Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct17/24)
30 October 2017
Third World Network
DG, Chairs of WTO Doha bodies on state of play ahead of MC11
Published in SUNS #8561 dated 26 October 2017
Geneva, 25 Oct (Kanaga Raja) - An informal Heads of Delegations (HoD)
meeting held just some seven weeks before the WTO eleventh ministerial
conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires heard an assessment by the Director-General
as well as reports by the chairs of the various negotiating bodies
under the Doha Work Programme on the state of play so far on the key
issues in the negotiations.
At the HoD meeting on 24 October, the reports by the Chairs of Doha
negotiating bodies were preceded by some remarks by Director-General
Following Azevedo's remarks and the reports by the Chairs, a number
of delegations took the floor, with the large majority of developing
countries calling amongst others for credible outcomes at MC11 on
a permanent solution for public stockholding programmes for food security,
on the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) and on cotton (see separate
According to trade officials, in his remarks at the HoD meeting, the
Director-General recounted the meetings that he had been attending
in recent weeks including the informal ministerial meeting in Marrakesh,
a meeting of trade ministers from the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific
(ACP) Group, the IMF and World Bank meetings in Washington (where
he met with USTR Robert Lighthizer), and meetings with the African
Group and the group of Francophone countries.
According to the DG, there is a strong reaffirmation of support for
a good outcome at MC11 but there are very difficult issues that remain.
In some cases what is seen are divergent positions, and he is hearing
a lot of the same things that he has been hearing up to now.
He highlighted the issues that were raised at the Marrakesh meeting
in October including agriculture and its many sub-elements including
domestic support, public stockholding programs for food security,
cotton and the special safeguard mechanism (SSM); fisheries subsidies;
domestic regulation in services; special and differential treatment
(SDT); electronic commerce; micro, small and medium sized enterprises
(MSMEs); investment facilitation; and women's empowerment.
According to trade officials, Azevedo also mentioned the dispute settlement
system, saying that the current situation is very concerning. Members
need to find a way forward, he added.
He said that overall the discussions with the Ministers have gone
well, but in terms of convergence, it is not very encouraging.
There is a great deal of support both at the Marrakesh and ACP meetings
for an MC11 outcome but there is need to reduce the number of issues
that are going to be on the table for ministers to take up in Buenos
In the very near future, members will have to decide which issues
can be brought to MC11 and which have not advanced enough, said the
According to Azevedo, Buenos Aires is not the end of the road. He
expressed hope that we can leave Buenos Aires with members committed
to strengthening the trading system and with a clear path forward
for work on as many issues as possible.
The Director-General told the informal HOD meeting (excerpts of his
remarks have been posted on the WTO website): "As our upcoming
Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires draws nearer, there has been
a lot of activity taking place amongst members. Discussions are ongoing
in many areas. While there are some signs of potential convergence
in some areas, in many others this is not the case. We need to be
very mindful of this."
"Given this situation, I think that members will soon have to
decide which issues can be brought forward for ministers' consideration
at the Conference - and which issues are not advancing fast enough
to be resolved by that time.
"I think that this honest assessment will allow us to focus our
minds on shaping what outcomes in Buenos Aires could look like, and
also to start setting a game plan for our work after Buenos Aires
- including the issues that need more time to mature. In all of this,
flexibility and pragmatism will be essential.
"As I have said before, proponents have a particular responsibility
here to build momentum behind their ideas. The chairs and I will do
our part to keep the entire membership on board for any progress that
you can collectively achieve.
"But each and every delegation has a role to play. We must all
continue working and reaching out to each other. I hope that we can
leave Buenos Aires with members committed to strengthening the trading
system and with a clear path forward for our future work on as many
issues as possible."
Azevedo further said: "I have found my recent interactions with
ministers to be extremely helpful in raising their awareness of the
discussions taking place in Geneva. I have also welcomed the strong
reaffirmations of support for a successful MC11 that I have received
during these various discussions. I hope we can continue building
on this constructive dialogue."
