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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb15/05)
27 February 2015
Third World Network

 
De Mateo of Mexico to chair WTO General Council this year
Published in SUNS #7968 dated 24 February 2015
 
Geneva, 23 Feb (Kanaga Raja) -- The General Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on 20 February took note of the consensus on the slate of chairpersons for its various bodies for this year, and elected Ambassador Fernando De Mateo of Mexico as its new Chair.
 
Ambassador De Mateo replaces Ambassador Jonathan Fried of Canada.
 
The Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) will be chaired by Ambassador Harald Neple of Norway, while the Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB) will be chaired by Ambassador Atanas Atanassov Paparizov of Bulgaria.
 
Ambassador Hector Casanueva of Chile will chair the Council for Trade in Goods, while the Council for Trade in Services will be chaired by Ambassador Martin Eyjolfsson of Iceland.
 
The TRIPS Council will be chaired by Ambassador Abdolazeez Al-Otaibi of Saudi Arabia, and the Committee on Trade and Development will be chaired by Ambassador Bassirou Sene of Senegal.
 
The Committee on Balance-of-Payments Restrictions will be chaired by Ambassador Bertrand de Crombrugghe de Picquendaele of Belgium, while the Committee on Budget, Finance and Administration will be chaired by Ambassador Daniel Blockert of Sweden.
 
Ms Irene B. K. Young of Hong Kong-China will chair the Committee on Trade and Environment, while the Committee on Regional Trade Agreements will be chaired by Ambassador Francisco Pirez of Uruguay (ad interim).
 
The Working Group on Trade, Debt and Finance will be chaired by Ambassador Xavier Carim of South Africa, and the Working Group on Trade and Transfer of Technology will be chaired by Ambassador Luc-Joseph Okio of Congo.
 
With respect to the bodies under the Trade Negotiations Committee, the General Council also agreed to appoint Ambassador Tan Yee Woan of Singapore to chair the Committee on Trade and Development in Special Session.
 
Ambassador Esteban Conejos of the Philippines will continue to chair the Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation.
 
REPORT BY THE CHAIR OF THE TNC
 
Meanwhile, under a separate agenda item, Director-General Roberto Azevedo, in his capacity as Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), provided an overview of the progress to date on each of the Doha negotiating areas including agriculture, non-agricultural market access (NAMA), services, rules, TRIPS issues, trade and environment, trade and development, and the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU) negotiations.
 
On agriculture, he reported that the focus in the consultations so far has been mostly on the domestic support and market access pillars.
 
He said that it is clear that all elements within the agriculture framework are inter-related and there seems to be a general acceptance that they will need to be dealt with as an overall package.
 
Azevedo said there has been a good level of attendance and engagement at these consultations and the Chair of the agriculture negotiations will be continuing his consultations and will convene an informal meeting of the Special Session in the near future.
 
In the Negotiating Group on Market Access, the main focus of the Chair's consultations has been on tariffs, and these consultations have shown that work should mainly focus on the so-called "formula-applying members", in a first stage.
 
Certain ideas have been orally presented in terms of an alternative approach to the Swiss Formula in the Rev. 3 draft NAMA modalities text, said Azevedo, adding that at this stage these are only ideas which would need, at some point in time, to be translated into more concrete proposals.
 
An open-ended meeting of the Negotiating Group has been convened for 2 March to discuss the observations from these consultations and for information-sharing on activities amongst members in respect of Non-Tariff Barriers, said the D-G.
 
On services, Azevedo reported that over the past few weeks the Chair of the Services Special Session has consulted over 40 delegations, in a variety of configurations, on the next step toward the services component of the work programme.
 
On the issue of trade and development, Azevedo said that proponents have tabled two lists of S&D (special and differential treatment) provisions that they would like to be taken up as part of the work programme.
 
Although the Special Session awaits concrete textual proposals by the proponents soon, the D-G said that this is indeed a forward step in this important area of work.
 
