Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct16/17)
19 October 2016
Third World Network
US, partners to bury Doha, focus on new trade agenda at Oslo?
Published in SUNS #8335 dated 18 October 2016
Geneva, 17 Oct (D. Ravi Kanth) -- The United States and its partners
from developed and developing countries have crystallized their plans
to usher in a new trade agenda based on e-commerce/digital trade,
fisheries subsidies, Micro-, Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises,
and domestic regulation in services at an informal mini-ministerial
trade meet in Oslo, Norway, on Friday, according to a "Concept
Note" obtained by SUNS.
They have also made it amply clear that they are going to junk the
Doha Work Program and push issues of the permanent solution for public
stockholding programs for food security and special safeguard mechanism
for developing countries to the future trade agenda.
The US Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman made it emphatically
clear during a keynote lecture at the Graduate Institute in Geneva
on 17 October, on the future of multilateral trading system and the
WTO, that Washington is not going to pursue the Doha Work Program.
Instead, he said, the US will only work on what he called "pragmatic
multilateralism" that focuses squarely on new trade issues such
as digital trade and digital economy of 21st century at the WTO.
"We have begun a new chapter" that would seek a race to
the top instead of seeking lowest common denominator over the past
several years in the Doha trade negotiations at the WTO. The USTR
said that developing countries cannot be clubbed in one single basket,
suggesting that China is providing US$100 billion towards trade- distorting
domestic support in agriculture, which is equivalent to the combined
gross domestic products of several countries.
The Chinese trade envoy to the WTO, Ambassador Yu, who was present
at the meeting, described the USTR's estimate of US$100 billion as
While a farmer in China receives a subsidy close to US$100, the farmer
in the US receives annually a subsidy of US$20,000, the Chinese envoy
Nonetheless, in a hard-hitting lecture followed by Q&A, Ambassador
Froman laid out a trade agenda that would fundamentally change the
WTO's architecture once and for all, if it goes through without resistance
in the coming months and years, according to trade officials from
developing countries present at the meeting.
[The present WTO architecture is in fact the result of Canada, the
EU, Japan and the US agreeing amongst themselves in Nov-Dec 1993,
and forced it down on others that the concept of "Single Undertaking"
applicable to the GATT's goods multilateral negotiations, in the Punta
del Este Declaration launching the Uruguay Round, should apply to
the entire outcome of the Uruguay Round negotiations (Goods, TRIPS
and GATS), and all participants must sign on to all the annexed agreements
to the WTO treaty. Mr. Froman's thesis now is an effort to go back
on this, and resile from the inconvenient obligations of the US, such
as in agriculture, that the single undertaking has resulted. See,
Chakravarthi Raghavan, Third World in the Third Millennium CE, Vol
2, pp41-50, 91 - SUNS]
The US agenda is adequately reflected in a "Concept Note"
issued by Norway for an informal mini-ministerial summit starting
on 21 October in Oslo. More than 20 trade ministers representing the
United States, the European Union, China, India, Brazil, Japan, Australia,
Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Colombia,
Costa Rica, Indonesia, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, South Africa,
Kenya, Rwanda, Morocco, and Benin among others are going to take part
in the meeting that will last for one and half days.
The four-page concept note has set the ground for "a brainstorming
session" to help the participants to "prepare for the 2017
Ministerial Conference and beyond."
"The gathering in Oslo could help provide political guidance
on setting the scope of negotiations on issues already being discussed
in Geneva, as well as other themes the membership might be interested
in," it argued.
More important, it asked the ministers to provide "indications
about what members would like to achieve at MC 11, and what needs
to be done to get there."
Although it maintained that "no firm conclusions will be drawn,
as this will be up to the membership as a whole," the Concept
Note nearly set the ground for fairly definitive conclusions.
To start with, the Oslo meeting which will begin with a discussion
on "Safeguarding the multilateral trading system and strengthening
the WTO," posed several questions for discussing "the general
level of ambition for WTO negotiations in the medium term, i. e. for
MC 11 and beyond."
Although it mentioned that "both Doha issues and other relevant
topics are being thoroughly discussed," the reality is there
is no discussion on Doha issues unlike more than 20 sessions on e-commerce
and other new issues.
The questions for the introductory session include:
(i) Building on the successes of Bali and Nairobi, are smaller incremental
steps easier to achieve than major leaps?
