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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jul17/21)
28 July 2017
Third World Network


Chairs of WTO Doha bodies report on key issues at TNC
Published in SUNS #8511 dated 27 July 2017


Geneva, 26 Jul (Kanaga Raja) -- After an hiatus of almost two years, an informal meeting of the WTO Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) was finally held on Tuesday, at which the chairs of the various negotiating bodies under the Doha Work Programme reported on their recent consultations on the key issues in the run-up to the eleventh ministerial conference in Buenos Aires this December.

Previously, during the two years when no TNC meeting had been convened, the Chairs had given their reports at informal Heads of Delegation (HOD) meetings. (See separate story.)

The reports by the Chairs at the TNC were preceded by some remarks by WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo.

Following the remarks by the DG and the reports by the Chairs, a number of delegations took the floor, with many developing countries highlighting the importance of advancing on all the Doha issues, and for outcomes on public stockholding for food security purposes and on the special safeguard mechanism (SSM) to be delivered, as mandated, at MC11 (see separate story).

According to trade officials, the Director-General Roberto Azevedo, also the Chair of the TNC, took the floor at the start of the informal TNC meeting, and noted that there were two TNC meetings in 2014 and 2015 when members looked at the post-Bali work programme.

He said that the process now has been energised and there has been a very through and frank discussion going on.

Referring to the format of the informal HOD meetings, he said that this format led to more frank discussion and it also made the General Council more expeditious.

The DG explained that the TNC portion (of the meetings on Tuesday followed by an informal HOD) will focus on TNC-specific activities including the reports of the eight negotiating group chairs, and the HOD is a continuation of the transparency exercise where the DG gives an overview of activities.

The activities of these two meetings will be reflected under two agenda items of the General Council meeting on Wednesday. It was up to delegations whether they took the floor at the TNC or the HOD, or both.

The DG then spoke about his recent activities, saying that he had visited a number of capitals, and met with a number of stakeholders.

In all of his travels, he said that he had stressed the need for progress on the Doha issues and the importance of obtaining an outcome at Buenos Aires.

He met with the negotiating group chairs on 1 June and also on 24 July. He said there is need to work with greater urgency to advance these issues. In fact, there is need for greater urgency right across the board in terms of all the issues.

The DG welcomed the increase in activity on the development issues as well as in agriculture. He noted that there have been 18 submissions on agriculture tabled since the beginning of the year.

In the last week, there have been 8 submissions that focus on domestic support, the SSM, and public stockholding.

Submissions have also been received on fisheries subsidies and anti-dumping and horizontal subsidies.

He also mentioned a proposal on NAMA and the 10 agreement-specific proposals on SDT (special and differential treatment) tabled by the G90.

Azevedo said that it is positive that members are putting forward these more detailed texts that are leading to these discussions. This is welcome but a great deal of work needs to be done.

He noted that when members come back in September, there will only be 14 weeks remaining till MC11, and there is need to increase the intensity of the work and for members to use the month of August to work with capitals.

He also said that members need to be realistic about what they can do by the Buenos Aires ministerial meeting. As with the Bali and Nairobi ministerials we need to do what we can to make Buenos Aires a success.

REPORTS BY NEGOTIATING GROUP CHAIRS

According to trade officials, the Chair of the Special Session of the Agriculture Committee, Ambassador Stephen Karau of Kenya, reported that he has had 35 bilateral meetings.

The Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture met on 1 June and there were two dedicated sessions on public stockholding and SSM.

The Chair said that the topics that were taken up have been public stockholding, domestic support, and SSM.

There has also been a proposal on agricultural market access put forward by Paraguay and Peru, as well as a proposal on export restrictions put forward by Singapore.

There has also been some discussion on export competition, SPS issues and on cotton.

The Chair said that the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes is one of the priority issues.

The gaps that remain are broadly the same, he said. There has been invigorated engagement but there is homework for the members to do.

He said domestic support was another priority issue, noting that there have been five more submissions on domestic support.

Most members are supportive of the issue of cotton, but a couple of members are pessimistic, taking into account the overall negotiating prospects for dealing with overall domestic support issues.

According to the Chair, many Members said that there needs to be a more effective way to focus on how to get the issue of getting an agreement on trade-distorting domestic support and that would facilitate an agreement on cotton.

On agricultural market access, the Chair reported that there are diverging views on the likelihood of an outcome on this issue.

Some say that maybe we can get incremental progress before MC11 and then a post-Buenos Aires work program.

Others say that the focus should be on updating information that is linked to market access to lay the groundwork for a work programme after Buenos Aires.

On the SSM, the Chair said that the discussions on this issue have not progressed, and there is no obvious way forward by MC11.

The proponents continue to say that the SSM is essential and workable but others say that this is not possible without an agreement on market access.

On export restrictions, the Chair said there is broad interest and support for the transparency provisions that were suggested in the paper by Singapore, and many see this as a basis for moving forward.

But others say they want more on transparency while some others say that this could be an administrative burden for them.

On export competition, the Chair reported that there is no expectation for a deliverable on this issue.

On SPS, the Chair said that there were two Members that wanted to discuss this issue and they are reflecting on how to proceed.

Many delegations say that an outcome on subsidies by MC11 is crucial, while others say that it is vital to have something on public stockholding.

And others think that a partial deal is still possible, but yet others have expressed very strong doubts that agreement on any of these areas can come to fruition.

