TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jul16/09)
15 July 2016
Third World Network

Hardening impasse on Doha, but no TNC meets so far
Published in SUNS #8280 dated 12 July 2016

Geneva, 11 Jul (D. Ravi Kanth) - Multilateral trade negotiations at the World Trade Organisation seem to be at a hardening impasse, post-Nairobi Ministerial Conference, in key areas of negotiations on the agenda of the Doha Work Programme (DWP), more popularly known as the Doha Development Round (DDR) negotiations, with the Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee yet to schedule a meeting to address the impasse, according to several trade envoys.

Though he is the chair for the Doha Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), the World Trade Organization director-general Roberto Azevedo is yet to schedule a TNC meeting to take stock of or for explaining about a hardening impasse in the Doha rules negotiations on fisheries subsidies and other issues, because of opposition from the United States for negotiating multilateral disciplines for various outstanding issues in the Doha work program, several trade envoys told the SUNS.

Since the Ministerial Conference at Nairobi, and the declaration/decisions adopted there, DG Azevedo has not convened a proper TNC meeting until now - though, he spoke to the General Council as TNC chair on 24 February and at an informal meeting with trade envoys on 10 February. His first meeting after Nairobi is an informal one on 10 February but not a TNC meeting. An informal HOD meeting was also held on 9 May.

On 29 June, the US issued a strong statement at the Doha rules negotiating body saying Washington doesn't see any compelling set of circumstances to re-engage in the rules negotiating group on fisheries subsidies. [Please see SUNS #8274 dated 1 July 2016]. The US said categorically that continuing work in Doha negotiating bodies is difficult.

It urged the participants at the meeting to consider whether the Doha negotiating body on rules can be a venue for negotiating multilateral disciplines to curb fisheries subsidies. It emphasized the importance of adopting new approaches and suggested that there cannot be negotiations without those approaches. However, the US has not spelled out what in its view ought to be the new approaches until now, according to trade envoys familiar with the meeting.

The US asked members to find new paths forward for undertaking negotiations at the WTO. It suggested the need for pursuing new paths with like-minded members for arriving at robust disciplines in fisheries subsidies. The US showed willingness to discuss improvements in horizontal subsidies as proposed by the EU, but on the basis of new ideas.

Paragraph 31 of the Nairobi ministerial declaration has emphasized that "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."

But the US position has created "negotiating chaos" at the informal rules committee meeting, said a trade envoy from a major industrialized country who asked not to be quoted.

Washington's stand has upset both developed and developing countries as it would close the doors for arriving at multilateral disciplines for issues such as fisheries subsidies which have global impact, and improvements in anti-dumping provisions, which have a chilling effect on global trade, the envoy said.

"If the US is interested only in plurilateral outcomes, then, the WTO's director-general who is also the chair for the TNC must speak out about the role of Doha negotiating bodies dealing with agriculture, industrial goods, rules, and services," the envoy said.

At a time when there is appetite for negotiating various issues in the Doha services negotiating body, including the ambitious US work program on electronic commerce, why not pursue the outstanding issues in Doha agriculture, industrial goods, and rules issues as well, the envoy said.

In response to the US position, the chair for the Doha negotiating body on rules, Ambassador Wayne McCook, informed members at the meeting on 29 June that he will convey the US view to the [Doha] Trade Negotiating Committee," the trade envoy noted.

Clearly, all these issues would have been discussed at the meetings of the chairs with the director-general. The chairs must have surely conveyed to the TNC head about the emerging developments in different negotiating bodies in which the US has adopted a consistent position that without new approaches it is not willing to discuss the outstanding issues, several trade envoys said.

The director-general, however, has chosen to remain conspicuously silent on these developments, said an African trade envoy. The director-general, for example, has convened an informal heads of delegations meeting on 25 July followed by a meeting of the General Council on 27 July.

"Instead of the informal heads of the delegations meeting, he must convene a TNC meeting to provide his assessment on the impasse in rules and other negotiating bodies such as Doha market access for industrial goods," the envoy said.

Azevedo has also remained silent about the crisis in the WTO's highest adjudicating body after the US blocked the reappointment of the former Korean member Seung Wha Chang.

Effectively, the WTO is facing multiple, systemic crises in which both the negotiating arm and the adjudicating body are hollowed out because of opposition from one member - the United States, said another trade envoy.

"Everybody in town knows that the DG acts only when there is a green signal from the US," the envoy suggested.

Significantly, Azevedo participated in a meeting of trade ministers pursuing the plurilateral initiative on environmental goods in Shanghai on Sunday.

But he is not prepared to convene a TNC meeting to discuss the enveloping systemic crisis in the WTO negotiating bodies because of the intransigent positions adopted by one member, the envoy pointed out.

In short, the WTO is held hostage to the US positions and Azevedo seems happy not to challenge his powerful patron, the envoy suggested.