TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct16/09)
7 October 2016
Third World Network

Efforts on to formally bury DDA talks at Buenos Aires next year?
Published in SUNS #8326 dated 5 October 2016

Geneva, 4 Oct (D. Ravi Kanth) -- Major developed countries and their developing country allies along with the World Trade Organization DG Roberto Azevedo have begun preparing the ground for formally burying the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) trade negotiations while launching negotiations for plurilateral deals in e-commerce/digital trade or other new areas at the eleventh ministerial conference in Buenos Aires next year, people familiar with the development told the SUNS.

An early indication of what is in the offing for the WTO's eleventh ministerial meeting to be hosted by Argentina's new right-wing government came at the informal Heads of Delegations (HoD) meeting last Friday (30 September) and the General Council meeting on Monday (3 October).

Ahead of these two meetings, the Director-General has spoken his mind to the London-based The Economist magazine in its latest issue (1 October) about imagining "the WTO brokering another global trade deal, but only when expectations have been managed down from Doha [Work Program]."

[When he was Brazil's trade envoy until August 2013, he insisted that the revised 2008 draft modalities for Doha agriculture package provided clear landing zones in a balanced and equitable framework. Azevedo had said:

["The December 2008 draft modalities are the basis for negotiations and represent the end-game in terms of the landing zones of ambition. Any marginal adjustments in the level of ambition of those texts may be assessed only in the context of the overall balance of trade-offs, bearing in mind that agriculture is the engine of the Round."

["The draft modalities embody a delicate balance achieved after ten years of negotiations. This equilibrium cannot be ignored or upset, or we will need readjustments of the entire package with horizontal repercussions. Such adjustments cannot entail additional unilateral concessions from developing countries."]

The Director-General, according to The Economist, "remembers only two well how the WTO's Doha round collapsed under the weight of its own ambition." Therefore, he said, "Let's do the trade deals that are in reach."

"As for the WTO," The Economist wrote based on the interview with Azevedo, "it will for now push "plurilateral" deals of its own, which embrace enough WTO members to be significant but which avoid the quagmire of having to secure the agreement of all its 164 members."

It said the WTO "already boasts some successes [in crafting plurilateral agreements]: in September, for example, China started cutting tariffs on technology goods as part of the plurilateral Information Technology Agreement."

In sharp contrast (to his talk with the Economist), the Director-General told members at the informal HoD meeting on 30 September that they "need to change the pace of our engagement in order to make progress."

"I also said that we would need to move from reflection to action," Azevedo emphasized.

He urged members to talk to each other "so that we avoid mistrust and misperceptions about what you yourselves are trying to achieve."

Azevedo mentioned two things that would help to deal with mistrust and misperception. "First, we need clarity from the proponents on what they would like to see as a final outcome of these conversations. Some are not engaging partly because they do not have a clear sense of what others want to achieve.

"Second, we should be mindful that, in order to advance multilaterally, we should be flexible to accommodate the circumstances of different Members."

The immediate priority, said Azevedo, is to "deepen conversations between Members to scope out the issues for MC11 [eleventh ministerial conference] - or between now and MC11" and "go as far as our legs allow."

"Whatever we do - on any issue - will not be the end of the road. It will be a first step," he said.

He urged members to "look for those balancing elements that take into account Members' different interests and positions - elements that respond to the needs of developed, developing and least-developed Members."

"Clearly, some issues are starting to draw more attention," Azevedo said. "These include public stockholding [program for food security], other agriculture-related topics, such as domestic support, and services; but also other issues such as SMEs, e-commerce, services facilitation and fisheries subsidies."

The Director-General, however, did not mention the Doha Work Program at all.

Several developed countries such as the United States and the European Union spoke, almost in tandem with what Azevedo espoused at the meeting. The US, for instance, said it is working hard for a plurilateral outcome with a group of countries on fisheries subsidies.

The European Union called for outcomes in a number of areas, in particular on e-commerce, services facilitation and domestic regulation along with trade-distorting domestic subsidies and fisheries subsidies. The EU said that fisheries subsidies is a global issue, arguing that it must be addressed at the WTO.

Peru's trade envoy Ambassador Luis Enrique Chavez Basagoitia, who is spearheading the campaign for a multilateral outcome on fisheries subsidies, said that Peru and Argentina will soon present a joint proposal to negotiate the possible elements for fisheries subsidies.

A large majority of developing countries and their major coalitions, however, called for continuing with work on outstanding issues in the Doha Work Program, including on e-commerce based on the 1998 mandate.

The Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) group called for a "development-oriented outcome at the MC-11, consistent with various recent global commitments and goals, in particular the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and our respective national development objectives."

Rwanda, on behalf of the ACP group, mentioned two issues, namely agriculture domestic support and fishery subsidies.

On agriculture, the ACP group said: "We must achieve a tangible outcome leading to substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support, with aim to achieving the longstanding agriculture reform. Trade-distorting domestic support continue to lead negative factors hindering the emergence of inclusive, free, fair and efficient trade in agriculture products. Gradual reduction towards full elimination of those subsidies are essential conditions to leveling playing field in the agriculture trading system".

As regards "fisheries", the ACP group emphasized that "there is an urgency to address the dramatic situation of World's Marine fish stocks that are faced with depletion."

It maintained that members "can't continue with business as usual in this critical situation which has heavy and multifaceted consequences at social, economic, political and environmental levels."

Therefore, members "need to find a consensus to discipline subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and also to eliminate subsidies provided to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) [fishing]."

The ACP reiterated its position on "the Doha development-oriented issues", emphasizing that "without the nexus trade-development as entrenched in the DDA and in the SDGs, the engagement of developing countries and especially LDCs in the multilateral trading system loses most of its sense."

Morocco on behalf of the African Group and Benin on behalf of the least-developed countries emphasized the importance of delivering on developmental priorities such as cotton, duty-free and quota-free market access for the LDCs. Several developing countries such as India and South Africa also touched on the unfinished Doha issues.

In short, the stage for the WTO's eleventh ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires is set for a fierce battle between the developed countries and their developing country allies on the one side, and the large majority of developing and poorest countries on the other over the launching of negotiations on new issues while burying the Doha work program, according to several trade envoys who attended the HoD and General Council meetings. +