TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr16/07)
14 April 2016
Third World Network

No more NAMA or Doha talks at WTO, says US
Published in SUNS #8220 dated 13 April 2016

Geneva, 12 Apr (D. Ravi Kanth) -- The United States has sharpened its efforts at the World Trade Organization against any talks on any of the outstanding issues of the Doha Work Programme, with a remark that it no longer recognizes the Doha talks.

The US stance came loud and clear at an informal meeting on Monday (11 April) of the informal negotiating group on Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA), several negotiators told the SUNS.

At the meeting convened by NAMA negotiating group chair, Ambassador Remigi Winzap of Switzerland, a large majority of developing and even some industrialized countries urged the kick-start of the talks for addressing the outstanding issues revolving around tariff reduction commitments and non-tariff barriers (NTBs), several NAMA negotiators told the SUNS.

The United States, however, continued to adopt its "shock and awe" trade doctrine by maintaining that there cannot be any Doha negotiations on industrial goods because at the WTO's tenth ministerial meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, over three months ago, the members did not reaffirm the DDA negotiations for the first time, according to a NAMA negotiator from West Asia.

The US said categorically that Washington doesn't recognize the Doha negotiations any longer, according to a negotiator present in the room.

Washington maintained that it doesn't see any merit in conducting the NAMA negotiations at the WTO as it secured maximum gains in slashing industrial tariffs outside the trade body.

"The US was questioning the utility of the multilateral process," said the negotiator, pointing to the US stance, adding that it is very disturbing to witness the world's largest economy creating hurdles at every juncture in all outstanding areas of the Doha negotiations.

The developing countries - China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Egypt among others - rejected the unilateral US position, reiterating that members remain solidly committed to finishing the NAMA negotiations based on the Doha Work Programme at the WTO, participants told the SUNS.

The starkly differing positions on how to re-start the Doha negotiations for market access in industrial goods came into the open.

The unilateral approach of the US on the one side, and the multilateral approach of the developing and some industrialized countries in tackling the outstanding Doha NAMA issues is bound to cause an inordinate delay at the WTO, a developing country negotiator from South America told the SUNS.

At an informal open-ended meeting, the Swiss chair for the NAMA negotiations, Ambassador Remigi Winzap, provided an account of his consultations with over 30 countries.

In his two-page intervention, the chair said "members still appear to be in search of how to pick up on the [NAMA] negotiating pillar after Nairobi".

"In my discussions," the chair said, "I sensed nonetheless a general constructive attitude and willingness to start moving on different negotiating issues, both for substantive and systemic reasons."

"I did not perceive a going back into trenches but rather an openness by most members to look at issues with fresh eyes," Ambassador Winzap opined.

The chair divided the membership into three categories in terms of their immediate NAMA priorities.

The first group, according to the chair, "supported by the largest group of members, would like to continue working on NAMA issues (tariffs and NTBs) in parallel with other remaining Doha issues."

Members in this group which include many developing countries and even some industrialized countries stated that NAMA negotiations must be pursued as per the paragraph 31 of the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration.

The paragraph says, "a strong commitment of all members to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues", including on NAMA, a subject specifically mentioned along with other specified outstanding issues in that para.

[Para 31 of the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration says: "Nevertheless, there remains a strong commitment of all Members to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues. This includes advancing work in all three pillars of agriculture, namely domestic support, market access and export competition, as well as non-agriculture market access, services, development, TRIPS and rules. Work on all the Ministerial Decisions adopted in Part II of this Declaration will remain an important element of our future agenda." -- SUNS]

Many members see value in "NAMA work to balance potential progress in other areas," the chair acknowledged in his statement.

"I have heard this both from Members with offensive and defensive interests in NAMA," Ambassador Winzap said.

Although the chair did not name the countries, the first group includes largely a majority of developing and some industrialized countries such as the European Union, Japan, and Norway among others.

The second group, said Ambassador Winzap, "very significantly smaller group of members does not necessarily see the comparative advantage of WTO as a forum for market access negotiations anymore, and therefore is lukewarm at best to the prospect of pursuing work on NAMA market access for the time being."

