TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Nov15/18)
30 November 2015
Third World Network

DG absent from consultations, amidst looming negotiating crisis
Published in SUNS #8141 dated 24 November 2015

Geneva, 23 Nov (D. Ravi Kanth) -- The conspicuous absence of the World Trade Organization director-general Roberto Azevedo during the Room W meetings over the past ten days has caused a major void in the preparations for the tenth ministerial beginning in Nairobi on 15 December, an authoritative source told the SUNS.

Over the past ten days, the DG has been absent during the discussion of various textual proposals submitted by members. He has been busy attending meetings abroad instead of overseeing the crucial Room W meetings for preparing the Nairobi ministerial declaration and the post-Nairobi work program, the source said, while preferring anonymity.

"In the run-up to the Bali ministerial meeting in December, 2013, Azevedo attended each Room W meeting and also simultaneously held meetings with members in different configurations. However, for Nairobi he has almost abdicated his role despite being the chair for the Trade Negotiations Committee," the source argued.

"Clearly, there is a danger that the draft ministerial document covering the major issues, including the small package of deliverables and the post-Nairobi work program will not be ready by the time ministers start arriving in Nairobi," the source maintained.

During the Room W meeting chaired by the three facilitators - Ambassador Gabriel Duque of Colombia, Ambassador Stephen Karau of Kenya, and Ambassador Harald Neple of Norway - on last Friday (20 November), an overwhelming majority of developing and least-developed countries demanded that the post-Nairobi work program shall reaffirm continuation of the negotiations of outstanding issues of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) on the basis of the existing Doha mandates.

The United States, the European Union, and Japan remained isolated at the meeting after they said that they will not reaffirm continuation of the DDA in the post-Nairobi work program.

Korea suggested that while it is prepared to negotiate issues based on the mandates to the extent that there is consensus among members, it would also want to negotiate new issues, according to participants familiar with the meeting.

Korea's position is also shared by the so-called Friends of the System such as Switzerland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, Singapore, Hong Kong-China, Malaysia, Chile, Mexico, Colombia, and Costa Rica among others.

"The fight has narrowed down to existing mandates and new issues and at the heart of divergences is how to ensure that the existing mandates are preserved for completing the unfinished Doha business," an African trade envoy told the SUNS.

South Africa's trade envoy Xavier Carim said "the views of vast majority of members based on their written submissions cannot be ignored or wished away."

"Only one member [Korea] adopted a different approach in their written submission and the problem of the red lines by handful of countries we heard drawn through the overwhelming positions of the members," Ambassador Carim said.

South Africa suggested that the meetings on drafting of the ministerial declaration clearly showed that a large majority of countries favour that the DDA negotiations must be reaffirmed for continuation of negotiations based on the Doha mandates.

The US trade envoy Ambassador Michael Punke said he wants to make it very clear that the US will not sign up to any declaration that will explicitly reaffirm continuation of the DDA negotiations in the post-Nairobi work program, according to participants familiar with the meeting.

Ambassador Punke gave the timelines starting from 2001 when the DDA negotiations were launched - to emphasize the point that the DDA negotiations missed all the important deadlines and that they cannot continue because of their mandates.

But he did not suggest who was responsible for missing the deadlines, nor did he speak about the maximalist positions he adopted during the negotiations to run away from the Doha mandates, a trade envoy said.

In sharp response to Ambassador Punke's assessment, China's trade envoy Ambassador Yu Jianhua said the Doha negotiations produced concrete results despite slow progress in certain areas.

The Chinese envoy gave several examples of progress in the Doha negotiations at different periods, including the conclusion of the Trade Facilitation Agreement in 2013.

Ambassador Jianhua said the remaining DDA issues ought to be completed based on an explicit post-Nairobi work program.

Lesotho, which is the coordinator for the African Group, pleaded with the US, the EU, and Japan that they should not kill the Doha negotiations on "African soil."

India firmly opposed the introduction of new issues without completing the Doha negotiations.

The EU called for new issues to be included in the post-Nairobi work program.

Egypt said it had opposed the Doha negotiations in 2001 but developing countries were promised immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that they will be provided a developmental outcome.

After 14 years, the industrialized countries have not delivered what they had promised, Egypt maintained.

At the meeting, China, India, and South Africa, along with several other developing countries, suggested a set of stringent guidelines for the facilitators to follow during the final phase of drafting the text.

The guidelines include:

(i) The role of the facilitators would be to combine the various textual proposals put forth by Members based on the language of the proposals. Facilitators should not amend the language of various proposals. If they wish to do so, they would have to consult and get concurrence of the respective proponents before any such changes are made.

(ii) The facilitators should not venture to put forward textual proposals in core areas of affirmation/ non-affirmation of the DDA, new issues or new approaches.

(iii) Responses to the texts in the Room W process, if taken into account, must be attributed to the particular Members who have expressed those views and should not be captured as anonymous comments like "a few members or some members etc..." Attribution is an important element of a transparent, Member-driven process.

(iv) Additionally, this attribution should be factual and not involve any value judgements on the part of the facilitators.

(v) The underlying premise of a Member-driven process cannot be compromised by the facilitators' subjective self-assessment.

(vi) The facilitators' engagement would be to attempt to move the process forward by finding convergences in various textual proposals as well as retaining the divergences. This would then be presented to the Membership who would decide the way forward.

(vii) The facilitators' process would not preclude Members' attempts to find convergence in their respective proposals with a view to move the process forward.

The stage is thus set for a major showdown between the developed countries on the one side, and the developing countries, on the other, on the way forward.

But all indications are pointing towards a negotiating crisis due to lack of focused engagement on major issues such as special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, and the binding outcomes for issues raised by the least-developed countries, said a trade envoy. +