REPORTS BY NEGOTIATING GROUP CHAIRS
According to trade officials, the Chair of the Negotiating Group on
Rules, Ambassador Wayne McCook of Jamaica, reported that there has
been significant work done on the three pillars in the negotiations.
On fisheries subsidies, the negotiating group had intensified its
work during a four-day session. It reflected the strong determination
of members to advance outcomes.
It is too early to predict exactly what the scope (of this outcome)
will be but the members have in place at the moment the necessary
conditions to bring about an agreement. But political and technical
The Chair said that so far the members are not shrinking from these
challenges and that there are no linkages or sequencing that have
been attached to this, and that has been the key.
When the members meet to take this issue up in the next couple of
weeks, there needs to be precise and detailed interventions - we are
talking about drafting changes (to the "vertical" text on
It must be a bottom-up approach, said the Chair, adding that he cannot
provide the substance.
The Chair also mentioned the other two issues of trade remedies (the
proposal from China) and horizontal subsidies (the proposal from the
The Chair said that the issue of fisheries subsidies is promising
for a possible outcome at MC11.
The Chair of the services negotiations, Ambassador Hector Marcelo
Cima of Argentina, said that so far on the question of trade facilitation
in services and on market access, members should not expect a negotiating
outcome in Buenos Aires.
According to the Chair, on domestic regulation in services, there
continues to be quite a lot of energy in these discussions. A "significant"
group says that there is enough progress that has been made for a
negotiating outcome to be reached but "another sizable"
group says that this is not something that can be done.
A large group of proponents will be presenting a revised paper very
shortly and this will take into account many of the concerns that
have been raised by others. These concerns are linked largely to policy
space and the right to regulate.
The Chair of the Committee on Trade and Development in Special Session,
Ambassador Tan Yee Woan of Singapore, mentioned that the big issue
here is the G90's ten Agreement-specific proposals.
The opponents have said that the exemptions and open-ended flexibilities
would be damaging to the system, so the question is how should the
work proceed in the 30 working days before MC11?
Are there alternative approaches? Are there any areas of convergence?
According to the Chair, the answer to that is "no".
The Chair of the NAMA (non-agricultural market access) negotiations,
Ambassador Didier Chambovey of Switzerland, said that there has not
been a meeting since 21 July. An informal meeting has been called
for 1 November.
The Chair of the TRIPS Council in Special Session, Ambassador Dacio
Castillo of Honduras, asked what is the role for the TRIPS Council
in Special Session in the preparations for MC11? Should there be negotiations
on the GI register for wines and spirits afterwards?
He said that the known positions were reiterated and members sensed
little appetite for negotiations in this area.
The Chair of the Committee on Trade and Environment in Special Session,
Ambassador Dr Syed Tauqir Shah of Pakistan, said that a meeting was
held on 3 October, which was an information session.
There have been no new proposals but delegations said that the environment
is too important an issue and should not be forgotten in any ministerial
The Chair of the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) in Special Session,
Ambassador Coly Seck of Senegal, reported that an informal meeting
was held on 10 October.
There have been no new proposals and there has not really been a push
for an outcome at MC11 but there is a desire to continue discussing
these issues after MC11 in the current format and members like to
take up one issue at a time.
Deputy Director-General Yi Xiaozhun reported on behalf of the Chair
of the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session, Ambassador Stephen
Karau of Kenya, who was out town.
He said that the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes
is a priority issue. There are two proposals on the table.
On domestic support, he said this is the priority for the vast majority
of members. On cotton, the Cotton-four countries have put forward
a new proposal and are looking for a high level of ambition.
On agricultural market access, he said that a substantial outcome
will not be feasible at MC11, but others would like to continue to
take this up after MC11.
On SSM, the proponents have called for an outcome but the prospects
are limited because without something in market access, opponents
are very reluctant to move on this issue.
