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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec07/01)

9 December 2007


Lamy outlines process for Doha talks for early next year

The following article was published in SUNS dated 3 December 2007 and is reproduced here with permission.  Any reproduction requires the permission of SUNS (sunstwn@bluewin.ch).

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Lamy outlines process for Doha talks for early next year
Published in SUNS #6378 dated 3 December 2007 
By Kanaga Raja, Geneva, 30 Nov 2007

WTO members must continue to focus primarily on securing agreement on the modalities for agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA) by early next year (by end February), if the Doha Round is to be concluded before the end of 2008, the Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee, Pascal Lamy, told delegations Friday.

Lamy, who is also the WTO Director-General, was speaking at an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) at the level of heads-of-delegation that was convened to look at the state of play in the negotiations as well as to discuss the further process.

While trade officials said that everyone endorsed the Lamy notion of trying to conclude modalities in agriculture and NAMA by end of February, interventions and remarks of some delegations, showed that members while focussing on agriculture as central and insisting on development issues, were also indicating the need for parallel progress (with agriculture and NAMA) in other areas, including market access in services (in Modes 1 and 4).

According to trade officials, revised texts in agriculture and NAMA are being envisaged for late January - after the Davos meeting - or early February. The idea then would be to go as quickly as possible to a horizontal process to find trade-offs - covering agriculture and NAMA together. Trade officials said that Lamy's notion of trying to conclude the modalities in agriculture and NAMA by the end of February was one that everyone endorsed. The trade officials stressed that this was not a deadline, but a time-frame.

Several countries spoke at the informal TNC meeting, including those representing the developing-country groupings.

The developing countries stressed that the process must be transparent and inclusive and that substance was a much better determinant of progress than an arbitrary time-line. They also emphasized that the Doha Round is a development round and that the texts that come out should reflect the development dimension and the Doha mandate.

At the informal TNC meeting, Lamy noted that though it was originally foreseen that by this time of the revised draft modalities texts in agriculture and NAMA would be in circulation, events had overtaken members. The progress being made in agriculture has prompted the negotiators in that area to aim a bit higher.

There is a widely-shared feeling that a bit more time would allow more details to be settled and that this would in turn allow the agriculture chair to table a more comprehensive revised text.

This could take place somewhere around the end of January, which could lead to the establishment of the modalities about one month later, said Lamy, adding that this will no doubt necessitate at the right moment a horizontal process - that is, one covering both agriculture and NAMA together.

This process could operate at the level of Geneva-based representatives, senior officials and eventually Ministers as necessary. "But, as I have said before, if ministerial involvement in needed at some point, we can only fix this point once we have seen how much work will remain to be done to get to modalities," said Lamy.

Putting the modalities in place is the gateway to concluding the Round, stressed Lamy. "Once we get to agreement on modalities, a new phase would open with three components that could run parallel: scheduling agriculture and NAMA, tabling final offers and scheduling services and finalizing the other rule-making parts of the negotiations."

"If we agree on modalities early next year, I believe we could be able to conclude the Round before the end of 2008," he said, adding that "It follows, therefore, that securing agreement on the modalities must continue to be our primary focus."

This is not to downgrade in any way the other issues in the negotiations, he said, stressing that the Single Undertaking remains the basic guarantee to all participants.

Within the Single Undertaking, the different negotiating issues are moving at their own rhythm and Chairmen's texts appear as the substantive discussions in the negotiating groups have ripened these issues. "It is therefore important, notably for those who have horses running in areas other than agriculture and NAMA, that you keep a sustained pace of work in all negotiating groups," he said.

"As before, I do not believe setting hard deadlines would be helpful to our process. But the reality of the situation is that we are now in overtime. And the second half of overtime starts in January. And, as you all know, the time allowed for overtime in any sport is always limited," he said.

Lamy also gave a brief overview of the work undertaken so far in various areas. On the issue of GI extension and the TRIPS/CBD relationship, he reported differences in delegations' positions during consultations over these issues, and said that consultations would continue with a view to finding common ground.

Several countries spoke following the Director-General's remarks.

India said that it shared the Director-General's assessment of the work that has been done in the past few months as well as the sequence that he described for the next few months. It believed that a conclusion in 2008 is possible provided that members are all flexible and fully engaged.

India said that as envisaged in Hong Kong, "finalization of modalities in agriculture and NAMA must be the first charge on our time and engagement." It said that without agriculture and NAMA modalities being achieved within the time frame that has been envisaged by the Director-General, conclusion cannot be achieved within 2008.

