TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb08/24)

28 February 2008

Trade: Services Chair's report to be basis for further talks
Published in SUNS #6422 dated 26 February 2008

Geneva, 25 Feb (Kanaga Raja) -- The report by the Chair of the services negotiations Ambassador Fernando de Mateo of Mexico, issued on 13 February, is to be the working document for further consultations this week.

This emerged at an informal meeting of the Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services on Friday, according to Hamid Mamdouh, Director of the WTO Services Division, at a press briefing held after the informal meeting.

Ambassador De Mateo issued a report of his consultations on 13 February, instead of an expected text, in which he outlined the elements required for the completion of the services negotiations.

The report outlined elements where the Chair viewed there was convergence among members as well as areas where divergences persist. The report also acknowledged Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela's position in not joining a consensus on a services text.

At the press briefing on Friday, Mamdouh said that the informal meeting of the Special Session on Friday held its first discussion of the Chair's report of his consultations.

He said that the discussion at the informal meeting "was quite positive, in my view", and that the Chair's report was by and large accepted as a basis for further work, which will take place this week. The three delegations (Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela) maintained their positions, he added.

According to Mamdouh, there was also "very broad demand" for moving beyond this stage and producing a traditional text. Notwithstanding the objections of the three delegations, there was such broad demand, said Mamdouh.

Mamdouh also said that he had reported to the Special Session on the consultations held by Director-General Pascal Lamy with several delegations over the last three weeks at which the idea of a possible signalling exercise was discussed.

(According to trade officials, the participants in Lamy's consultations included the United States, the EC, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, India, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Malaysia, Australia, Hong Kong, Norway, Singapore, China and Korea.)

Mamdouh said that Ambassador De Mateo would be continuing his consultations on how to proceed further. He added that the first step achieved on Friday was the acceptance of the Chair's report as a working document for the consultations this week.

According to the senior WTO official, expressions from delegations were generally positive in welcoming the report. There were also some commentary and observations made by delegations on parts of the report that they did not like.

Mamdouh could not say that everyone had absolutely no problem with how the report dealt with the various elements.

He cited De Mateo as saying that at the end of the consultative process this week, he will decide on what the next step will be.

Mamdouh also told journalists that he had reported to the informal meeting of the consultations that the Director-General has been conducting over the past three weeks with several delegations.

The Director-General held three meetings over the past three weeks, and the idea of having a signalling exercise was at the centre of the discussions.

According to Mamdouh, the idea is to have a signalling exercise by a group of members at the ministerial level, in which ministers would signal to others what they might be able to include in their next round of revised offers by way of response to collective requests that were circulated in the plurilateral request-offer process.

Mamdouh said that the Director-General wanted to clarify different aspects of that proposition and focused the discussion more on how such an exercise can be structured and organized.

In order to do so, according to Mamdouh, Lamy circulated to the group a list of questions that focused on mainly three aspects - the objective of the exercise, the preparation for such an exercise and the logistics.

On the objectives, Lamy was seeking to clarify what is really being sought out of the process, as well as what kind of outcome - a joint statement or a report by the Chair - and what sort of detail to be included. Another question was what would be the relationship between this process and the multilateral one.

According to Mamdouh, Lamy also put the question of the scope of the signalling exercise to participants. It was clarified that the signalling exercise would not deal with anything of a multilateral nature. It is only about market access and will not deal, for example, with issues such as domestic regulation.

Mamdouh said that clarifying the scope of the signalling exercise was very important.

On the question of the preparation for the signalling exercise, Mamdouh said that members will start an intensive phase of bilateral request-offer negotiations in the week of 10 March, the primary objective of which is to start the preparation for the signalling process.

Mamdouh added that the Director-General had stressed the importance of the preparation for the signalling exercise, as the preparatory process would be the ultimate determinant of the structure and content of any outcome of a possible signalling exercise.

According to Mamdouh, at this stage, it is a project and the preparation will determine the extent to which it will be successful and satisfy the needs of the demandeurs.

The general view is that the Director-General should lead it and facilitate it. It should be the Director-General who chairs the meeting among the ministers and it would be him that would report to the rest of the membership, said the senior WTO official.

As to the timing of the exercise, Mamdouh said that generally, everybody agrees that this should be around the same time as the adoption of the Agriculture and NAMA modalities.

The signalling conference would probably be around the time of the horizontal process where the Agriculture and NAMA modalities will be discussed - perhaps right after the horizontal process and before the adoption of the entire package in the General Council.

The purpose of the signalling exercise is to provide some comfort and reassurance on services at the time of adopting the modalities, said Mamdouh. +