TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec15/02)
4 December 2015
Third World Network

Top-down approach on "most contentious issues" for Nairobi
Published in SUNS #8146 dated 1 December 2015

Geneva, 30 Nov (D. Ravi Kanth) -- In a top-down approach to negotiate the "most contentious issues" on the draft for the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration, trade envoys from 15 countries held a marathon meeting on Saturday (28 November) to discuss about reaffirming the continuation of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations as well as the new approaches and issues, people familiar with the meeting told the SUNS.

The closed-door meeting was a follow-up to a draft consolidated text circulated by three ‘facilitators' at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 27 November.

The facilitators - Gabriel Duque (Colombia), Stephen Karau (Kenya), and Harald Neple (Norway) - issued the text on their own responsibility. The text covered three parts of the declaration to be adopted at the Nairobi ministerial beginning on December 15.

Although the draft is required to be based on the written submissions and detailed exchanges that took place in the Room W meetings, the facilitators maintained that for ensuring "brevity, readability and textual consistency, some modifications, additions and deletions were made to language submitted, where we found that this would better reflect the variety of positions expressed."

Consequently, written proposals tabled by a large majority of developing and least-developed countries, particularly the proposal by China, India, South Africa, Indonesia, Ecuador, and Venezuela which was supported by many countries, about the positive contributions of the ongoing DDA negotiations and the need to continue them to conclude an agreement on the outstanding issues, were not reflected in the facilitators' draft text.

The six developing countries, in their proposal, had said unambiguously: "We take note of the progress that has been made towards carrying out the Doha Work Programme, including the decisions we have taken during this (Nairobi) Ministerial Conference. These decisions are important stepping stones towards the completion of the Doha Round. We reaffirm the declarations and decisions we adopted at Doha, and all the subsequent declarations and decisions, notably the decision adopted by the General Council on 1 August 2004; the Hong Kong Declaration of 2005 and the Bali Ministerial Declaration of 2013."

Later, many developing country groups - the Arab Group, the African Group, the ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) Group, the RAMs (recently acceded members), and the LDC (least-developed countries) group - supported China, India, South Africa, Indonesia, Ecuador, and Venezuela and also circulated their respective proposals for reaffirming the continuation of the Doha negotiations.

Only a handful of countries - the United States, the European Union, and Japan - called for terminating the Doha Round. The so-called Friends of the System (FoS) led by Switzerland adopted what are called the middle-ground positions in which they remained ambivalent about continuing the Doha negotiations while pursuing new issues.

Against this backdrop, the facilitators said, in the introduction to their five-page draft, that their "text contains neither draft language on nor place holders for the most contentious issues identified by Members, namely the Reaffirmation of the DDA and Instructions on the way forward, and on New Issues."

The facilitators referred to the Doha negotiations only twice in their report - once in Part I and later in Part III.

In Part I, the facilitators said, "The WTO shall remain the main forum to negotiate multilateral trade rules. At our Fourth Session, we launched for the first time in the history of the GATT and the WTO, a Development Round -the Doha Development Agenda. We have made some progress in the negotiations. We recall the adoption of the Protocol Amending the TRIPS Agreement and welcome the adoption of the Agreement on Trade Facilitation (TFA) as the first multilateral agreement since the establishment of the WTO. We commend those Members that have already ratified the respective Protocols and look forward to further ratifications. We note with regret that much less progress has been made in central elements of the WTO's negotiating agenda, in particular in agriculture."

An African trade envoy, in a comment, said: "The manner in which the facilitators have de-linked TFA and the TRIPS Public Health Agreement from the DDA is inexplicable. While the TFA was actually dropped along with other Singapore issues from the DDA at the Cancun ministerial meeting in 2003, it was brought back to the DDA in the 2004 July Framework Agreement. The TRIPS Public Health Agreement was there with the DDA since 2001. Therefore, the facilitators' attempt to show these two agreements outside the DDA is unacceptable and part of their diabolical intentions."

In Part III (of their draft), the facilitators said: "We welcome the advances made in the Doha Development Agenda. We regret that it has not been possible to reach agreement on all areas of the negotiations, including Agriculture, NAMA, Services, Rules, including fisheries subsidies, and TRIPS. In particular, we note the importance of agriculture to many WTO Members, including LDCs. We will therefore address all aspects of agriculture reform as a matter of priority."

However, several countries pointed out that there were substantial advances made in the July 2004 Framework Agreement, the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration, and the December 2013 Bali Ministerial Declaration.

The facilitators ought to have included the written submissions of the members on these three declarations. Instead, they chose to portray an extremely bleak and negative picture to ensure that the handful of developed countries can terminate the Doha Round at Nairobi.

Significantly, the facilitators said that, "In reaffirming the centrality of development, we agree that the principles of Special and Differential Treatment and Less Than Full Reciprocity for developing and least-developed country Members shall remain integral parts of the WTO's future work."

Even before members begin a bottom-up process to discuss the facilitators' text on 2 December, a group of 15 countries already resorted to a top-down approach to resolve the two most contentious issues at a meeting that took place on last Saturday.

The countries which attended the meeting at the Japanese mission included the US, the EU China, India, Brazil, Japan, Australia, Canada, Norway, New Zealand, Switzerland, South Africa, Mexico, Colombia and Kenya.

At the closed-door meeting, the countries remained sharply divided on the reaffirmation and new approaches.

But prior to the informal heads of delegations meeting on the report, select trade envoys discussed the reaffirmation of the continuation of the DDA negotiations and new approaches dominated the proceedings.

The US, the EU, Japan, and other countries said they are willing to address language on continuation of the DDA negotiations provided that India, China, and South Africa agree to new approaches based on "graduation."

Effectively, major emerging countries will have to forego special and differential treatment flexibilities and less-than-full reciprocity (LTFR) treatment for tariff reduction commitments if the Doha negotiations are continued, the industrialized countries maintained.

But developing countries - China, India, and South Africa - categorically rejected the trade-off between the continuation of the DDA negotiations and foregoing S&DT and LTFR flexibilities of the GATT architecture.

Also, the 15 countries tentatively agreed to take all the three issues in agriculture - special safeguard mechanism, public stockholding programs for food security, and export competition - to Nairobi with a minimal number of bracketed issues, people familiar with the meeting said.

A few industrialized countries like Japan maintained that they want all "transparency-related" issues covering anti-dumping, services, and even state-trading enterprises to be included along with the three agriculture issues.

In short, the larger membership may not get to discuss the facilitators' report in a bottom-up process as attempts are made by a few powerful members to decide the contentious issues through a top-down approach, a trade envoy told the SUNS. +