TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar08/14)
18 March 2008
Third World Network

WTO Green Room agrees agriculture, NAMA work to continue
Published in SUNS #6435 dated 14 March 2008

By Martin Khor, Geneva, 13 March 2008

The WTO's "multilateral process" of negotiations in the agriculture and non-agriculture market access (NAMA) groups will be given more time to do their work, and there will not be an immediate rush to a "horizontal process" nor to a mini-Ministerial meeting.

This seems to have been the conclusion of a "Green Room" meeting convened this morning by WTO Director- General Pascal Lamy with some 20-25 Ambassadors, according to several Ambassadors who attended the meeting.

The Green Room also did not decide on dates or time lines on when the horizontal process should or may begin, or when a Ministerial could be convened, according to the diplomats who attended the meeting.

Another key development is the holding of a meeting in London of senior officials of the US, EU and Brazil, to discuss latest developments in the negotiations, and whether gaps can be narrowed in some issues in agriculture and NAMA. It is not clear whether there was an outcome or what it was (see end of article).

Up to two weeks ago, it was widely believed that Lamy, backed by a few WTO members, wanted to start the horizontal process (involving senior capital-based officials of selected countries, discussing agriculture and NAMA together, and chaired by the Director-General in his capacity as chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee) in the week beginning 10 March.

According to this plan, the horizontal process would graduate from senior-official level to a Ministerial to be held before mid-April. The Ministers were expected to conclude a modalities deal by April.

The need to complete the entire Doha negotiations by December, before US President George W Bush leaves office, has been cited as the reason for the urgency of an April deadline for modalities. The EC, at an agriculture meeting on 10 March, reiterated that agriculture and NAMA modalities should be finalized by the end of April (presumably through a Ministerial by then).

A minority of members, with Lamy backing them, are seen as giving primacy to meeting these deadlines, and thus have stressed the need to move from the talks in the agriculture and NAMA groups to the horizontal process, where political deals are seen (by them) as more likely to be struck.

However, most of the other WTO members (speaking, for example, at the 10 March agriculture meeting) give a higher priority to getting the substance of a deal right, and have opposed what they see as a premature convening of the horizontal process. They prefer to give the negotiations at the level of the groups more time so that differences can be narrowed. (See article in SUNS #6433 dated 12 March 2008).

The view of this latter group of members that stress substance over deadlines appears to have prevailed at today's major Green Room meeting.

The meeting also discussed the scope of issues to be included in the horizontal process when it begins. Most members wanted the scope to cover only agriculture and NAMA modalities.

It was agreed that services and rules (on anti-dumping and subsidy measures) should also be discussed alongside the two other issues, although not accorded the same priority, nor would they be discussed within the horizontal process in the same meetings as agriculture and NAMA.

It is however not clear exactly how these two issues - services and rules - will be treated, in the manner of being parallel to but not within the narrow horizontal process of NAMA and agriculture.

There has been a move, by developed countries, to have a Ministerial "signaling" conference for services, during which developing countries indicate what their intentions are regarding revised services offers.

The developed countries say that they want to know what these offers are, so that they can decide how much to offer themselves in agriculture. On the other hand, developing countries want to know what they are offered in agriculture by developed countries, before they decide whether to offer anything new in services.

The developed countries want the signaling conference to take place before the agriculture/NAMA Ministerial meeting. However, a senior official of the European Services Forum (an industry lobby) who is in Geneva for this week's services bilateral talks said today that according to his knowledge, the signaling conference is now being planned for after the agriculture/NAMA meeting.

On rules, several countries including Japan, Brazil, India and China, want to have an assurance that the Chair of the rules negotiations, Uruguayan Ambassador Guillermo Valles Galmes, will produce a revised text before the horizontal meeting. Originally, Japan insisted that rules be part of the topics for the horizontal. The US, however, is against having a revised rules text (at least at this stage).

The countries are upset, even outraged, that the present rules text seeks to legitimize the practice of "zeroing", used by the United States in its anti-dumping procedures, which unfairly reduces the estimation of the average price of the product under investigation when sold in the US as compared with the price sold in the country of origin, thus artificially inflating the dumping margin. In some panel cases at the WTO, the US zeroing practice has been found to be not in line with WTO rules.

Other issues also figure in the issue of coverage. The EU wants to include geographical indications, while India and Brazil want to include disclosure (of the countries of origin and proof of benefit sharing) in patent applications involving genetic resources and traditional knowledge.

At the Green Room meeting, these issues were brought up but there was no agreement on how they would be treated with respect to the horizontal process, according to diplomats. Apparently, while recognized, they have been accorded lower status than services and rules.

The Green Room meeting seems to have concluded that the next stage in the whole process is to await the issuing of the new agriculture and NAMA texts by the Chairs of the respective groups.

There were reportedly no deadlines given to the Chairs on when to produce their papers, at least not at this meeting.

Whether the new texts will spark another series of meetings in the "multilateral process" (i. e. small-group Room E meetings and open-ended meetings within each group), and if so, for how long this will carry on, was not decided at the Green Room, according to diplomats.

Thus the start of the senior-officials meeting, and the dates for holding of the Ministerial, could also not be agreed to.

Meanwhile, a new development, which has led to considerable buzz in corridor talk among WTO diplomats, is the meeting held in London early this week that involved senior WTO officials of the US, EC and Brazil. Notably absent was India.

The group that met has now been informally dubbed "the G3" by diplomats who have been trying to obtain information on what happened at the meeting.

However, news on this meeting has been extremely scarce. According to some Ambassadors, to their limited knowledge, the London meeting focused on sensitive products in agriculture as well as the formula and flexibilities for developing countries in NAMA.

Apparently, Brazil was asked to provide information on what it could live with in the range of coefficients in NAMA, and whether it could narrow the range that it had been insisting on together with other NAMA-11 countries, according to a diplomatic source.

[In the NAMA text of 8 February, the Chair retains his proposal of a range of 8-9 coefficient for developed countries and 19-23 coefficient for developing countries. This has been rejected by the NAMA-11 as being imbalanced and against the less than full reciprocity principle.]

It is not known what was the Brazilian response, or what was the outcome of the London meeting. +