TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jul16/02)
5 July 2016
Third World Network

Talks on impact of RTAs a priority for WTO Members, says Chair
Published in SUNS #8273 dated 30 June 2016

Geneva, 29 Jun (Kanaga Raja) -- A "systemic" discussion on the proliferation of regional trade agreements (RTAs) and their impact on global trade "is high on the agenda for members with possibly one or two exceptions," the Chair of the WTO Committee on Regional Trade Agreements said on Monday (27 June).

Reporting on his consultations with some 25 WTO Members, the Chair, Ambassador Daniel Blockert of Sweden, said: "In terms of substance, there are different suggestions with some based on specific themes: e-commerce, rules of origin, technical barriers to trade, and fisheries. The idea would be to exchange experiences."

"One way is to have a few delegations provide information on their own free trade agreements and the Secretariat will supply background information," the Chair added.

On the issue of RTAs, Ministers, in Paragraph 28 of the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration (NMD), state: "We reaffirm the need to ensure that Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) remain complementary to, not a substitute for, the multilateral trading system. In this regard, we instruct the Committee on Regional Trade Agreements (CRTA) to discuss the systemic implications of RTAs for the multilateral trading system and their relationship with WTO rules. With a view to enhancing transparency in, and understanding of, RTAs and their effects, we agree to work towards the transformation of the current provisional Transparency Mechanism into a permanent mechanism in accordance with the General Council Decision of 14 December 2006, without prejudice to questions related to notification requirements."

According to trade officials, the Chair told the Committee meeting that while consultations have shown that such discussions are a "clear priority" among members, there remains a lack of concrete ideas on how to hold the discussions.

One issue that needs to be ironed out, for instance, is how this work will relate to that of other committees charged with similar issues, Ambassador Blockert said.

The Chair called on Members to submit written proposals and encouraged them to discuss ideas in groups ahead of the next committee meeting on 27-28 September.

On the second part of paragraph 28 of the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration on working towards transforming the current provisional Transparency Mechanism into a permanent mechanism, the Chair reported that his consultations revealed that this is less of a priority.

According to trade officials, several Members expressed support for holding discussions on the impact of RTAs on the global trading system.

Australia said that it places a "high value" on such discussions, adding that many topics have emerged that did not exist a decade ago and there is a need to monitor the broader developments.

Australia further said that open discussions are important for the long-term strengthening of the WTO.

Chinese Taipei shared the views expressed by Australia, while Japan said it looks forward to reinvigorating the committee.

It said that studying elements of RTAs would be a good start, as is discussing the issues covered by RTAs.

According to trade officials, the European Union noted that a wide range of issues are subject to rule-making in RTAs which are highly relevant to multilateral trade agreements.

The EU said that it would support presentations by members on specific topics backed up by input from the Secretariat.

Brazil said that it "fully supports" the chair on this matter, noting that implementing the Nairobi ministerial declaration is of great importance to the committee.

Brazil also said that the agreement by Members to hold such discussions should not be linked to other issues.

The EU said that these discussions should be held in parallel to the efforts to enhance the Transparency Mechanism.

According to trade officials, the United States, however, said that it could not agree to a standing item on the committee's agenda for every meeting to tackle systemic issues.

The US maintained that before these discussions on RTAs can be held, the backlog in RTAs that have not undergone the WTO transparency exercise needs to be addressed first.

According to trade officials, the US also raised the issue of the current practice where RTAs are discussed in this committee as well as in the Committee on Trade and Development (CTD).

Brazil and India reiterated that the committee on RTAs did not have sole competence to discuss the issue as the CTD also had a role.

According to trade officials, the US was of the view that the committee on RTAs "should stay in its lane", considering that other WTO bodies are charged with tackling issues like environment and rules of origin which some members wanted to discuss.

China expressed support for work on improving the Transparency Mechanism.

Canada said that while it supports comprehensive discussions on the implications of RTAs on the global trading system, the backlog of non-notifications should not be neglected as it prevents Members from gaining a complete picture of the RTA landscape.

South Africa said that it supports such discussions for as long as the exercise does not result in new rules or benchmarks.

According to trade officials, the Chair said that he will continue with his consultations before the September meeting.

According to trade officials, the committee also discussed three RTAs: Free Trade Agreement between the Republic of Korea and Australia; Free Trade Agreement between Canada and Honduras; and Free Trade Agreement between the Russian Federation and Serbia.

With regard to the backlog of non-notified RTAs, Members were told that seventy-two RTAs have not undergone the committee's transparency exercise.

According to trade officials, many of these are from members of the ALADI (Latin American Integration Association).

Members of ALADI were of the view that earlier communications on behalf of the entire group should have already fulfilled the notification obligation.

Uruguay had issued a communication ahead of the committee meeting on behalf of the ALADI.

According to trade officials, the EU said that this was a good start to addressing the backlog.

The US however was of the view that ALADI, as an entity, was not a WTO Member, and notification obligations rested with individual WTO Members.

The Chair urged further consultations among the Members on finding a way forward.

The committee also heard that implementation reports were due for 129 RTAs. A further 11 RTAs will see the end of their implementation this year, thus adding to the backlog.

Only six implementation reports had been received to date, trade officials said. +