TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (May08/14)
14 May 2008
Third World Network

Trade: Preparations begin for services "signalling" conference
Published in SUNS #6469 dated 7 May 2008

By Kanaga Raja, Geneva, 6 May 2008

Preparations for a "signalling" conference aimed at moving forward the services negotiations in the WTO began on Monday with members participating in these preparations meeting this week for a round of bilateral meetings.

At an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on 17 April, WTO Director-General and TNC Chairman Pascal Lamy had proposed holding a round of bilateral meetings in the week of 5 May among senior officials to prepare for a signalling conference on services.

Lamy had said that the outcome of the signalling conference, which he is to chair, would be in the form of an oral report by him that would be placed on record in the minutes of a subsequent TNC meeting.

According to the TNC Chair, the main elements of such a report would include a description of the sectors and modes of delivery discussed and the signals exchanged regarding new/improved commitments which participants would be ready to undertake in response to the requests they had received from other members.

According to trade officials, participants in the bilateral meetings will meet with Lamy on 9 May to report on how their bilateral meetings went.

According to a report in "Inside US Trade" on 2 May (before the preparations began on 5 May), only a few developing countries were planning on sending their senior officials for the bilateral meetings, on account of no progress in the other areas of the Doha talks.

The report cited sources as saying that delegations from developing countries will mostly be led by their Geneva-based ambassadors and may also include technical experts. On the other hand, the US, Australia, Canada and the EU, for example, will be fielding their senior officials, according to the report.

Media reports on or around 17 April had said that the signalling conference at the level of ministers would be convened at around the same time as the ministerial-level horizontal process, where the issues of agriculture and NAMA would be taken up in a cross-cutting manner.

While the ministerial-level horizontal process meeting was originally envisaged for the week of 19 May, it is now uncertain if it can indeed take place in that week in light of a further delay by the chair of the agriculture negotiations in issuing his draft revised modalities text.

At an informal agriculture meeting on 30 April, Chairman Crawford Falconer of New Zealand had indicated that there would be no revised text circulated before the week of 12 May. He has scheduled another round of talks on 8-9 May, in response to members' requests for more time before he produces his revised text.

Other reports indicate that the horizontal process at the ministerial level might take place sometime in June or even in July.

Meanwhile, at an informal meeting of the Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services on Monday, Chairman Ambassador Fernando de Mateo of Mexico said that he had completed his study of the written submissions from members, and that he had most of the elements needed to complete his report.

According to trade officials, since members are awaiting the revised texts on agriculture and NAMA, the Chair thought that the time was not right to circulate the report now.

Trade officials said that the Chair however did not go into detail on what the document would be like.

On 12 February, De Mateo had issued a report of his consultations on a services text, in which he outlined the elements required for the completion of the services negotiations.

His report outlined elements where he viewed there is 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.

The Chair's report did not provide any date for members to submit their revised offers in services, thus leaving this issue open. +