TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jul17/18)
25 July 2017
Third World Network
DG Azevedo convenes informal TNC, after two years
Published in SUNS #8509 dated 25 July 2017

Geneva, 24 Jul (D. Ravi Kanth) - The World Trade Organization director-general Roberto Azevedo is finally convening an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee on Tuesday (25 July).

He had almost abandoned convening the TNC for the past two years because of fear of criticism from the United States and the European Union that refuse to recognize the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) trade negotiations, trade envoys told SUNS.

During the last heads of delegation (HoD) meeting, Cameroon and several developing countries sought to know why the director-general - who is also the chair for the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) that was established under the Doha work program - has not been convening an informal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting for apprising members about the overall status of negotiations in each area of the DDA, a trade envoy told SUNS.

The director-general was apparently visibly upset with Cameroon's demand and has been now forced to convene the informal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting after almost two years, the envoy said.

"What is puzzling is how the director-general could convene an informal TNC meeting along with an informal Heads of Delegations (HoD) meeting because the rules of business allow only the General Council chair to schedule HoD meeting," the envoy said.

In his fax sent to "Heads of Delegation" on 14 July, Azevedo said: "I would like to invite you to an informal TNC meeting, immediately followed by an informal Heads of Delegation meeting on 25 July at 11 am, in advance of the General Council meeting of 26 and 27 July.

"In the informal TNC meeting, after my introductory remarks, the Negotiating Group Chairs will report on work in their respective areas, (and) following these reports, Members will be invited to discuss the way forward in the Negotiating Groups.

"For the informal Heads of Delegation meeting, which will immediately follow, I will brief Members on my other activities and consultations. Members will then be invited to report on their own activities."

Significantly, the DG is not going to provide his assessment at the informal TNC meeting. He said after the chairs present their reports, "members will be invited to discuss the way forward in the Negotiating Groups."

The fax has raised several procedural concerns, according to trade envoys who spoke to SUNS.

To start with, the DG must explain as to why it took him so long to convene the informal TNC meeting and why such meetings are not being regularly held?

Second, why is it that only the chairs will provide their assessment without a comprehensive assessment from the Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee?

Third, the director-general/TNC chair must explain why only a limited number of issues are being taken up from various Doha-mandated areas and what will happen to the other issues.

Fourth, he must provide an account of how the DDA issues are going to progress before the eleventh ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires and afterwards.

It remains to be seen whether the DG will provide any explanation to these issues.

Meanwhile, on Monday the director-general issued a report on "trade-related developments" during mid-October 2016 to mid-May 2017 in which he argued that "the latest trends in trade policymaking among WTO Members" suggests that the "fears about protectionist measures" are misplaced.

The director-general said: "for example, the numerical importance of trade remedy measures and anti-dumping in particular, in the overall number of trade measures introduced during the review period is fully consistent with previous reports."

"In addition, it is significant to note that the estimated trade coverage of import-facilitating measures significantly exceeds the estimated trade coverage of import-restrictive measures," he argued.

"This is an important finding because it suggests that despite the persistent uncertainty facing the global economy and fears about protectionist pressures, WTO Members collectively appear to have shown considerable restraint in seeking recourse to trade restrictions," Azevedo maintained.

Effectively, Azevedo is suggesting that several measures issued by the Trump administration which are tantamount to protectionist pressures according to several countries are not "protectionist" in reality, according to trade envoys familiar with the report.

The key findings of the report include:

* WTO Members implemented 74 new trade-restrictive measures during the review period (mid-October 2016 and mid-May 2017), including new or increased tariffs, customs regulations and quantitative restrictions, amounting to almost 11 new measures per month. This represents a significant decrease over the previous period and marks the lowest monthly average since 2008.

* WTO Members applied 80 measures aimed at facilitating trade over this review period, including eliminated or reduced tariffs and simplified customs procedures. This equates to an average of over 11 new measures per month which is the second lowest monthly average since trade monitoring began in 2008.

* During the review period, the estimated trade coverage for trade-facilitating import measures (US$183 billion) significantly exceeded the estimated trade coverage of trade-restrictive import measures (US$49 billion).

* This Report also highlights that initiations of trade remedy investigations represented 44% of the total number of trade measures taken during the review period; although the amount of trade covered is relatively small (US$27 billion for trade remedy initiations and US$6 billion for terminations).

* Transparency and predictability in trade policy remains vital for all actors in the global economy. WTO Members must show leadership in reiterating their commitment to open and mutually beneficial trade, as a key driver of economic growth and a major engine for prosperity.

* Faced with continuing global economic uncertainties, WTO Members should seek to continue improving the global trading environment, including by implementing the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, which entered into force in February this year, and working together to achieve a successful outcome at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in December.

Also, the director-general's report merely repeated what the G20 leaders said in their statement in Hamburg early this month.

The G20 leaders said: "We welcome the entry into force of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement and call for its full implementation including technical assistance to developing countries. We commit to work together with all WTO members to make the eleventh WTO Ministerial Conference a success."

The director-general did not indicate what needs to be achieved at the 11th Ministerial Conference in December and whether there will be any deliverables in the unresolved Doha issues.

In conclusion, trade envoys said, the director-general must come clean on what the "success" in Buenos Aires is going to be in material terms for the developing and poorest countries.