TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct16/23)
27 October 2016
Third World Network

Key South nations insist on unresolved Doha issues, before new issues
Published in SUNS #8340 dated 25 October 2016

Geneva, 24 Oct (D. Ravi Kanth) -- Trade ministers from key developing countries who took part in an informal mini-ministerial meet in Oslo on 21-22 October, called for completing work on unresolved Doha issues, and the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, while expressing their reservations/opposition to new issues such as e-commerce and disciplines for micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises, trade envoys told the SUNS.

During the one-and-half-day meeting that began on 21 October, trade ministers from many developing countries - India, Indonesia, China, South Africa, Kenya, Morocco on behalf of African countries, Rwanda representing the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, and Benin, which is the coordinator for the least-developed countries, demanded that work on the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security must be completed before the Buenos Aires meeting.

On the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM), the trade ministers from India, Indonesia, Morocco, Rwanda, and Benin among others said this is a vital developmental issue for developing countries and it cannot be pushed to the future trade agenda.

The developing country trade ministers also emphasized that accelerating work on special and differential flexibilities and developmental issues in the Doha Work Program must remain as priorities for the Buenos Aires meeting.

On cotton, which is a major issue for the four West African countries - Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Chad -, trade ministers of developing countries, and some developed countries such as New Zealand said an outcome on cotton must remain as a top priority for the Buenos Aires meeting.

The Indian trade minister Nirmala Sitharaman underscored the need "for creating a level playing field for the developing countries in agriculture trade by addressing inequities and distortions which are threatening the livelihood of millions of poor farmers across the world."

She also cautioned against bringing regional and plurilateral agreements into the WTO architecture on grounds that they are not compatible.

Ahead of the Oslo meeting, Norway had suggested in the concept paper that "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 issues that are at the forefront of the discussions leading up to MC 11 (the eleventh WTO ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires), including agriculture, fisheries subsidies, domestic regulation in services, e-commerce and Micro-, Small-, and Medium-Sized Enterprises (MSMEs), as demonstrated by the high level of engagement in Geneva on these issues, are all of interest to developing members," the Norwegian concept paper claimed.

The Oslo meeting has proved that the Norwegian concept paper was based on false premises and erroneous interpretations, according to a participant who asked not to be quoted.

"The developing countries pointed an accusing finger at the hosts and other developed countries, including the WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo, for attempting to change the agenda for the Buenos Aires meeting to suit the United States and other industrialized and some developing countries," the participant said.

[The Norwegian concept paper's claim that work on issues of special interest to developing countries, as per the Nairobi declaration, will remain part of the future agenda, is as misleading as DG Azevedo's interview to an Indian newspaper (The Hindu) that no development issue has been taken off the table, and that all development issues remain on the table.

[This has been a constant confidence trick played on developing countries almost from the GATT's inception, writes Chakravarthi Raghavan, Editor-Emeritus of the SUNS and veteran trade analyst, who has been following trade talks over time. At every round, proposals of developing countries, whether for tariff cuts on their exports, or other developmental measures, have never been acted upon but left on the table, and put onto a future work programme.

[And when developing countries, after repeated frustration, convened the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) way back in 1963 (resulting in UNCTAD as an organ of the United Nations General Assembly), they were sought to be fobbed off with Part IV of the GATT (Trade and Development Chapter), with "best endeavour" provisions and provisions still at talkathon stage. If developing countries fall for a similar line this time, the trading system that has already lost support in the North, will meet a similar fate in the South, along with their acquiescent governments. - SUNS]

Against the backdrop of fierce opposition to the e-commerce issue from African countries at the dedicated session last Tuesday (18 October), left trade ministers from the developed countries shell-shocked over the degree of opposition to e-commerce.

South Africa said it remains opposed to negotiating rules for e-commerce while India adopted a nuanced position saying that new issues cannot run ahead of the unresolved Doha issues.

China has declared its opposition to data flows and removal of localization restrictions. China also said that the e-commerce negotiations cannot result in any market access commitments.

On domestic support in the Doha agriculture, the Norwegian concept paper sought to push the issue to the future trade agenda.

But a large number of trade ministers in Oslo said they want an outcome in domestic support based on the Doha mandates.

The US, however, stuck to its indefensible position that it will discuss domestic support only when other emerging countries - China and India - agree to undertake commitments.