On export restrictions, he said many members support a limited outcome
on enhancing transparency on export prohibitions and restrictions
but others say that this should be seen within the context of a more
(See below for Ambassador Karau's full report at a meeting of the
Committee on Agriculture in Special Session on 19 October. A dedicated
session on PSH and SSM was held on 20 October.)
According to trade officials, Director-General Azevedo concluded that
from what he has heard from members there is still a long way to go
and there is a short time in which to do this. He urged members to
prioritize the issues.
Meanwhile, in his report to the Committee on Agriculture in Special
Session, at its meeting on 19 October (JOB/ AG/117), Ambassador Karau
had said that domestic support remains the priority for the vast majority
It is the pillar that has received a lot of attention in all our meetings
thus far, as well as in my consultations with Members. It was also
one of the main issues discussed at the Marrakesh Mini-Ministerial
meeting, he said.
This engagement is yet reflected again by two more submissions that
will be introduced today (19 October), namely the one by the ACP Group
in document JOB/AG/112 and the one by New Zealand, Australia, Canada,
Chile and Paraguay in document JOB/AG/114.
Nevertheless, important gaps still remain in the positions of Members
on the negotiating issues.
Members remain broadly divided between:
* those that favour an overall limit on trade-distorting support,
whether based on a percentage of the value of production or on a monetary
* those that consider that the AMS should be eliminated first - notably
because it allows for product-specific subsidy concentration - and
that at least some steps should be taken in that direction.
In addition, several Members consider that efforts should be proportional
and the burden should not be put more on some Members than others.
They consider that new disciplines based on the current elements -
AMS and de minimis - would be more appropriate and cautioned against
a one-size-fits-all-type of solution.
While acknowledging the usefulness of the proposal by the EU/Brazil
and co-proponents, several Members regretted the absence of disciplines
on product-specific support and/or immediate disciplines on the Blue
Box. Some Members reiterated their sensitivities regarding Article
6.2 and de minimis entitlements.
On cotton, he noted that the C4 proposal containing a draft ministerial
decision on Cotton was circulated on 11 October 2017 in document TN/AG/GEN/46.
The C4 proposal received preliminary comments from Quad Plus participants
during a brief meeting on 13 October. Some of the Members who provided
comments regretted the high level of ambition, while others requested
the C4 to clarify some elements of the proposal, including the proposed
treatment of developing country Members.
On export restrictions, the Chair said the discussions thus far have
confirmed that many Members support a limited outcome, mainly focused
on enhancing transparency in Export Prohibitions and Restrictions.
It should also be highlighted that most Members consider that an outcome
on Export Prohibitions and Restrictions could not be envisaged in
the absence of a more comprehensive outcome in the agricultural negotiations
In Market Access, the Chair said there is acknowledgement among the
Members, including the proponents, that a substantive outcome in Market
Access may not be feasible at MC11. Simultaneously, he has not heard
any Member questioning the importance of Market Access reforms.
The Chair had nothing new to report on export competition.
The Chair concluded that a lot of work, however, remains to be done
given that we are only seven weeks away from MC11 which, in principle,
means that there are only five working weeks still available.
It is now time to translate the engagement demonstrated in Marrakech
by our Ministers and the shared willingness to have success at MC11
into concrete actions, he said.
"To prepare the ground for success at MC11, it should be our
objective to submit to Ministers a limited number of issues for their
consideration. This implies that we need to intensify our work here
in Geneva and close as many gaps as possible in the negotiating positions
of Members on the issues. Experience has taught us that the agenda
for Ministers must be manageable if results are to be obtained,"
"Put differently, our objective should be to submit to Ministers
a clear understanding of what can be envisaged as agricultural outcomes
at MC11, with as few points as possible left open for negotiation
by Ministers. Depending on the issue, the envisaged outcome could
be a substantive one, a post-MC11 work programme or a combination
of the two," he added.