On the DSU negotiations, the D-G said that the work has led to the presentation of "conceptual elements" of possible solutions in all 12 issues under discussion.
 
These elements do not, at this stage, reflect full convergence. Nor do all participants perceive these elements, taken together, as necessarily reflecting an adequate overall balance of interests, said Azevedo.
 
Azevedo was of the view that members have had a productive start to the intensive process that was launched last month, and in the past few weeks, they have started to engage more substantively - particularly in the three core areas.
 
"Progress is slow, but we are moving forward," said the D-G. Substantive positions have not changed a great deal since the last time these issues were discussed, but the tone of the discussions has been more positive.
 
To find solutions members need to move away from general statements of what they hope is desirable, and also away from finger pointing, to a situation where they identify more clearly the problems and challenges ahead of them, and explore potential solutions for each of those problems and challenges.
 
He said that he is not suggesting that members move away from the existing mandates or guiding principles.
 
"I am simply suggesting that we have to explore alternative approaches and alternative paths which fit within them."
 
Noting that the conversation will be deepened over the next two or three weeks under the Chairs' process, Azevedo said the key word is ‘doability', meaning what is doable for all members - not just for some.
 
Azevedo urged members to talk directly to each other, and stressed the need to get into a solution-finding mode.
 
A number of delegations spoke following the D-G's report, with developing countries including the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) mainly reiterating the importance of the development dimension, and for high priority to be accorded to the LDC issues as well as on the issue of cotton.
 
They also stressed that the Rev. 4 draft agriculture modalities text and the Rev. 3 draft NAMA modalities text be the basis for the negotiations.
 
(The views of various delegations on the post-Bali work programme will be highlighted in a future issue of SUNS.)
 
PROTOCOL ON AMENDING THE TRIPS AGREEMENT
 
The Director-General also made a statement under the agenda item of Protocol Amending the TRIPS Agreement.
 
At the General Council meeting in December 2005, Members had agreed to amend the TRIPS Agreement to secure a permanent solution for the problem identified by ministers in paragraph 6 of the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health.
 
This problem was the difficulties that WTO members with insufficient or no manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector could face in making effective use of compulsory licensing under the TRIPS Agreement.
 
Members took a decision to solve this problem by giving permanent legal effect, and not just a waiver, to a new kind of compulsory license - a special compulsory license for export, Azevedo said.
 
It has been ten years since that agreement was reached. And "we are still to bring that agreement into force", said the D-G, adding that it is high time to finalize this process.
 
"The 2005 decision was a clear recognition by all WTO members of the importance of providing a permanent legal certainty to this new compulsory licensing system under the TRIPS Agreement," and currently access to medicines through compulsory licensing can take place on the basis of a waiver.
 
Noting that two-thirds of the membership have to confirm acceptance before the amendment comes into force, the D-G said that 27 more acceptances are needed.
 
He had written to ministers of all relevant countries who have not yet taken this step to urge them to formally accept the TRIPS amendment.
 
"Its time that we completed this process and that the amendment is brought into force," he said.
 
US JONES ACT
 
The General Council also took up the agenda item of review of the exemption provided under paragraph 3 of the GATT 1994.
 
(This was a waiver that has been in place since 1994 and relates to the US Jones Act - Merchant Marine Act of 1920 - which requires all transport of goods by water between US ports to be carried out in vessels that have been constructed in the US itself.)
 
According to trade officials, several delegations including Japan, Korea, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong- China, Canada, Norway, the EU and Australia voiced criticism of this particular provision, insisting that the US explain very clearly why there is need for continuing with this exemption from GATT/WTO principles.
 
According to trade officials, the US said that it has provided statistical information on the number of vessels that have been built.
 
This was a critical part of the Uruguay Round Agreements, said the US, adding that the shipbuilding capacity of its shipyards is essential for the US to maintain its navy for defense purposes. +

 


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