TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb08/06)
11 Feb 2008
This article was published in SUNS on 6 Feb 2008. Permission is required for reproduction from SUNS (email@example.com).
#6408 Wednesday 6 February 2008
As the WTO members await the issuing of the revised draft texts on agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA), there is a lot of uncertainty and a sense of unreality about the process after that.
The only "certainty" is that the agriculture paper will come out at the end of this week. The NAMA paper is also supposed to be issued this week - according to Director-General Pascal Lamy at the informal Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) meeting on 31 January.
But some diplomats wonder whether it will come out at the same time as the agriculture paper, or a few days later.
Lamy told the informal TNC meeting that the negotiating groups will then meet to discuss the texts, thus ending speculation that a "horizontal process" would start straightaway for a Green Room of selected members to discuss the drafts. This "immediate horizontal process" had been preferred by Lamy, according to some diplomats, but it met with opposition.
How long will the consultations take on agriculture and NAMA, and when will further revised drafts be issued? There is no clear answer to this question.
depends largely on the reaction of members to the two papers. The chair
of the agriculture negotiations, Ambassador Crawford Falconer of
Falconer is known to oppose too soon a move to a "horizontal process", believing that time is required to have members respond to his agriculture text.
Many members, especially from developing countries, want the agriculture consultations to continue so that their issues will get fair treatment. If the paper were to go straight to the Green Room "horizontal process", then the vast majority who are excluded from the Green Room would be at a great disadvantage.
for the NAMA paper, several senior developing-country diplomats privately
are of the view that it will not take account of the views or interests
of developing countries. They are expecting that the Chair, Ambassador
Don Stephenson of
According to this view, the new NAMA paper could try to take into account somewhat the positions of countries like the small vulnerable economies, so as to isolate the "core" developing countries affected by the tariff-reduction Swiss formula, and have the latter apply coefficients within the range proposed in the July 2007 draft, and with that paper's very limited flexibilities.
that were to happen, developing countries in the NAMA 11 group, such
Their strong reaction (which amounted to a near-rejection) almost stalled the whole negotiations, but the developing countries which were distressed with the paper eventually decided to give the NAMA negotiations one more try.
If the agriculture negotiations still need time, and if the NAMA paper meets another round of strong criticisms, it is unclear when or whether the "horizontal process" will be convened.
At Davos, following a lunch meeting of selected Ministers, the media was informed that a decision was taken to convene a Ministerial meeting around or Easter. (Easter Sunday is 23 March). The meeting would presumably aim to conclude "modalities."
It was unclear from the Davos meeting, as it is still unclear now, what would be the scope of such a Ministerial - including the topics to be included, and the countries to be invited.
lack of clarity at Davos on the scope of issues for the Ministerial
has become quite a controversy back in
Even the date for the mini-Ministerial is a source of uncertainty or contention. If the negotiating groups need time to sort out what to do about the revised drafts, then would it be wise to impose an "artificial deadline" of an end-of-March mini-Ministerial?
Diplomats have been counting the weeks to end-March to ascertain whether there is sufficient time. There are six weeks between now and end-March. Next week will be spent for Geneva Missions and capitals to study the papers. That leaves five weeks.
If Ministers need a week to prepare before they come, and the Green Room process needs at least two or three weeks to thrash out the issues in a horizontal manner involving all kinds of trade-offs, that leaves only one to two weeks for consultations on the agriculture and NAMA papers, including the revisions that probably need to be made by the two Chairs.
Given the wide differences in many areas in agriculture (for example, domestic support, tariff-cut formula, sensitive products, special products, special safeguard mechanism, preference erosion, etc) and in NAMA, it would be almost miraculous for enough gaps to be bridged to meet the Easter deadline.
This uphill task is then complicated further by the choice on scope of issues to be covered by the horizontal process. Lamy is said to favour only covering agriculture and NAMA, because that would give the Green Room and the Ministerial a much better chance of success, since fewer topics would be covered.
the EU and US want to also include services, as they have insisted on
an outcome here that reflects "comparable ambition" with agriculture
and NAMA. The EU also insists on geographical indications. Other countries,
There are many contentious points among WTO members in services, rules, geographical indications, etc. If these are put in the pot, it would be impossible to have the Green Room and the mini-Ministerial to come up with a finished dish by Easter. On the other hand, if these other issues are not included, several countries may not want the horizontal process to start as yet.
Admitting that scope is a problem, Lamy told the General Council on 5 February that the TNC meeting "provided less clarity on the scope of the horizontal process. This is a matter on which further consultation will be needed." (See separate article on General Council meeting).
There is as yet no solution to this problem of scope. At the TNC, Lamy while mentioning agriculture and NAMA said it was also important to give "all necessary comfort" to members on the other areas.
"The problem is that comfort means different things to different delegations," said an Ambassador. "Some countries want certain issues to be in, but other countries feel as strongly that they should not be in."
Another question is why an Easter deadline is needed at all. Having such a deadline in fact contradicts the stated need for the members to review the agriculture and NAMA papers and to continue to negotiate so that the gaps are bridged and the Chairs can get their second revised papers (if there are to be such papers) more acceptable.
Several diplomats are of the view that the real "demandeurs" of this deadline are Lamy, the EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and the Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.
point to the fact that the terms of office of Mandelson and Lamy will
end next year. They presumably would like to have the Doha Round wrapped
up as part of their accomplishments, and ending 2008 without a
As for Amorim, he is a "true believer" of the Round in that he thinks the best chance to have reform in US agricultural subsidies would be under the Bush administration, as the new Administration may not have any reform inclination, said a diplomat.
All three also evidently believe that if there is no "modalities deal" by April, it would be not be possible to finish the Round by November or December (since 6 to 9 months are needed for scheduling etc).
delegations share this view that things will become more complicated
"While urgency is called for, it must be urgency based on realism," said the Indian Ambassador, Ujal Singh Bhatia, at the TNC. "Predetermined deadlines will not get us anywhere...A Ministerial meeting should only be called when the preparatory ground work provides clear indications for a successful outcome."
issue connected to this is utility or otherwise of continuing to negotiate
week, the US Trade Representative Susan Schwab assured that she would
try her best to get a new TPA as soon as there is a breakthrough in
is almost no hope that even if the USTR tried that Congress has either
the time, interest or appetite to quickly approve a new TPA this year.
Only last week, the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, expressed
doubts whether pending free trade agreements (with
"If even trade deals that had been sent to Congress under the last TPA cannot be passed this year, what chance would there be for a whole new TPA to be adopted just to accommodate a Doha agreement?" asked the Ambassador of a developing country.
Ambassador said the developing countries are in a situation of not wanting
to make more concessions or show their "bottom lines", since
they are not sure that the
"And then on the other hand we are asked to make deep concessions and open our markets to satisfy the US so that it can try to get a TPA, while we are not sure at all whether such an attempt will be made, and if made we know the chances of success are very slim."
All in all, said the Ambassador, it is a very bizarre situation that the WTO delegations find themselves in.
"Everyone says there is the need to see the papers and then to spend enough time for more consultation to bridge gaps, yet we are also told there is an imperative for the process to culminate with an Easter Ministerial.
are told the
In this "bizarre situation", which will be compressed into the next two months or so, it is hard to see how everything can come together to make it a successful Easter.
any case, the next stage of this