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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb08/04)

4 February 2008


TNC discusses sequence of Doha process

Below is an article on the informal TNC meeting at the WTO on Thurs 31 Jan, at which members discussed the sequence of the process of the Doha talks in the next 2 months.

It was published in SUNS of 1 Feb 2008.  Any reproduction requires permission of SUNS (sunstwn@bluewin.ch).

Best regards
Martin Khor
TWN


Lamy outlines Doha process for coming weeks
Published in SUNS #6405 dated 1 February 2008

Geneva, 31 Jan (Kanaga Raja) -- The Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee of the WTO, Pascal Lamy, at an informal meeting Thursday, laid out for members the process forward in the coming weeks with respect to the Doha negotiations.

Lamy, who is also the WTO Director-General, informed members that the Chairs of the agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA) negotiations will circulate their revised modality texts next week and that these texts will then go to the respective negotiating groups for consideration by the members.

Lamy also said that the subsequent horizontal process (negotiations across both texts) would start at Senior Officials' level, with any Ministerial involvement which may be needed taking place later on, and that this horizontal process should come to fruition around Easter.

According to trade officials, the process forward will involve the Chairs of the agriculture and NAMA negotiations putting out their revised texts next week after the General Council meeting (scheduled for 5 February).

Then the texts will go to capitals and after an adequate period of reflection, work will resume in the negotiating groups. When the time is right, these texts will then be taken to the horizontal process that will involve first ambassadors and senior officials and at some point ministers.

According to trade officials, the objective of the exercise is to put these texts in a condition that would be appropriate for the ministers to consider.

Citing Lamy as saying that it has to be done step-by-step, trade officials said that what is happening with respect to reactions from governments and what is said in the negotiating groups has to be gauged. They said that it is not known how long the work will be undertaken in the negotiating groups to narrow the differences.

According to trade officials, while everyone was of the view that the process laid out by Lamy was a good one, there was also some caution expressed - let us not bring ministers here until the time is right.'

On the process, trade officials said that there was a pretty uniform point of view - a clear sequence without any precision with respect to timing.

Where there were emerging differences was on the question of scope (of the negotiating issues in the horizontal process). Everyone acknowledged that agriculture and NAMA are the issues that have priority, but there was also acknowledgment that these are not the only important issues.

Everyone acknowledged that there is a Single-Undertaking (a process where nothing is agreed until everything is agreed).

At the informal TNC meeting Thursday, Lamy said "We have started the year well. Both the agriculture and NAMA groups have met, and we have stepped up the pace across the board in all other areas under the Single Undertaking."

Referring to the Davos meeting, he said that "many of the political and economic leaders who were present underlined the need for a successful Doha outcome to counteract the current financial market instability and economic anxieties we have witnessed over the past few weeks."

Lamy regarded as a positive sign the maturing of the technical substance in agriculture and NAMA which is taking place, at least in agriculture.

Outlining the process, Lamy said that the Chairs of agriculture and NAMA will circulate comprehensive revised modality texts next week, building on the discussions which have taken place since the first versions. These texts will then go back to the Negotiating Groups "for consideration in the multilateral forum as it is our normal practice."

How long that will need to take should become clearer when they table their texts as well as depending on the level of engagement from members, he said, adding "What I can tell you is that we have no time to waste and that we will have to see a very intensive pace of work over the coming weeks if we are to finalize the modalities in a timeframe which allows for a conclusion of the Round this year."

The decisive step in the process of establishing modalities will involve a cross-cutting negotiation - i. e. a negotiation across both texts. Lamy said that this horizontal process would start at Senior Officials level, with any Ministerial involvement which may be needed taking place later on.

"With regard to the timing of this process, the logic of our negotiating calendar means that the horizontal process should come to fruition around Easter, but I believe it is important to let the Chairs of the Negotiating Groups, the General Council Chairman and myself work out the specifics and keep you informed."

"We must be mindful that we still need some 6 to 8 months after the modalities are established for the scheduling exercise in Agriculture and NAMA before we can conclude the negotiations as a whole," said Lamy.

"Of course, the Doha Round is more than just Agriculture and NAMA, and I believe it would be important, at the same time, to give all necessary comfort to the membership concerning the other areas which are being negotiated, in line with the Single Undertaking and, indeed, drawing from the experience of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration."

