Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Sept17/15)
27 September 2017
Third World Network
MC11 may become platform for future plurilateral talks
Published in SUNS #8538 dated 25 September 2017
Geneva, 22 Sep (D. Ravi Kanth) - The World Trade Organization's eleventh
ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires beginning 10 December is likely
to become a platform for launching plurilateral trade negotiations
in investment facilitation, disciplines on MSMEs (micro, small, and
medium enterprises), electronic commerce, and even fisheries subsidies,
trade envoys told SUNS.
Such an outcome, they added, will be part of a Plan B, if there are
no substantive multilateral agreements on the outstanding Doha Development
Agenda (DDA) issues because of differences among members.
In all probability, Buenos Aires could spell a death knell for multilateral
trade negotiations, the sine qua non of the WTO, and pave the way
for ambitious plurilateral trade negotiations thereby undermining
the multilateral framework for years to come, said a South American
trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.
Given the paucity of time and the continued opposition from major
developed countries, particularly the United States to credible and
substantive agreements on issues such as the permanent solution for
public stockholding programs for food security, outstanding Doha agriculture
issues, particularly domestic support, rules, and services among others,
attempts are being made to ensure that the Buenos Aires meeting is
used for launching plurilateral negotiations as part of Plan B, the
trade envoy said.
There will be neither formal nor informal indication from the WTO
Secretariat and the Director-General Roberto Azevedo to the effect
that the eleventh ministerial meeting is going to be used as a platform
for launching plurilateral negotiations, particularly on new issues
such as investment facilitation and disciplines for MSMEs, and e-commerce,
the envoy said.
If anything, the Secretariat will deny that such a prospect is being
envisaged at this juncture, the envoy said.
But powerful members of the WTO are aware of such a development.
[Any such move for negotiations on new issues, without formally bringing
to a close the multilateral negotiations launched at Doha in 2001,
will be a clear violation of the decisions of the General Council
in July 2004 (after the collapse of the Ministerial in Cancun in 2003)
that managed to re-launch the Doha negotiations, stipulating that
until it was concluded, there would be no negotiations on new issues.
Recently, the US Trade Representative, Ambassador Robert Lighthizer,
in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies,
Washington DC, had said that the eleventh ministerial meeting is "unlikely"
to produce any negotiated outcomes, according to a report in the Washington
Trade Daily (WTD) of 19 September.
"There are some areas where the United States would like to see
action, but it appears that members are unable to agree on any issues,"
Mr Lighthizer said, and "at best, the Buenos Aires meeting will
end with agreement on an agenda for moving forwards on issues next
year," according to the WTD.
Against this backdrop, the informal heads of delegations (HoD) meeting
convened on Thursday (21 September) presented a picture of business-as-usual,
with the Director-General issuing an ambiguous report on how the negotiations
on substantive issues will be conducted in the run-up to the Buenos
Prior to the HoD meeting, Azevedo had held one-on-one consultations
with trade envoys from the European Union, China, the United States,
India, Brazil, Japan, and Australia among others to discuss both substantive
as well as process-related issues.
Azevedo, however, did not inform members at the HoD meeting about
his one-on-one consultations with those countries, said an African
At the brief HoD meeting, which lasted for about an hour, Azevedo
called for prioritizing issues that are doable in terms of negotiated
outcomes and the unresolved issues that will require a work program.
He said these two baskets of issues must be finalized before proceeding
to Buenos Aries. Azevedo suggested that chairs of the Doha negotiating
bodies are immersed in work with members on agriculture, fisheries
subsidies, and developmental flexibilities.
Azevedo called for a consensual document on the format to be adopted
at the Buenos Aires meeting so as to avoid the Nairobi ministerial
He said that members had complained about the Nairobi meeting even
though it had produced good outcomes, according to a person who was
present at the HoD meeting.
While he insisted that the negotiating process will be a chair-led
transparent process, Azevedo did suggest that there will be ministerial
intervention in the run-up to the Buenos Aires meeting.
