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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jul15/29)
30 July 2015
Third World Network

DG assessment raises more questions than answers
Published in SUNS #8073 dated 30 July 2015

Geneva, 29 Jul (D. Ravi Kanth) -- The assessment by the WTO Director-General at the General Council on 28 July on what members ought to do in September, after the failure to finalise the post-Bali work programme, has raised more fundamental questions than answers on what the Nairobi Ministerial Conference would be able to accomplish.
 
At the General Council (GC) meeting Tuesday, the DG, Roberto Azevedo, gave an assessment on what members ought to do when they return (after the August recess) in September, due to the failure to finalise the post-Bali work programme by the end of this week.
 
Far from pointing to a way ahead, his assessment, however, has raised more fundamental questions than answers about what is going to be accomplished at the tenth ministerial conference in Nairobi, Kenya, beginning on December 15.
 
"Come September, Members should be ready to hit the ground running on substance not process," Azevedo told members at the GC meeting on July 28.
 
"While we haven't moved forward yet, through our extensive engagement we have built the vehicle which can take us forward," the DG maintained.
 
"If a common understanding materializes early in the 2nd semester, then I think we still have an excellent chance of delivering meaningful outcomes in Nairobi... Whatever the outcome this week, when we return after the summer that must be our number one priority," he argued.
 
"As the crow flies, Nairobi is about 6,000 kilometers away from Geneva... In September we will have to stop talking about how we can make the journey, and take our first step," Azevedo said.
 
Until now, Azevedo has repeatedly said at several Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) and GC meetings that a "clearly defined" work program with precise modalities by July 31 is essential for concluding the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) trade negotiations at the tenth ministerial conference in Nairobi beginning on December 15.
 
In Azevedo's latest statement, however, there is no mention of wrapping-up the DDA negotiations at Nairobi.
 
Does this mean that he is not aiming for the conclusion of the Doha Round at the tenth ministerial conference? Or does he have some other plan to conclude the Doha trade negotiations?
 
In a similar vein, Azevedo spoke about the need to hit the ground running on "substance" in September. Here again the DG did not clarify what he means by "substance" in the absence of a work program.
 
Does it imply that he has now given up on the work program because of the failure to conclude it by the end of this week?
 
(During the green room meeting on July 24, the United States suggested that if there is no work program by July 31, then there will not be one afterwards.)
 
The director-general said at the GC meeting that members should not focus on "process" but only on "substance."
 
Azevedo also mentioned that a vehicle is already constructed to take members forward. If that is so, the question arises as to why he is asking members not to focus on process, and what vehicle he has in mind that will take members forward?
 
Azevedo maintained that if members arrive at a common understanding by early 2nd semester, then, there will be an excellent chance of delivering "meaningful outcomes" in Nairobi.
 
He has not, however, clarified what is meant by "common understanding" and the "meaningful" outcomes that members can realize in Nairobi, particularly in the absence of a work program.
 
Clearly, there is a need for "deconstructing" Azevedo's latest assessment which appears to be dense with conflicting and somewhat misleading messages.
 
However, a central message seems to be that there would not be a work program after September and, in its absence, only the powerful members will be in a position to secure what they want while the rest would be left in a quandary.
 
Immediately after the GC meeting, Canada organized a closed-door luncheon meeting with Kenya's Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed to discuss the package, in the absence of a clear and detailed work program, for the WTO's tenth ministerial conference.
 
The luncheon meeting was attended by trade envoys from the United States, the European Union, Japan, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico, Colombia, Jamaica and Kenya among others.
 
At the meeting at the Canadian mission, Kenya's trade envoy Dr. Stephen Ndungu Karau said the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations will not and should not die at Nairobi regardless of the size of the outcome.
 
The Kenyan envoy also said there cannot be an outcome at Nairobi without rapid progress in the domestic support pillar (in agriculture).
 
Ambassador Karau likened the unresolved issues in the domestic support pillar to an egg and chicken story, suggesting that members cannot bypass domestic support if they want a credible outcome at Nairobi, according to participants familiar with the meeting.
 
He said that those who are opposing SP and SSM cannot expect that others will remain silent on their domestic support.
 
During the meeting, several trade envoys emphasized that it would be wrong to work on a "small" or "minimum" package at a time when there are many outstanding issues of the DDA on the table.
 
The EU called for a package that would deliver on the "developmental" issues of the DDA but did not clarify the developmental issues it has in mind.
 
Japan spoke about the need to work on a "realistic" package that is doable in the three-and-half months after the summer break.
 
Norway suggested the importance of striving towards a "comprehensive" package.
 
The United States suggested the potential for working on the export competition pillar but not on domestic support in the Doha agriculture package.
 
The US also maintained that special products and special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for developing countries will not fly in the context of the low level of ambition in the market access for farm products at Nairobi.
 
China talked about a "mini" package, suggesting that members must work hard on outcomes that can be achieved at Nairobi and afterwards address the remaining outstanding issues.
 
South Africa said members must strive for a "substantive" outcome in which clarity on domestic support will unlock other difficult issues at Nairobi.
 
Brazil spoke about the need for intense political engagement as was the case in the run-up to the 2008 ministerial meeting, suggesting that political engagement can change the process. Brazil also emphasized the importance of tackling the domestic support pillar along with other issues in the agriculture package.
 
India highlighted the difficulties faced by its subsistence-farmers as compared to the heavily-subsidized farmers in the industrialized countries. India said developing countries with a large farm population cannot be expected to bear the burden.
 
Indonesia underscored the need to create trust for engaging in a frank and constructive discussion after the summer break. Indonesia appealed to the participants to adopt a positive stand, and not diversionary tactics.
 
In response to the sharply divergent views, Ms Mohamed urged the trade envoys that they need to resolve the big issues here, as it is Geneva that holds the key to a successful outcome at the tenth ministerial meeting in Nairobi.
 
She urged the trade envoys to focus all their energies without adopting negative tactics in the coming months.
 
In a nutshell, the run-up to the tenth ministerial conference in Nairobi appears to be strewn with negotiating landmines that will decide whether the DDA negotiations will survive in the face of a sustained assault by the United States and the European Union that launched the negotiations in 2001 immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. +

 


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