TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar15/04)
23 March 2015
Third World Network

Chairs report on their consultations on post-Bali work
Published in SUNS #7986 dated 20 March 2015

Geneva, 19 Mar (Kanaga Raja) -- An informal meeting at the level of Heads  of Delegation (HOD) on Wednesday heard progress reports from the Chairs of the agriculture, non-agricultural market access (NAMA) and services negotiations on their consultations so far with the membership.

The meeting was convened by WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo to review the progress made so far in the negotiations on the post-Bali work programme for concluding the Doha Round.

In his report, the Chair of the Special Session of the Agriculture Committee, Ambassador John Adank of New Zealand, said that he has been  holding a lot of consultations principally on domestic support and on agricultural market access.

Clearly, there has to be balance across these two pillars and the export competition pillar, he said.

It is also clear that the interests of all members need to be taken into account, and that decisions will be taken by the full membership, he added.

On the issue of trade-distorting domestic support, the Chair said that there are significant divergences about the usefulness of the Rev. 4 text (draft agriculture modalities).

According to the Chair, there are many delegations that like the architecture of this even if various elements of it need to be looked at more closely.

On the notion of overall trade-distorting domestic support, many members like this as a concept, said the Chair, adding that it gives you an idea of what the level of trade-distorting domestic support is, and it also prevents 'box-shifting'.

With respect to the discussions on market access, Ambassador Adank said that there have been alternative approaches proposed on tariff reduction.

According to trade officials, the Chair mentioned the request-and-offer approach (proposed by Argentina) as well as a proposal for average tariff cuts or a combination of these.

He said that the concerns over the request-offer approach is that it is too time-consuming and difficult to manage, and that it could be disadvantageous to small economies that are unable keep their eyes on everything.

On export competition, in reference to eliminating all forms of export subsidies by 2013, the Chair said that everyone seems to go along with its terms, but the question now is the timetable.

He also stressed that cotton remains very important and is something which is obviously part of the wider negotiations.

On the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes, Ambassador Adank said that there is a wide gap between the G-33 and other members who do not accept the G33 proposal that is on the table.

According to the Chair, they have concerns about the G33 proposal, particularly about putting in place a mechanism that could be trade-distorting.

In his report at the informal HOD meeting, the Chair of the Negotiating Group on Market Access for Non-Agricultural Products (NAMA), Ambassador Remigi Winzap of Switzerland, said that a couple of things have emerged in the consultations.

The first is a negotiation that affects formula-applying members. The Chair also said that the Swiss formula for tariff reductions is extremely difficult for some members and that there is a certain willingness by members to begin to explore alternative approaches.

In this context, he mentioned the proposal by Argentina on a  request-offer approach, saying that members had quite a good discussion but they are at a distance apart on this.

According to the Chair, some members stressed the need for less than full reciprocity and special and differential treatment.

The Chair highlighted that more flexible approaches in the negotiations are important, as well as having a more level playing field.

According to trade officials, Ambassador Winzap said that members also want the issues of tariff peaks and tariff escalation to be addressed.

There has been not too much progress on the issue of Non-Tariff Barriers  (NTBs), and until there is a deal on cutting tariffs it will be hard to address the NTB issue, the Chair added.

According to trade officials, the Chair said that he will continue with his consultations, as well as working with the D-G. There has to be a balanced approach that would deliver results, he added.

(The Secretariat has also put out some figures on the average tariff  reduction approach in NAMA, highlighting what it says is its simplicity,  comparability and flexibility. It said that this approach can be  complemented by request/offer and that there is a possibility to align  the schedules of regional blocs. It also said that there would be less need for special provisions under this approach.)

The Chair of the Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services, Ambassador Gabriel Duque of Colombia, said that a session was held on 24 February and what the Chair wanted was a discussion of what members' aspirations were in these negotiations.

According to trade officials, an information session was also held on  where members are with respect to the negotiations and how they have evolved.

According to trade officials, D-G Azevedo said that members are lagging a bit behind on services, which is an area in which they need to catch up.

This whole notion of sequencing (of issues) is important, but if members wait too long then they will never get back to services and this will boomerang back and drag down agriculture, he added.

The D-G also said that it is clear that the three pillars in agriculture are important and that trade-distorting domestic support is very challenging. Market access is not easy either, and there is need to establish what is possible.

Azevedo said that he is going to leave it to the Chairs to begin to set  the stage for the more political discussions. He wants this process (by  the Chairs) to carry on a little bit longer.

It is also important that the development issues including the LDC issues and cotton be taken up as well, he said.

According to the WTO website, the D-G told the meeting that members are  continuing to make steady progress in terms of understanding the issues  and each other's aspirations and limitations. This is critical if they are going to advance these negotiations.

He said that it was particularly encouraging that new ideas are being put  forward in some areas in the form of various papers and proposals. "Of course this doesn't diminish what we already have on the table in terms  of texts, but it does provide some new and creative approaches that we can further explore."

He however said that while members are making progress, this does not yet  mean they are converging. There remain many challenges to overcome before solutions can be found, he added.

Speaking at the informal meeting, the European Union voiced agreement with the D-G's comments.

According to trade officials, the EU said that it is beginning to see progress on market access in agriculture and NAMA. The proposals that were put forward were very useful. There is need to find a way to make adjustments, it added.

There is also the need to find a way for an agreement on public  stockholding for food security purposes, but it needs to see more proposals than what has come from the G-33.

In this context, the EU said that it is not acceptable to put certain types of trade-distorting support into the Green Box. There is also need to make progress on issues of importance to the LDCs, said the EU.

The D-G said that there is need to make sure that the simulations are done involving numbers. Members need to see what kinds of average tariffs and what their impact would be, both offensively and defensively.

According to trade officials, Japan voiced support for the D-G's comments on this issue. +