"As I said at our last meeting at the end of the year, all Members need to have the assurance that all their issues are moving forward towards a broad and balanced outcome which fulfils our mandate," Lamy added.

In this respect, pointing to the area of services, Lamy said that the general view from the many consultations that he had, is that Annex C (relating to Services) of the Hong Kong Declaration is not up for renegotiation.

Lamy was of the view that a deal is eminently doable and that it must be done, adding that the political conditions for reaching a deal on the modalities have never been better.

"We are on the last lap and it is now time to start our sprint towards the finish line. Geneva negotiators cannot fail the world trading community," he stressed.

Several countries spoke following Lamy's report on the state of play in the Doha negotiations and the process forward.

Lesotho, speaking for the LDCs, agreed with Lamy on the way forward. They wanted the approach to adhere to the Doha Work Programme, with development at the forefront. They also expressed hope that the revised texts of the Chairs will adhere to the Doha mandate. They stressed the importance of the development dimension, duty-free, quota-free market access for LDCs and cotton. On services, Lesotho shared the Director-General's view that modalities for services are already in Annex C of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration and should not be reopened.

Chinese Taipei stressed the need for a transparent, inclusive and bottom-up approach.

Chad, for the Cotton-4 and 36 cotton-producing countries, supported Lesotho. It recalled the vital importance of cotton and the need for a fair solution to the cotton problem.

Cote d'Ivoire, speaking for the African Group, said that it was fully committed to the negotiating process. It said that the central element needs to be development. The Single-Undertaking and Special and Differential Treatment are also integral parts. It supported the TNC chair on the process. The agriculture and NAMA texts should come out together and there must be a comparable level of ambition. The texts should be analysed internally before going to the horizontal process. On services, it highlighted Annex C of the Hong Kong Declaration.

Switzerland and Japan supported the process laid out by the Director-General.

Jamaica, for the ACP Group, approved of the Director-General's process. There is need to move to the horizontal process, but it expects that this will be done after adequate discussions in the negotiating groups. It also stressed a bottom-up approach.

According to trade officials, the EU agreed with the proposed time-lines and sequencing. There is need to move to the horizontal process as soon as possible.

India agreed with the sequence that Lamy described "as this is the only way we can establish a work programme for concluding the Round this year."

On process, India said that before moving into each subsequent phase there must be a clear understanding among members that we have a solid basis for engagement. This test would need to be applied before moving into the horizontal phase as well as to the Ministerial meeting.

"While urgency is called for, it must be urgency based on realism. Predetermined deadlines will not get us anywhere and may indeed be counterproductive. A Ministerial meeting should only be called when the preparatory ground work provides clear indications for a successful outcome," said India.

Noting that over the last few months, several members have listed the issues which they feel must be dealt with along with the modalities in agriculture and NAMA, India said "We cannot proceed to a Ministerial meeting without clarity regarding the nature and content of the discussions to be held on such other issues."

"For many members including India, we cannot relinquish the leverage on agriculture and NAMA without in turn obtaining assurance that the issues of our interest will be favourably addressed. A mere reiteration of the Single Undertaking principle or a process roadmap is not enough."

India reiterated the need for a serious discussion on the expectations of members regarding other issues. Without this, it will be very risky to go into a Ministerial process which is designed to focus only on two issues.

Chile agreed with the proposed sequencing. It affirmed the Single-Undertaking and stressed a bottom-up approach.

The US said that there is need to move the Doha Round promptly to the final stage on all elements of the Single Undertaking.

Barbados, for the Small and Vulnerable Economies, said that while timing is important, even more important is the content.

According to trade officials, Brazil expressed comfort with the way the Director-General has outlined the process. While stressing that there is a mandate to have agriculture and NAMA modalities upfront, there was also a need for a clear sense of where the other issues lie.

Indonesia supported the Director-General's process and agreed with the idea of going to negotiating groups first. It supported the idea of focusing on agriculture and NAMA modalities, but said that the Doha Development Agenda is more than agriculture and NAMA and that all other areas must at some point be taken up.

According to trade officials, South Africa said that there has to be a fair and balanced outcome.

Lamy, in summing up, said that it is clear that we are all on-board with respect to the process, but not quite as clear how we go forward with the question of scope and we will have to come back to it. He said that we have time to assess how to handle the question of scope. It is clear that we need to adopt modalities in agriculture and NAMA.

He also said that we need to work on the basis of the mandate and the mandate sequences how the process moves forward. +

 


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