TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Nov07/21)

15 November 2007

Trade: ACP Ministers declare positions on EPAs and WTO
Published in SUNS #6364 dated 13 November 2007
Reproduction requires permission of SUNS (
By Martin Khor, Geneva, 11 Nov 2007

The ACP Ministers of Trade have concluded their two-day meeting in Brussels on 8-9 November with two major documents - the Conclusions of the meeting and a Communique on the WTO Doha Round.

Much of the focus of the Ministerial meeting was on the ACP countries' negotiations with the European Commission on economic partnership agreements (EPAs).

This is due to the urgency of the situation, since the EPAs are scheduled to be concluded by 31 December. The six ACP regions (the Caribbean and Pacific regions and four African sub-regions) are in various stages of negotiations with the EC, with a few on track to complete the talks while others do not appear to be in a position to sign an EPA deal by the year's end.

The ACP countries want the EU to continue its present trade preferences for them, in one way or other, after 31 December when the WTO waiver enabling the preferences under the Cotonou Agreement expires.

However, it was noted at the meeting that the EU is reluctant to take measures such as an extension of the waiver in the WTO, or to offer GSP-plus privileges to ACP countries, at least pending the conclusion of the EPA negotiations.

The lengthy Conclusions dealt mainly with EPA issues. Among the main points of the Conclusions are:

* The Ministers were concerned that negotiations with the EC should not be conducted in a manner that continues to exert pressure on ACP regions in a take-it-or-leave-it manner.

* The Ministers expressed dissatisfaction that the EC has not shown it is willing to explore such options as GSP plus or enhanced GSP measures - as temporary measures to WTO compatibility.

* In attempting to obtain individual country agreements, the EC should desist from measures that will undermine regional integration processes.

* Most regions would not be in a position to conclude the full EPAs by the agreed deadline. Trade is already being disrupted as importers in Europe are hesitant to place orders for delivery in January 2008.

* The Ministers considered three possible scenarios: (1) securing a comprehensive EPA; (2) GSP (General System of Preferences), GSP-plus and EBA (Everything But Arms initiative); and (3) EC proposed interim agreements on goods with other issues to be built in for later negotiations.

* Whatever the scenario, the EPAs should be based on five principles, including that no ACP State should be worse off after 1 January 2008; and ACP countries not in a position to enter into an EPA should be provided with a trade framework equivalent to their existing situation.

* The EC should take all the possible measures, including requesting the WTO for a waiver to the WTO to enable the trade regime currently in effect to continue during the period required to conclude the negotiations.

The Conclusions also included detailed positions by the Ministers on EPA issues including on trade in goods, services, non-trade issues, sugar, banana and institutional issues (details will be reported in the next issue of SUNS).

In the Communique on the WTO's Doha negotiations, the Ministers expressed concern on the limited progress to address the development dimension, in terms of ensuring that development is reflected in all areas of the Doha Work Programme; as well as in making Special and Differential Treatment more precise, effective and operational. They further expressed concern that no Agreement has been reached on outstanding implementation issues.

The Ministers said that modalities to be agreed must be established in full and reflect the ACP Group's interests and concerns.

They reaffirmed the primacy of the multilateral process in the Doha Round and asked Geneva multilateral negotiations which respect transparency, inclusiveness and a bottom-up approach.

In Agriculture, a development outcome must be established through Special Products (SPs), Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM), Cotton, Commodities, Tariff Escalation, issues relating to Net Food Importing Developing Countries (NFIDCs), LDCs and small and vulnerable economies (SVEs).

They acknowledged that the current draft modalities text on Agriculture has incorporated provisions providing flexibilities to SVEs and ACP countries, including those with ceiling and homogenous low bindings. However, they emphasized the need for an agreement on an overall average reduction in the tariff as proposed by ACP Members.

They stressed the need to deal with the cotton issue both in its trade and development aspects, including the setting up of a mechanism to address the loss of revenue resulting from the decline in cotton prices on the world market.

On NAMA (non-agricultural market access), the ACP Ministers "noted with concern that the current Draft Modalities text on NAMA does not fully reflect the interests of the ACP Group with respect to less than full reciprocity in reduction commitments, flexibilities for SVEs and those SVEs and ACP countries covered in Paragraph 6 of Annex B of the July Framework and disciplines on NTBs. In order to achieve a pro-development outcome in NAMA, these issues must be adequately reflected, with a view to supporting, inter alia, industrial development in ACP countries."

The Ministers were also concerned that modalities to address long standing preferences and preference erosion have yet to be finalised. They were ready to join a consensus on modalities that effectively address this issue, through trade and non-trade solutions in Agriculture and NAMA. They noted that failure to do so would impose a disproportionate share of the costs of reform on some of the poorest and most vulnerable Members of the WTO.

They expressed the inability of the ACP Group to participate in discussions at the horizontal level before full modalities are developed in Agriculture and NAMA.

They also reiterated that progress in other areas such as Services, Rules, TRIPS and the Small Vulnerable Economies Work Programme is necessary to arrive at a balanced and equitable agreement fully reflecting the development dimension.

"The negotiations on Services should give special consideration to sectors and modes of supply of interest to ACP countries, maintain the current flexibilities of GATS and allow them to liberalize according to their individual levels of development. Rules negotiations should reflect ACP priorities and concerns in the areas of antidumping and subsidies including fisheries subsidies, as well as the developmental dimension of regional trading agreements (RTAs)," said the Communique.

On Aid for Trade, the Ministers:

* Reaffirmed that this is not a substitute for the Doha programme's development objectives and that it is not part of the Single Undertaking.

* Called for effective implementation of the recommendations of the Task Force on Aid for Trade.

* Stressed that Aid for Trade should be additional, non-conditional, predictable, sustainable and effective. The global review in Geneva in November 2007 should lead to an expeditious implementation of the Aid for Trade initiative.

The Ministers also emphasized the importance of unity and solidarity among developing country members and the need for developing country members to continue working together at this critical stage of the negotiations, in order to secure a development outcome.

They supported the intensification of political and technical collaboration among developing country groupings in the WTO, in particular, among the ACP Group, G33, G20, the African Group, LDCs and Small Vulnerable Economies (SVEs) and Cotton-4 countries.