
Egypt said that the Preparatory Committee had three missions, namely, complete the legal review of the TFA text, receive Category A notifications, and the drafting of the protocol.
If the work of the Preparatory Committee is to be closed, that would mean changing the decisions of Ministers in Bali, it said, adding that we have no power to change that, so we should continue our work.
Venezuela supported the convening of a meeting on 7 November, while Zimbabwe said that the work of the Preparatory Committee has not yet been concluded and should therefore continue.
According to trade officials, Bolivia agreed that the work has not yet been completed in the Preparatory Committee.
Indonesia said that members should exercise the right for the dates of the meeting. Since the Preparatory Committee is still alive, the Chair has the right to convene a meeting, it said.
Ambassador Conejos concluded by informing Members that he would not schedule the next meeting of the PCTF but would hold consultations with delegations on the issues raised today.
The Chair also said that he would consult with the WTO's legal department, the Director-General, and the Chair of the General Council.
On the basis of these consultations, "we will see where we can move from here," Ambassador Conejos said. +