(ii) Would the locking in of existing policy regimes be more acceptable
than results that require changes to domestic laws and regulations?
(iii) Would combining smaller multilateral steps with more ambitious
plurilateral solutions with the WTO be a way to bridge the gap between
ambitions and what is achievable?
(iv) Can the necessary balance be found within single issues, or is
there a need for packages across issues?
(v) How can members seek balanced results in the sense that everyone's
interests are taken into account, and avoid the risk of hostage taking?
The second session which focuses on the issue of "advancing economic
growth through international trade" and "how the multilateral
trading system must respond to the specific needs of developing countries,
especially the least-developed countries" for the eleventh ministerial
meeting has clearly revealed the game plan for deferring issues such
as domestic support, public stockholding for food security purposes,
a Special Safeguard Mechanism, and cotton to the WTO's future agenda.
"In Nairobi, we agreed that work on issues and Ministerial Decisions
of special interest for developing countries (including the decisions
on domestic support, public stockholding for food security purposes,
a Special Safeguard Mechanism, and cotton), will remain important
elements of the WTO's future agenda," the Concept Note maintained.
In effect, the 2013 Bali ministerial decision on public stockholding
programs - "Members agree to put in place an interim mechanism
as set out below, and to negotiate on an agreement for a permanent
solution, for the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes
for adoption by the 11th Ministerial Conference"- and the November
2014 General Council decision to conclude the permanent solution by
the end of December 2015, are now put in cold storage. Indeed, cotton
and other important developmental issues of the Doha agenda are now
buried as part of the future agenda.
The Concept Note, however, claimed that the issues of importance for
Buenos Aires are "agriculture, fisheries subsidies, domestic
regulation in services, e-commerce and Micro-, Small-, and Medium-sized
Enterprises (MSMEs)," on grounds that they are "all of interest
to developing members."
But, in the case of "e-commerce and Micro-, Small-, and Medium-sized
Enterprises (MSMEs)," the developing countries are not the demandeurs
and if anything, a large majority of developing countries remain reluctant
to enter into any negotiations on these two issues.
Nevertheless, the Concept Note asked ministers to reflect on the following
questions during the post-lunch session on Friday:
(a) In the lead-up to MC11, do these issues like "agriculture,
fisheries subsidies, domestic regulation in services, e-commerce and
Micro-, Small-, and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs)" fully cover
members' realistic expectations for the improvements from a development
(b) How can the momentum and engagement generated by Nairobi be further
built on to deliver results?
(c) How can members find right balance within and between different
(d) Can the Trade Facilitation Agreement with its self-designated,
staged implementation and its links to capacity-building needs to
More ominously, the Concept Note seeks to bring the RTAs and bilateral
free trade agreements into the WTO through the backdoor.
It urged the participants to address the issue of "regional trade
agreements (RTAs)" and whether they are "a source of inspiration
for work in the WTO" as many WTO members have already joined
Given the growing number of bilateral and regional trade agreements
such as Trans-Pacific Partnership that cover "deeper, broader
agreements", including "regulatory" areas, it wants
the participants to address the following questions:
(1) Can RTAs function as inspiration for furthering the multilateral
agenda? If so, how?
(2) How can members ensure that multilateral negotiations and negotiations
among a subset of members, for example in RTAs, are mutually supportive
and can happen simultaneously?
(3) How can members harvest as much as possible with the WTO?
(4) How can members ensure that the WTO continues to be the main negotiating
forum for trade agreements?
In the final session - "where do we go from here" and "securing
success at MC11 and beyond" - on Saturday, the participants will
identify the issues for negotiations in the run-up to the eleventh
ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires. Each minister will provide their
specific response to several questions such as:
(i) Is it realistic to expect major comprehensive results at MC 11?
(ii) Would smaller incremental steps be more likely to be successful?
(iii) When identifying issues for further discussions after Nairobi,
what would be an appropriate mix between results to be obtained at
MC 11 and beyond?
It will conclude with a luncheon session on Saturday that will squarely
focus on how to deal with the current "backlash against trade."
The concept note acknowledged that the growing "public distrust"
could "derail new trade agreements currently in the works, and
prevent future ones from being initiated."
In short, the mini-ministerial summit in Oslo will seek to advance
the issues proposed by the US and its allies while burying the developmental
issues of the DWP permanently. +