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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Sept07/06)

17 September  2007


New "Group of 8" in WTO

A new group of eight WTO members seems to have been established and it has been meeting in Geneva since last week to discuss issues pertaining to the WTO's Doha negotiations.

The members comprise the old G6 (the United States, European Union, Brazil, India, Japan  and Australia) plus Argentina and Canada.

Diplomats from some of the eight WTO members are playing down the political significance of the group. However, delegations from some other countries are concerned at the lack of information and transparency regarding the getting together of the eight members, their objectives and role.

The report below was published in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) on 12 Sept. 2007, with the permission of the SUNS.  Any reproduction or re-circulation requires  the permission of the SUNS (sunstwn@bluewin.ch).

With best wishes
Martin Khor
TWN

New "Group of 8" in WTO

By Martin Khor, Geneva, 11 Sept 2007

 A new group of eight WTO members seems to have been established and it has been meeting in Geneva since last week to discuss issues pertaining to the WTO's Doha negotiations.

The members comprise the old G6 (the United States, European Union, Brazil, India, Japan and Australia) plus Argentina and Canada.

According to diplomatic sources, the group held a meeting last Thursday (6 September) at the United States Mission, and it has also been meeting on a regular basis in the past few days.

Diplomats from some of the eight WTO members are playing down the political significance of the group, saying that the meetings were aimed at discussing some technical matters and thus help the talks progress smoother.

However, delegations from some other countries are concerned at the lack of information and transparency regarding the getting together of the eight members, their objectives and role.

"It can hardly be said to be a more representative group than the old G6, as there are no African countries or small developing countries in it, and the developed countries are very disproportionately represented in it," said a senior diplomat from a small developing country.

Moreover, said the diplomat, it had been agreed in July that the talks would return to the multilateral process in an open, transparent and inclusive way, after the failed attempts of the G4 and G6 to reach their own agreement, while the majority of WTO members waited with little information on what was going on in the small groups.

"I hope this is not the start of another exclusive and un-transparent process," he said. This would be going backwards, he added.

Another diplomat speculated that the new group may be or may become the venue for some of the more significant negotiations, thus taking away the energy and diluting the importance and focus of the multilateral process within the WTO.

At the WTO, the current negotiations on agriculture are taking place in a "Green Room" format known as "Room E", after the name of the small room in the WTO building. About 35 delegations are invited, and thus the majority of developing countries cannot directly participate.

However, the non-invited members try to obtain information from representatives of their groupings which attend the meeting, and to provide inputs to the Room E talks through developing common positions of their groups.

All members are invited to take part in "informal open-ended" meetings, at which information is shared and general statements can be made. But these are held less frequently than the small-group meetings at which the real negotiations take place.

Several diplomats involved in the Room E meetings last week and this week have noticed that there is somewhat a "not very serious" negotiating atmosphere as mainly technical issues have been discussed, while the meetings have not got to grips with tough negotiations on more significant issues.

Moreover, they pointed out that the Room E meeting on Monday closed early, indicating a lack of issues to discuss or rather a lack of urgency for discussion, although it has been stressed often that time is running out and that the modalities should be concluded by the end of September.

There is also uncertainty over the schedule of the NAMA negotiations, which have yet to start. It was agreed in July that the September schedule would start with two weeks of agriculture negotiations, so that the picture would be clear as to the level of progress in this area, and then the NAMA talks would begin, with 17 September mentioned as the date for the first open meeting.

The Chair of the NAMA negotiations, Ambassador Don Stephenson of Canada, only returned to the WTO on Monday. He has been having consultations with a few delegations, but has not yet notified the WTO members as to the negotiating schedule he is planning to have.

More than a week after the WTO resumed work following the August break, there has been little sign of progress in the negotiations, and some uncertainty as to the schedule for the rest of this month, let alone next month.

And it is difficult to find a person who is optimistic that the modalities on agriculture and NAMA can be a in the next three to five weeks.

 


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