TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct07/12)

11 October 2007

Agriculture talks resume, little progress reported in NAMA
Published in SUNS #6340 dated 9 October 2007 
By Martin Khor (TWN), Geneva, 8 Oct 2007

Negotiations relating to the Doha Round are progressing slowly, with the talks focusing mainly on agriculture export competition early this week, according to WTO diplomats.

The agriculture negotiations in the "Room E" format (comprising 36 selected delegations) re-opened Monday after a two-week break and centered on food aid. The discussion for at least the first part of this week is expected to cover a range of export competition issues.

Later this week or next week, the more sensitive agriculture "pillars" of market access and domestic support are expected to be discussed.

The talks on non-agricultural market access (NAMA) are expected to take a back seat in the next two weeks, while diplomats attempt to clear the backlog and the blockages in agriculture.

Last week, the chair of the NAMA negotiations, Canada's Ambassador Don Stephenson, convened Room E meetings on various NAMA topics. There was little movement towards convergence on these issues. According to diplomats, many delegations are still waiting to see what happens in agriculture, before they are willing to take new positions in NAMA.

This seems to be the reason why the NAMA talks may take a "breather" while awaiting results, if any, in agriculture.

However, the NAMA issue could have a significant development on Tuesday, when the WTO's General Council meets. Some groupings of developing countries, including the NAMA 11, are preparing to present a statement on the principles they want to see followed in the outcome of the NAMA talks.

The groups would like to make clear that the NAMA draft modalities text of the Chair should be assessed in the light of these principles, and on that basis significant changes would have to be made.

At the last General Council meeting in July, a joint statement by several developing country groupings had criticised the Stephenson draft for being biased against the developing countries, and for not adhering to the mandated principles of less than full reciprocity and the need for balance in the ambition levels between agriculture and NAMA.

Last week, several "Room E" meetings of selected delegations were convened by Stephenson. In meetings earlier in the week, there was little convergence achieved even on so-called "non core" issues such as the special treatment to be accorded for small and vulnerable economies (SVEs), for "paragraph 6" countries (members which have presently bound less than 30 per cent of their industrial tariff lines) and recently acceded members (RAMs).

On Friday (5 October), the NAMA "Room E" meeting for the first time discussed the application of the tariff-reducing Swiss formula. According to some diplomats, there was little movement from already known positions. Developing countries that are affected by the formula are against the range of coefficients (19 to 23) to be applied to developing countries' industrial tariffs proposed in the Chair's draft.

An issue that emerged was whether a developing country to which the Swiss formula applies and which is a member of a customs union whose membership includes least developed countries or small and vulnerable economies can have more lenient treatment (such as a higher coefficient or more flexibilities).

South Africa had in June pointed to the fact that it was a member of SACU (South African Customs Union) which includes LDCs such as Lesotho, and if South African tariffs were cut through the NAMA formula the LDC members would have to similarly lower their tariffs.

In order to cushion the effects on the LDC members, countries like South Africa should be given more lenient treatment in applying the formula, said the proposal.

It is understood that the case of Mercosur was also introduced in the Room E meeting in the same vein, as Brazil and Argentina would be affected by the Swiss formula whereas Uruguay and Paraguay are eligible to be small and vulnerable economies (which are supposed to be provided more lenient treatment, still to be determined).

However, there was no agreement on how to treat these cases.