TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (May16/07)
10 May 2016
Third World Network

US and friends line up against development goals in Doha services talks
Published in SUNS #8236 dated  9  May 2016

Geneva, 4 May (D. Ravi Kanth) - Several developing and least-developed countries on Tuesday (May 3) pressed for adhering to the "developmental" goals in restarting the unfinished Doha services negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

However, the United States struck a discordant note, and insisted on members adopting "new approaches" because of what it claimed was the "historic turning point" at the WTO's tenth ministerial conference in Nairobi, Kenya, over four months ago, negotiators told the SUNS.

The Nairobi Ministerial Declaration (NMD), according to the US, acknowledged the fundamental differences among members over the Doha Development Agenda negotiations.

Further, the NMD offered a "historic opportunity to reinvigorate the WTO's negotiating function". Services, according to the US, is one area where "new approaches" are needed, negotiators told the SUNS.

At an informal open-ended meeting of the Doha services negotiating committee convened by the chair Ambassador Gabriel Duque of Colombia, the developing and the least-developed countries (LDCs) put forth their priorities that starkly differed from the objectives spelt out by the US, Australia, the European Union, Canada, Norway, and other major developed countries, negotiators said.

Although it is the first informal meeting of the Doha services special session and members remained upbeat on kick-starting the unfinished services negotiations, the differences over the immediate priorities among the developed countries on the one side, and the developing and the LDCs on the other, suggested that the way forward is going to be difficult, said a South American negotiator.

Many countries - Nigeria, Mexico, Colombia, Korea, Singapore, Switzerland, Uruguay, Chinese Taipei, Norway, Egypt, China, the EU, Australia, Chile, Ecuador, Uganda, Turkey, the US, and South Africa among others - made "positive" statements about the importance of the services negotiations.

Australia said the services negotiations must remove the deep water between bound and applied commitments in services, a position that would require the developing countries to bind their current applied commitments.

Australia, which is a major spokesperson for the developed countries in the services negotiations and also a convener of the closed-door negotiations of the trade in services agreement (TISA) among 23 countries outside the WTO, called for a "sectoral approach" in the WTO services negotiations. Australia also touched on transparency in domestic regulation.

Australia, the European Union, and Canada spoke about the importance of e-commerce in services negotiations.

The EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has already stated that "digital trade", which involves both goods and services, is a major priority area.

"The whole sector [digital trade] barely existed when the Doha Round was launched... And the Doha work program on e-commerce has moved far more slowly than the incredible changes we have seen to the online world in the last fifteen years," she told participants at a meeting at Geneva's Graduate Institute.

The EU also is a strong demandeur of doing away with the special and differential treatment architecture. "If 164 countries are prepared to open their markets on same terms [without S&DT] that's good for everyone," she maintained at the Graduate Institute.

Therefore, the EU and the US are on the same page of starting with new approaches, said an African negotiator.

Although other developed countries - Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Japan - do not openly acknowledge their support for "new approaches", they are also silent supporters for removing the S&DT architecture once and for all, the negotiator said.

The EU's trade commissioner has also called for "filling in the gaps on domestic regulation of services, which would also do something generally for a sector that's only going to become more important in international trade over time."

But the EU's position on domestic regulation doesn't seek to do away with the complex domestic regulation barriers, particularly the economic needs tests and other technical standards, according to an Asian services negotiator.

Mexico, which is a major participant in the TISA negotiations, called for pursuing the WTO negotiations in all sectors and modes of supply in services.

China said it is willing to consider any ideas and proposals that would accelerate the services negotiations on a strong footing.

India said it had tabled a proposal on Mode 4 concerning the movement of short-term services providers. India said its interests in services are well known and that services, particularly market access and domestic regulation, are very important.

India called for ensuring that the interests of the least-developed countries take precedence over all other priorities.

India said the integration of developing and least-developed countries in the global trading system in services is important.

The 2004 July framework agreement emphasized that "members shall aim to achieve progressively higher levels of liberalization with no a priori exclusion of any service sector or mode of supply and shall give special attention to sectors and modes of supply of export interest to developing countries. Members note the interest of developing countries, as well as other Members, in Mode 4."

The 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration called for "the negotiations on trade in services shall proceed to their conclusion with a view to promoting the economic growth of all trading partners and the development of developing and least-developed countries, and with due respect for the right of Members to regulate."

The Annex C of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration had stated: "Members shall aim to achieve progressively higher levels of liberalization with no a priori exclusion of any service sector or mode of supply and shall give special attention to sectors and modes of supply of export interest to developing countries. Members note the interest of developing countries, as well as other Members, in Mode 4."

South Africa, Ecuador, and India called for achieving the "developmental" goals as agreed in the Doha services negotiations. The G-90 countries and the African Group spoke about the centrality of the developmental dimension in the services negotiations.

South Africa, Ecuador, and India spoke about the flexibilities accorded to developing countries. The three countries called for preserving the developmental priorities as well as special and differential flexibilities.

In short, if the first informal open-ended meeting of the Doha services negotiating body after the Nairobi Ministerial is any indication then it is clear that the US and its developed country allies will ensure that the developmental priorities of the developing and poorest countries based on the previous Doha mandates are put to bed once and for all, negotiators maintained.