Ministerial intervention in different formats is also going to take
place at Buenos Aires, he had suggested.
Effectively, he suggested two baskets of issues that must be decided
at Buenos Aires - one of issues involving doable negotiated outcomes
and the other non-doable issues requiring a work program.
Azevedo urged the proponents to explain to their counterparts what
they are expecting in terms of concrete outcomes and what should be
left for the post-Buenos Aires meeting.
The Director-General said that he will hold consultations with the
Argentinian minister, group coordinators, and ministers in the coming
days. By mid-October, he wants members to finalize a clear picture
in terms of what is doable and not doable.
The General Council chair, Ambassador Xavier Carim of South Africa,
informed members that he agreed with the DG's roadmap.
Ambassador Carim said that he is holding consultations on e-commerce
with members on the two issues of moratorium for not levying customs
duties on e-commerce transactions as well as on other issues in the
e-commerce such as the demand for a new work program.
Ambassador Carim also touched on issues concerning the organization
for the Buenos Aires ministerial conference.
There is no single model for organizing work at a ministerial, Ambassador
Carim said, arguing that from the first ministerial in Singapore to
the tenth ministerial in Nairobi different formats were adopted.
Ambassador Carim said that he will work with members on what needs
to be included in the ministerial outcome document, emphasizing that
there were ministerial declarations in some meetings and the chair's
summaries in other meetings such as in 2009 and 2011.
The General Council chair said a bottom-up and inclusive process will
Ambassador Carim urged members to avoid contentious issues so as to
accomplish smooth outcomes at Buenos Aires.
In his concluding remarks, Azevedo announced the revised trade figures
for 2017 suggesting that world merchandise trade in volume terms is
expected to grow 3.6% from the previous estimate of 2.4%.
Members, however, did not make any statements at the informal HoD
after Azevedo's concluding remarks.
The African Group wants that "following the Nairobi MC10, the
African Group has repeatedly raised the issue of getting the process
right," said an African trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.
Although the group had prepared a statement for the HoD meeting, the
group did not issue it at the meeting.
According to a copy of the statement obtained by SUNS, the African
Group underscored "the importance of upholding the principles
of full participation, inclusiveness, and transparency in the run
up to, as well as during the MC11."
"In this regard, we stress the process you institute as the TNC
Chair ensures: that all meetings regardless of their configuration
must be representative of all WTO groupings; that groups participating
in these meetings have an opportunity to consult during intervals
with their constituents; that there will be decent hours to hold these
negotiations to ensure group consultations and Ministerial oversight
are possible; that a minimum of 24 hours are given to Members to consider
any text presented at the closing Plenary session," it has underlined.
"Buenos Aires must deliver on development-related issues in accordance
with the letter and spirit of the Doha Development Agenda," according
to the African Group statement that had been prepared, but not delivered.
"It is from this perspective that the African Group expects an
outcome that will constitute a solid foundation for a bright future
of our economies notably through:
* elimination of imbalances inherited in the Uruguay Round Agriculture
* Provisions for special and differential treatment that create an
enabling environment for industrialization in Africa.
* A multilateral outcome in fisheries subsidies with provisions for
elimination of subsidies to IUU fishing activities, as well as disciplines
on subsidies that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity, while
taking into account the need for necessary policy space for the development
of this sector in many African countries," according to the African
The African Group wants to support the DG's proposal "to set
a time upon which we shall agree on a set of issues to pursue for
"Indeed, in our recent communications, we have been calling on
Members to abide by the "gentleman's agreement" requiring
any Member pursuing an issue for decision, but not achieving consensus
on it 6 weeks before MC11, to not insist on putting the item before
our Ministers in Buenos Aires," according to the African Group
In crux, the African Group has a mammoth task ahead to ensure that
the Director-General and the Argentinian Chair of MC11 live up to
their credible wishes, failing which they can only remain as marginalized
members of a trade body that is going to be transformed from multilateral
to plurilateral on a lasting basis, said a trade envoy who asked not
to be quoted.