The Chair said there is a large body of the membership that say that whatever the outcome in Buenos Aires, there is need to ensure a post-Buenos Aires work programme.

He said that in the autumn, he will begin even more intensive negotiations in an effort to try and find the way forward.

The Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules, Ambassador Wayne McCook of Jamaica, reported that since the last time Members met in May, there have been seven technical proposals put forward.

All of these proposals refer to SDG Target 14.6 and the 2020 deadline. They all focus on the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and they all talk about the need for disciplines in areas where there is overfishing.

The proposals also speak of achieving an outcome by MC11.

The Chair said that all of the concept papers have now been converted into legal texts, and later this week, he will circulate a matrix which will include all of these textual proposals.

After the summer break, there will be an intensive programme of engagement based on this matrix.

On trade remedies, he noted that a proposal was put forward by China, and China said that it has listened to the concerns of members and is going to broaden the scope of what is being offered.

The Chair said there is also a conceptual paper on transparency with respect to horizontal subsidies.

Encouragingly, all members have said that each of these areas should be taken up on its own merits without linkages or sequences, he said, adding that he was heartened by this.

The Chair of the services negotiations, Ambassador Hector Marcelo Cima of Argentina, reported that the areas that have been taken up include domestic regulation, trade facilitation in services, and e-commerce.

On domestic regulation, he said that this is the most advanced issue. Members have had the most in-depth discussion in terms of technical standards, gender equity, development and LDCs.

Some members questioned the need for disciplines on domestic regulation but many others have said that this is important for transparency. The question now is in trying to determine the scope and detail of the proposals.

According to the Chair, some other members have been concerned that this might in some way impinge on their right to regulate.

So it is up to the proponents to work with the others to try and win them over and get them going forward.

On India's proposal on trade facilitation in services, the Chair said that there have been very substantive discussions of this paper.

On e-commerce, he said that the EU proposal on e-signatures, e-contracts, spam and consumer protection has attracted a lot of attention.

Different views have been expressed. Some believe that the mandate for e-commerce should be limited to discussions about whether the moratorium on duties on e-commerce transactions is rolled over or made permanent.

Others want to see a broader range of discussions, he added.

On market access in services, the Chair said that no concrete proposals have been made at this stage.

The Chair of the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development, Ambassador Tan Yee Woan of Singapore, reported on the discussion pertaining to the G90 proposal on the 10 agreement-specific proposals on SDT.

Some were of the view that this would be a carve-out and are not in favour while others say that it is essential because of the need to recognise its importance for developing countries.

The Chair of the NAMA negotiations, Ambassador Didier Chambovey of Switzerland, spoke on the proposal by the EU, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong-China and Singapore on transparency in regulatory measures, notably on SPS measures and technical barriers to trade.

The opponents to the proposal said that there is a heavy administrative burden vis-a-vis the proposal and it might impinge on the right to regulate.

Those who are skeptical said that there is also no common definition on what is a small and medium sized enterprise, and how this is going to help SMEs in developing countries.

They also do not see how this relates to the mandate of the NAMA negotiating group, and said that there is need for consensus on negotiating this issue, of which there is none at the moment.

They further said that time is too short (to the Buenos Aires meeting) and these transparency issues on SPS and TBT were taken up in the respective committees.

The Chair recommended that the co-sponsors meet with the members that have expressed concern and see what can be done in moving forward.

The Chair of the TRIPS Council in Special Session, Ambassador Dacio Castillo of Honduras, said that there is need for more active consultation.

At the moment there is very little likelihood for an outcome (pertaining to the GI register for wines and spirits). There is the habitual divide over the extent of the mandate.

He said that after the summer break, he will hold meetings, but at this stage he has very little to report.

The Chair of the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Environment, Ambassador Dr Syed Tauqir Shah of Pakistan, reported that there has been very little movement on the three areas that pertain to the closer engagement between the WTO and the environmental groupings.

One of these areas is on removing the barriers to trade in goods and services. Here too that has been somewhat overtaken by the environmental goods negotiations. There is not much progress to report there.

The Chair of the Special Session of the DSB, Ambassador Coly Seck of Senegal, said that there were two issues taken up - one was on strictly confidential information and the other was on sequencing.

He said that there will be a stocktaking after the summer break. It is not clear at this stage whether there will be an outcome on any of these issues.

The Chair of the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference, Minister Susana Malcorra of Argentina, said the importance of the multilateral trading system and its values and integrity should be underscored and strengthened.

She said that she will spare no efforts trying to bring about a success in Buenos Aires.

She expressed concern about the work that is before the members and that after the summer break there is no time to spare.

We must reinforce the role of the multilateral trading system and its role in supporting our economies, she stressed.

These are challenging times, she said, noting that globalisation and open trade have been blamed by some for job losses and beyond this the citizens feel distanced from the leadership and from international organisations like the WTO and they don't fully understand or appreciate what the impact of the WTO is on their lives.

The Minister said the SDGs have set the tone for our work. There is need to find common ground and build bridges and not walls.

The Nairobi Ministerial Conference showed what can be done and we need to build on this to ensure that we can move forward.

She said she understood the importance of discussing the Doha issues. For Argentina, the views of farmers are extremely important.

But there are other delegations who want to talk about twentieth century issues and these are important for the WTO to remain relevant as well. We have to keep up with the times and this is absolutely essential, she added.

A lack of success in Buenos Aires is not an option, the Minister underlined. +

 


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