China said that it will not agree to any commitments in domestic support unless the major developed countries reduce/eliminate their aggregate measurement of support (AMS).

India said the developed countries - the US and the EU - are required to reduce their domestic support and not developing countries, the participant said.

Rwanda on behalf of ACP countries, Morocco on behalf of African countries, Benin on behalf of the LDCs, and several other countries said an outcome on domestic support is essential at Buenos Aires.

South Africa expressed skepticism whether an outcome on domestic support is possible given the opposition from major developed countries.

On e-commerce, which was fiercely opposed by members of the African Group in Geneva last Tuesday, WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo urged the proponents such as the United States, the European Union, Canada, and other industrialized and some developing countries to explain and clarify what they are seeking in terms of the e-commerce agenda.

Brazil which has made a proposal on e-commerce said it will discuss issues in e-commerce based on the progress in the domestic support for trade-distorting subsidies.

On fisheries subsidies, Rwanda on behalf of the ACP group, Morocco for the African group, Benin for the LDCs, New Zealand, Argentina, the European Union, Russia, and several other countries underscored the need for a credible outcome.

Indonesia spoke of the special and differential treatment flexibilities and India said millions of its poor fishermen must be adequately protected/supported while addressing fisheries subsidies.

China said it is willing to address fisheries subsidies only if members also take up other issues of the Doha rules, particularly improvements in trade remedies such as anti-dumping measures.

South Africa said an outcome on fisheries subsidies is possible.

As regards services and domestic regulation, many ministers said there must be clear deliverables in domestic support.

India insisted on an outcome on trade facilitation in services, while several other countries spoke about the need to reduce "water" in the market access between bound commitments and autonomous reductions.

India said that removal of "water" cannot be done disproportionately, said another participant familiar with the meeting.

India also demanded that trade facilitation in services must remain as a major deliverable at the Buenos Aires meeting.

The US and Canada remained silent on India's demand on trade facilitation in services.

Trade ministers also discussed about disciplines for small and medium enterprises in fairly general terms but China said discussion on SMEs must address anti-dumping issues.

Several trade ministers also touched on renewed interest in addressing non-tariff barriers, sanitary and phyto- sanitary measures, and technical barriers to trade.

In the face of sharp reservations and even opposition in some cases from trade ministers of developing countries against e-commerce/digital trade, the World Trade Organization director-general Roberto Azevedo urged the proponents of e-commerce from major developed and some developing countries to explain and clarify their positions to the African countries, according to a trade envoy from an industrialized country.

After having asked the developed and developing countries to explain/clarify their positions on e-commerce at the Oslo mini-ministerial summit, Azevedo is now adopting a different strategy by planning to hold one-on-one meetings with trade envoys from Morocco, Rwanda, and other African countries to discuss negotiating issues, including on e-commerce, people familiar with the development told the SUNS.

On last Tuesday (18 October), African countries except three members (Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire, and Seychelles) spoke in one voice against pursuing e-commerce in the dedicated sessions in violation of the 1998 work program that mandated the four WTO bodies - Council for Trade in Goods, Council for Trade in Services, Committee on Trade and Development, and TRIPS Council - to carry out work on all issues raised by members.

But in a hurry to turn the page on what happened at the dedicated session on 18 October which was suspended in the face of continued protests from African countries who were supported by India, Bolivia, and Venezuela among others, Azevedo seems to have taken the task on himself to convince the African countries to give up their opposition on behalf of the proponents from developed and developing countries, trade envoys said.

In the past, Azevedo had adopted the same tactic whenever there was opposition from developing countries to issues such as trade facilitation (in goods trade).

For example, on behalf of the US and other proponents of trade facilitation, Azevedo held one-on-one meetings with trade ministers at the WTO's ninth ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2013, to address specific concerns instead of addressing them in an open house where all trade ministers were present.

Cuba had opposed meeting Azevedo on its specific concerns in trade facilitation on grounds that he represented the interests of the US, sources familiar with the development told SUNS.

More important, he must persuade the US, Australia, and Canada to give up their opposition on the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security or special safeguard mechanism for developing countries in agriculture, said a trade envoy.

The Oslo meeting must serve as a wake-up call to the developing countries that they must remain vigilant and not take things for granted as the developed countries remain desperate and determined to bring e-commerce, MSMEs, and fisheries subsidies without addressing the core Doha issues, according to several developing country trade envoys familiar with the development. +