Noting time constraints, India stressed that it is "at the end, substance that will lead us to success, not timelines." For this, all texts have to combine comprehensiveness with balance and equity, and that this balance and equity has to be as much vertical as horizontal, said India, adding that the development dimension is obviously at the core of this effort.

India said that there is need for recognition that the finalization of agriculture and NAMA modalities has to occur in an environment which provides comfort to all members. In these negotiations, various members will derive their comfort from developments on various parts of the Single Undertaking. "Finalization of agriculture and NAMA modalities cannot occur in a vacuum."

India added that members will need to be assured that work on areas of interest to them has proceeded adequately for them to assess the outcomes they can anticipate in these areas. All members need to have a stake in the horizontal process that the Director-General envisaged in February/March. For this to happen, said India, work in all areas needs to be further intensified to enable text-based negotiations at the earliest.

India cited several examples of the huge challenges that members still face. It said that discussions on Special Products and the Special Safeguard Mechanism in Room E (consultations among some 36 delegations at the WTO) have witnessed sharp differences in ambitions and the outcome on this critical area remains far from clear. It also noted that the discussion on the relationship between the Convention on Biological Diversity and TRIPS agreement remains stalemated. On services, India said that there is no assurance that the key areas of interest to India in market access will be addressed at all.

"In the next few weeks, we expect that we will see clear signs of progress in these and related areas," said India.

According to trade officials, Uganda, for the African Group, said that the process needs to be transparent and inclusive. It stressed a bottom-up approach. Substance is a much better determinant of progress than an arbitrary time-line. It re-emphasized that the Doha Round is a development round and the texts that come out should reflect the development dimension and the Doha mandate. There should be no dilution of the development dimension. It expressed hope that the texts would adequately reflect the African Group's concerns. The group had concerns over special and differential treatment, implementation issues, cotton, and capacity building.

Brazil said that it agreed with the process laid out by the Director-General. It said that it should be on substance rather than being time-driven. It agreed to the focus on full modalities on agriculture and NAMA. They are the gateway to progress elsewhere. It said that agriculture is the engine of the negotiations. The round cannot be concluded if there are no final modalities in agriculture and NAMA.

There are two objectives, said Brazil, in that texts must be comprehensive and they must encompass all areas and interests of all members. They must be balanced in a way which can lead to a horizontal process as soon as possible. There must also be an equilibrium in terms of ambition and flexibility inside each text and across the two texts (agriculture and NAMA). Brazil supported the African Group on paying attention to development issues.

Bangladesh, for the LDCs, supported the African Group. It wanted comprehensive and credible texts. It expected that the LDCs' concerns will be reflected in the revised texts and wanted effective, operational duty-free, quota-free market access for LDCs. It also expressed unhappiness that the LDCs' concerns have not been addressed in the services negotiations.

Benin, speaking on behalf of the Cotton-4, said that the cotton issue needs to be agreed soon. Without a fair and appropriate result for the cotton issue, there will not be a conclusion to the Doha Round, said Benin.

Paraguay said that without a development element in the Doha Round, the round will be a disaster for the Paraguayan economy. It wanted to see a change in attitude of the developed countries to ensure that there is more progress in this area.

According to trade officials, Indonesia, for the Group of 33, stressed on the issue of substance (rather than deadlines). Convergence should emerge through substance and constructive engagement.

Jamaica, on behalf of the ACP Group, said that agriculture and NAMA are the centre but work also needs to be done in the other areas. It also needs to be acknowledged that many ACP members have a limited capacity to engage in simultaneous negotiations.

Nigeria shared the assessment that the window of opportunity will not remain open indefinitely. While agriculture and NAMA need to be resolved, there are also other areas that should be fast-tracked - services, rules, and trade facilitation. It also stressed a transparent, inclusive and bottom-up approach. Agriculture holds the key, said Nigeria, adding that it supported the African Group, the G20, the G33 and the ACP.

Argentina said that the agriculture and NAMA texts have to be comprehensive and comparable. At the moment, there is no level of comparability between those two texts.

The European Union shared the Director-General's sense of urgency. It is essential that the agriculture and NAMA modalities are reached by end January. A breakthrough is needed across the board in February.

The United States agreed with the Director-General's approach and said that if members follow this particular plan and time-line, there is an opportunity to finish negotiations in 2008. It remained committed to finishing the Round in 2008. The immediate priority is completing full modalities in agriculture and NAMA with a level of specificity that would make it possible to begin scheduling, said the US.

The TNC Chairman concluded by saying that the discussion was useful and showed a common understanding on two key points - substance should drive the process, and that agriculture and NAMA should lead the pack. The establishment of agriculture and NAMA modalities will open the door for other areas of the negotiations. +

 


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