Given the interventions made by the US at the meeting, it is pretty clear that the chair was referring as the second "very significantly smaller group" to the US and "one or two more members," NAMA negotiators maintained.

The third group, according to Ambassador Winzap, contains "a few members" who are "either indifferent towards further work on NAMA issues at this stage, or they are defensive as for them the existing ‘policy space' of members should be maintained, notably in support of industrialization in the context of a difficult macro- economic environment."

The chair appears to have clubbed in this third category a group of countries such as South Africa and its allies in the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU).

In its intervention at the meeting, South Africa maintained that it had made a huge contribution in the previous Uruguay Round as a developed country.

The South African official said that it will need policy space to continue with its industrialization given the massive macro-economic difficulties it is facing, a participant told the SUNS.

The US struck a discordant note by pronouncing that for the first time in the history of the DDA negotiations over the past 15 years members did not reaffirm the continuation of the negotiations.

Washington suggested that it doesn't recognize the Doha negotiations thereby opening many possibilities, said a participant after the meeting.

The US also maintained that they want real market access, arguing that while they cut their applied tariffs others are only removing ‘water' between bound and applied tariffs, the participant maintained.

India reminded members that the Doha Ministerial Declaration of November 2001 provided an explicit mandate for continuance of negotiations on market access for non-agricultural products.

The Doha work program in paragraph 16 maintained: "We agree to negotiations which shall aim, by modalities to be agreed, to reduce or as appropriate eliminate tariffs, including the reduction or elimination of tariff peaks, high tariffs, and tariff escalation, as well as non-tariff barriers, in particular on products of export interest to developing countries. Product coverage shall be comprehensive and without a priori exclusions. The negotiations shall take fully into account the special needs and interests of developing and least-developed country participants, including through less than full reciprocity in reduction commitments, in accordance with the relevant provisions of Article XXVIII bis of GATT 1994 and the provisions cited in paragraph 50 below. To this end, the modalities to be agreed will include appropriate studies and capacity-building measures to assist least- developed countries to participate effectively in the negotiations."

India also drew attention to paragraph 50 of the Doha work program which says: "the negotiations and the other aspects of the Work Programme shall take fully into account the principle of special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed countries embodied in: Part IV of the GATT 1994; the Decision of 28 November 1979 on Differential and More Favourable Treatment, Reciprocity and Fuller Participation of Developing Countries; the Uruguay Round Decision on Measures in Favour of Least-Developed Countries; and all other relevant WTO provisions."

India said there is no way members can shy away from these commitments. India argued that special and differential treatment and less-than-full-reciprocity in the final commitments between the developed and developing countries remain at the core of the NAMA agenda.

New Delhi argued that the Doha negotiations are emphasized in the Nairobi ministerial declaration pointing that the best way to kick-start work is on the basis of the third version of the revised draft modalities of 2008, NAMA negotiators told the SUNS.

Several developing countries including China, India, South Africa, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Egypt called for the continuation of the Doha framework with the special and differential treatment flexibilities.

Brazil, Argentina and a few agriculture exporting countries emphasized about pursuing agriculture first.

Significantly, the European Union, Japan, and China suggested that they are prepared to consider any approach, including sectorals, plurilaterals, or simply lowering the level of ambition to continue with the NAMA negotiations under the multilateral framework.

"From what I have heard, the general ambition level seems clearly reduced compared to the discussions we had a year ago," the chair maintained.

"Indeed, several members do not consider ambitious market access outcomes as a realistic prospect anymore and rather suggest trying to improve predictability on NAMA, notably by increasing bindings or reducing water between bound and applied tariff rates," Ambassador Winzap maintained.

Under such a scenario, said Ambassador Winzap, "balance may require trade-offs between different negotiating areas."

In crux, there is an overwhelming demand for re-starting the NAMA negotiations to explore what can be achieved by the eleventh ministerial conference.

But one country, the US, is again sticking to its aggressive "shock and awe" trade doctrine by insisting on its way or the highway approach in NAMA negotiations as it did in other areas, a West Asian negotiator maintained. +