TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb08/21)
25 February 2008
Negotiations on non-agricultural market access (NAMA) will take place in a small-group format for three days (Monday to Wednesday) next week at the World Trade Organisation in another effort to narrow gaps among WTO members, after two days of talks at the open-ended informal meeting (involving all members) showed that the previous differences had not narrowed.
chair of the NAMA negotiating group Ambassador Don Stephenson of
However, trade diplomats and officials do not believe that any convergence is possible at this stage, and that Stephenson is merely "going through the motions", so that WTO members will have the opportunity to have further discussions on their positions, following this week's exercise.
In the NAMA Room E process, some 20 to 25 WTO members are invited to meet, with the configuration of the invited participants changing depending on the issues being discussed.
On Thursday (21 February), the second and final day of the NAMA open-ended meeting, more developing countries criticized the Chair's revised text.
it said, the minimum conditions for the horizontal process involving
senior officials or Ministers have not been met.
At the open-ended meeting this week (on 20-21 February), the divisions between the major camps continued to be displayed, as the WTO members gave their reactions to the revised modalities text issued by Stephenson on 8 February.
The developed countries said that they wanted a smaller gap in coefficients between developed and developing countries; the NAMA-11 developing countries criticized the imbalances within NAMA (as developing countries are called to cut their tariffs by a far larger percentage than developed countries) and the imbalances between the obligations in NAMA and agriculture; and the so-called "middle developing countries" basically supporting the Chair's text.
Other developing countries, including the so-called Para 6 countries and the small and vulnerable economies (that do not have to undertake cuts according to the Swiss formula, but which have to reduce tariffs by other specified methods), also called for changes to the Chair's text to better reflect their positions.
Most members that spoke were unhappy with the uncertainty caused by the Chair's removal of figures within brackets regarding the percentage of tariff lines that developing countries can have, to cut their NAMA tariffs by less than the formula cuts (these reduced cuts are termed as "flexibilities" for developing countries).
Stephenson had explained, in reaction to criticisms, that he had "opened" the space between the brackets so that discussions can be held on the relationship between coefficients and the flexibilities. In some proposals, reflected in the Chair's paper, developing countries can trade off their use of flexibilities with the coefficient, i. e. those that do not use the flexibilities can have a higher coefficient.
At the conclusion of the two-day meeting, the Chair noted that many Members had mentioned new areas of discomfort in his text. That was part of the intent, he said, "you need to change something and nobody changes anything when he is comfortable, and you have to change this text".
Stephenson said that he already started gathering small groups of Members in small rooms to discuss matters related to the text and the process. For next week's Room E meetings, he would schedule them watching closely the Agriculture meetings. He said that advance on the open issues is "truly urgent".
Most countries that spoke at the meeting focused on the coefficients, or flexibilities, and on their special conditions.
issue raised was the earlier proposal (made by developed countries)
to discipline export taxes as a non-tariff barrier (NTB).
argued that export taxes were not an NTB, but is instead a genuine tool
for developing countries and there is no mandate for negotiating its
removal. The Saudi Arabian stand was supported by some developing countries,
On the first day (20 February), statements were made by Brazil, India, Venezuela, Jamaica (for the ACP Group), Lesotho (for the LDC Group), Kenya (on the para 6 issue), the US, EC, Japan, and others (see reports in SUNS #6419 and 6420 dated 21 and 22 February 2008).
the second day,
Alberto Juan Dumont of Argentina, a prominent member of the NAMA-11,
started by thanking Saudi Arabia for recalling the position of many
developing countries regarding the European proposal on export taxes.
"There is no mandate on this issue, nor is there the intention
to negotiate changes to the WTO rules on the matter," said
On the other hand, several developing countries, although not rejecting the document, questioned the proposed coefficients and flexibilities since it was their belief that these led to an important imbalance between developed and developing countries' contributions in non-agricultural products, and between the level of ambition in market access in Agriculture and NAMA.
"We therefore stated that the draft tabled could not constitute a basis to continue negotiations and to initiate a horizontal process that would lead to the design of the modalities package of the Round."
"Hence, our position has not changed. We claim that, should you insist on using these elements as a basis, there will be no possibility whatsoever of reaching an agreement in NAMA and, consequently, in the Round.
"Your revised draft text still contrasts sharply with the corresponding version on Agriculture, which does reflect the different positions clearly, even those which are far from the proposals that we, together with the G-20 and the Cairns Group, advocate.
"Any combination of the coefficients proposed in your new draft text would result in greater reduction commitments for developing countries than for developed countries. No matter which parameter is taken, this is contrary to the mandate for less than full reciprocity in reduction commitments.
"It is impossible to approach a legitimate horizontal process if the possibility of complying with one of the most important aspects of the negotiation mandate is ruled out.
"Under these circumstances, we do not have the appropriate options available to initiate the horizontal negotiation process, and therefore, the minimum conditions to gather the senior officials and the ministers are not met."
the one hand, we appreciate the improvement in the new text, of the
proposed treatments for some developing Members, including low-binding
Members, Small and Vulnerable Economies. The implementation process
of market access for LDCs has been consolidated. Aid-for-trade measures
have been incorporated and the issue of disproportionately affected
Members has been handled with sympathy.
"On the other hand, we note with disappointment that the revised text is still far from a balanced document for final consensus. Owing to the ambitious nature of the Swiss formula, the reduction percentage of coefficient [8-9] for developed Members and [19-23] for developing Members fails to deliver the mandate of less than full reciprocity. We strongly suggest the coefficient for developed Members be further adjusted downward."
the issue of non-reciprocal preference,
"So it is very obvious that the market access is already there and will continue to improve. The proposed flexible treatments including higher coefficient and greater flexibilities would not affect the openness of Chinese market."
It disputed the claim that there is lowered ambition in NAMA, citing that in agriculture, the developed countries were still maintaining their subsidies while in industrial products, subsidies had been prohibited long ago. Moreover, the coefficients proposed would reduce tariffs in developing countries by a lot.
expressed surprise with
Switzerland, implicitly responding to developing countries' charges of serious imbalances between the low ambition in agriculture for developed countries and the high ambition in NAMA for developing countries, said that NAMA flexibilities for developing countries "come for free" whereas in agriculture, there are flexibilities (for developed countries) with a price.
At the conclusion of the two-day meeting, the Chair noted that many Members had mentioned new areas of discomfort in his text. That was part of the intent, he said, "you need to change something and nobody changes anything when he is comfortable". "You have to change this text".
He said that he already started gathering small groups of Members in small rooms to discuss matters related to the text and the process.
There is a need to involve more people and he will do that next week with three days of restricted consultations focussing on different subjects from Monday to Wednesday (the so-called Room E process). He would schedule his meetings watching closely the Agriculture meetings. He said that advance on the open issues is "truly urgent". +