TWN Info on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar08/08)
10 March 2008
Third World Network

Below please find an article on the postponement of the "horizontal process" at the WTO till after Easter, because the talks in agriculture are not yet ready for transferring to this "horizontal" phase.

It was published in the SUNS of 7 March.  Reproduction requires permission of SUNS (

Best wishes
Martin Khor

WTO "horizontal process" postponed, more time needed for group talks
Published in SUNS #6430 Friday 7 March 2008
By Martin Khor, Geneva 6 March 2008

The so-called "horizontal process" in the WTO's Doha negotiations - which was apparently originally planned to start on 17 March - has been put off to after Easter, according to trade diplomats familiar with the situation.

The postponement is due to the lack of sufficient progress in the agriculture negotiations, which makes it impossible for a new revised text to be issued by the Chair of the agriculture negotiations, Ambassador Crawford Falconer, by 17 March.

The decision was apparently taken at a "Green Room" meeting that WTO Director General Pascal Lamy held earlier this week with the Ambassadors of a few WTO members including the United States, European Union, Japan, Brazil and India.

The "horizontal process" is a WTO new jargon for negotiations among a selective small group of WTO members that will discuss agriculture and NAMA modalities together, with the possibility of other issues (services, anti-dumping rules) also to be discussed inside it or alongside it.

The process, to be chaired by Lamy, will reportedly start with senior officials from capitals and lead later to a meeting of Ministers of the selected countries. The countries to be selected (and the criteria) are not known.

It is not clear exactly when "after Easter" the horizontal talks will take place. The pushing back of the time-table is another setback in the plan by Lamy and some members to quickly convene the horizontal process, so that the mini-Ministerial can be held as soon as possible.

Their aim is to complete the whole Doha negotiations (including all other issues and the scheduling of commitments) by the end of the year, presumably to enable the administration of US President George Bush to initial the deal before the change of Presidency next January.

The deadline for the mini-Ministerial "Green Room" has now shifted from Easter (the date originally put forward at the Davos meeting of some Ministers in January this year) to the end of March, and to mid-April.

With the postponement of the horizontal process, it is now unlikely that a WTO Ministerial can be called in April itself. Diplomats say that an African Ministers' meeting is planned to be held in Addis Ababa around 12 April, and the UNCTAD XII session, which will involve Trade Ministers and senior officials, will be held on 20-25 April.

This may imply that the earliest a mini-Ministerial can be held is in May. According to some diplomats, there is now some talk of putting off a Ministerial to June or July, unless the UNCTAD XII itself is made use of for sideline Ministerial talks on Doha, a prospect that will surely not please the UNCTAD.

Apparently one of the specific reasons why the 17 March start of the horizontal process has been put off is the lack of agreement among agriculture negotiators on how to deal with the tariff rate quota expansion of tariff lines that are to be designated as sensitive products.

The TRQ expansion will be partly based on calculations that involve how much is the domestic consumption of the products designated as sensitive. However, data at the level of detail required has not yet been forthcoming by some developed countries (particularly the EU and G10 countries).

The complete data is required, then an assessment has to be made, followed by an agreement on the methodology to be adopted on how to calculate and deal with the TRQ expansion for each product.

A small group, known as Friends of the Chair, have been intensely discussing this issue. After they come to an understanding, the issue has to be brought into a multilateral discussion, at a Room E (small group) format.

The Chair, Ambassador Falconer, then has to formulate a proposed text on the issue, as part of a new revised overall agriculture draft. That draft will also have to incorporate changes in many other issues, on which agreement is far from reached.

Falconer made clear last week that his revised paper will not be ready by 10 March and privately he has told diplomats and journalists that he cannot realistically get a revision done by 17 March.

On 10 March, Falconer will hold an open-ended agriculture meeting at which he will brief delegations about the extent of progress on the data on sensitive products as well as other issues, and the meeting is to make a decision on how the agriculture group is to proceed.

It can be expected that key points in this process discussion will include when a revised text can be expected, what to do after that text comes out - for example, will there be another cycle of some days of reflecting on the text, an open-ended meeting, and more Room E meetings, as happened after the 8 February text came out.

Members may then also give their views on when the group's work is to be completed, and when the horizontal process can "take over."

While the lack of readiness in agriculture was given by a diplomat as the specific reason for postponing the horizontal process, another reason is obviously the lack of progress also in NAMA.

The NAMA group Chair, Ambassador Don Stephenson, had told a meeting on Monday (3 March) that he will issue his revised NAMA draft before 17 March, in tandem with the agriculture revised draft.

However, he apparently made this statement without consulting first with Falconer whether an agriculture text would be ready by 17 March.

It is an "unwritten procedure" by now that both texts should come out on the same day. At the least, the developing countries do not expect to have the NAMA paper come out before the agriculture paper. The timing is a sensitive issue, because the WTO members want to be able to compare the "level of ambition" of NAMA with agriculture, and vice versa, and thus both texts have to be available.

It is also known that there is a difference of opinion among the membership, and also some of them with Lamy, about how the whole process should proceed.

Lamy and a few members are reported to give top priority to the imperative (in their view) of an end-of-year deadline, and thus they would like to move to the horizontal process and to a mini Ministerial as fast as possible, believing that the "political process" must now come into play.

It would seem that many members, probably the vast majority, prefer the step-by-step bottom-up approach, in which the sequence would be more cycles of Room E and open-ended meetings in the groups until the gaps in positions are narrowed so significantly that the senior officials and Ministers can realistically deal with the remaining issues.

To these members, the substance of the deal is the highest priority rather than the meeting of a deadline. Many deadlines have come and gone, and the call to meet another urgent deadline is of less importance to them than getting a fair and balanced deal. +