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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Aug 07/02)

3 August 2007


WTO goes on its August break in downbeat and uncertain mood      

The WTO broke for its one-month summer break after an uneventful General Council meeting on 27 July which dealt mainly with regular agenda items.  WTO members appeared relieved that there was not a more serious session, after they had gone through stressful and eventful meetings of the past three days.

However, as they left for the break, many diplomats were wondering what will happen in September, which is widely believed to be the crucial month in which the Doha negotiations will finally "make or break."

The negotiating atmosphere has been badly damaged by the strong negative reaction by most developing-country groupings to the NAMA draft of Canadian Ambassador Don Stephenson. In the 25 and 26 July meetings, they strongly attacked the draft.

There will be a sequencing of the September negotiations, with agriculture to kick off first, and NAMA to follow only later.

September will be a full and intense month, in the atmosphere of "this is the last chance to save the Round".

But the September "invisible deadline" has instead suffered a severe setback, with a majority of developing countries feeling and expressing a strong alienation from or even revulsion of the NAMA paper. This has left the next steps of the negotiations in even greater uncertainty.

"Frankly, it's a shambles," remarked a diplomat as he left the General Council meeting in the early afternoon. 

Below is a report of the mood at the WTO on the last day before the summer break.

It was published in the SUNS of 30 July.

Best wishes
Martin Khor 
TWN

------------------------ 

WTO goes on its August break in downbeat and uncertain mood 

By Martin Khor (TWN), Geneva, 27 July 2007

The World Trade Organisation broke for its one-month summer break after an uneventful General Council meeting on Friday which dealt mainly with regular agenda items such as a review of waivers and various work programmes.

The WTO members appeared relieved that there was not a more serious session, after they had gone through stressful and eventful meetings of the past three days - the review of agricultural modalities draft on Tuesday, the review of the non-agricultural market access (NAMA) modalities draft on Wednesday and the Trade Negotiations Committee on Thursday.

However, as they left for the break, many diplomats were wondering what will happen in September, which is widely believed to be the crucial month in which the Doha negotiations will finally "make or break."

The negotiating atmosphere has been badly damaged by the strong negative reaction by most developing-country groupings to the NAMA draft of Canadian Ambassador Don Stephenson. In the Wednesday and Thursday meetings, they strongly attacked the draft for being biased, prejudging the negotiations, and for having the potential to harm the industrialization prospects of developing countries.

In contrast, WTO members seemed able to broadly accept the agriculture draft of Ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand as one that can facilitate further negotiations, even though most groups and members that spoke found problems with various elements of the paper.

There will be a sequencing of the September negotiations, with agriculture to kick off first, and NAMA to follow only later.

Falconer announced that he will begin the agriculture negotiations on 3 September itself, the day the holiday break ends. On 10 September, Stephenson plans to begin meetings or consultations in small groups, and then start with open meetings (for all members) from 17 September.

Also in September, meetings are expected on other aspects of the Doha agenda, including services and rules. It will be a full and intense month, in the atmosphere of "this is the last chance to save the Round", as a couple of Ambassadors put it at this week's meetings.

The issuing of the modalities papers was to have been a major step forward in the onward march of negotiations to an invisible end-of-September target for attaining modalities in agriculture and NAMA.

It is generally thought that by October, the United States will be pre-occupied with its Presidential elections, and would not be able to focus on the Doha talks, and it would also be clear by then that there would be no fast-track authority renewal.

But the September "invisible deadline" has instead suffered a severe setback, with a majority of developing countries feeling and expressing a strong alienation from or even revulsion of the NAMA paper. This has left the next steps of the negotiations in even greater uncertainty.

"Frankly, it's a shambles," remarked a diplomat as he left the General Council meeting in the early afternoon.

The NAMA draft had suffered such a battering both on Wednesday and Thursday that neither the NAMA Chair nor WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy (who is also Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee) could try to defend its status as a useful instrument to move the talks further.

Stephenson from the start of the NAMA meeting described it as a Chairman's text under his personal responsibility with no legal standing, a statement that a number of delegations made use of when they criticized it, to minimize its significance.

A few delegations outright rejected the draft as a basis for negotiations, while many others (including groupings) launched such fierce attacks on it as to render it practically inoperable as a useful negotiating tool. It was akin to "rejecting the text without actually saying so," and the document lay in tatters on the floor of the WTO.

The TNC meeting on Thursday ended without a substantive conclusion from Lamy. Some delegates had expected him to proclaim the two drafts to be the basis for September's negotiations, but the battering that the NAMA draft received made it unwise for any attempt to be made to bless either text as even a basis for negotiations.

In a way, the agriculture draft suffered "collateral damage" by association with the NAMA draft, as it could not be officially proclaimed the basis or a basis for negotiations. But in other ways, the Falconer paper benefited from appearing to be more positive in comparison to the negative reactions received by the other paper.

When the negotiations resume in September, the Falconer draft will in all likelihood be in reality a basis (though not the only basis) for negotiations. The NAMA draft will however start with a limbo-like status, and its future will be influenced by how the dynamics of the consultations and then the open-ended meetings play out.

The uncertainties of the negotiations were symbolized by the cancellation of a press conference that Lamy had planned first for Thursday and then for Friday. Asked by a journalist after the General Council meeting why the briefing had been cancelled, Lamy remarked: "There is nothing more to say than what I have already said at the TNC and today."

At the start of the General Council meeting, Lamy (in his capacity as Chair of the TNC), reporting on developments of the Doha negotiations, again clarified that the draft texts are "not negotiated or agreed texts, the negotiation is up to the participants in the negotiations. "

"Both Chairs made it very clear from the start that their draft modality papers are only another step in the process and that they will have to be revised in the light of views expressed by participants."

Lamy added that the statements made at the TNC meeting underlined that there continues to be high commitment to concluding the Round.

"However, it is also clear that there are some significant differences which remain to be resolved. But in my view, convergence is within our reach if you are all ready to show the necessary will and flexibility... It will require a good dose of extra effort by all participants but it can be done."

According to trade diplomats, delegations did not comment on the Doha negotiations, as they had already made their views known in the TNC meeting and at the meetings of the two days before that.

 


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