TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (June08/08)
16 June 2008
Third World Network

Trade: NAMA Chair suspends further meetings, citing lack of progress

Published in SUNS #6488 dated 4 June 2008

Geneva, 3 Jun (Kanaga Raja) -- The Chair of the WTO Negotiating Group on Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) said on Monday that he intends to convene no further meetings of the group until members signal that they have achieved some convergence on the issues and would like to share that convergence with the wider membership.

At an informal meeting of the group, convened to take stock after a week of consultations, Chairman Ambassador Don Stephenson of Canada was of the view that there was no turning point in the negotiations, nothing was achieved and that positions are further apart than a week ago.

(It is unclear what kind of effect this suspension would have on the time-line with respect to the "horizontal" negotiations now envisaged first among senior officials in early June, and subsequently, among ministers at a mini-ministerial meeting possibly late or end June, where the issues of agriculture and NAMA are to be taken up in a cross-cutting manner.

(While the NAMA negotiations now appear to be suspended pending a bridging of positions by members, the agriculture negotiations, on the other hand, are expected to continue, with Chairman Ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand indicating on Tuesday that he would be holding further meetings next week. A full report on the agriculture meeting will appear in the next issue of SUNS.)

Speaking to the media after the informal NAMA meeting on Monday, Ambassador Stephenson said that since last week - when members reviewed his new revised draft text at an open-ended informal meeting followed by small-group discussions throughout the week - "things actually got worse rather than better."

"That is to say we got farther from a text that could be put before ministers, rather than closer. Specifically, some of the issues that were either resolved or at least nearly resolved were reopened, some extreme positions were maintained, some positions were perhaps even arguably made more extreme."

Pointing to some new proposals on the issues, he said "that's more unresolved issues, not less unresolved issues. In that sense, I certainly agree that we were farther from being ready than we were at the beginning of the week."

He commented that although there were three of four sets of brackets that could potentially be removed from the text on the basis of the discussions, these were outnumbered by proposals for new brackets.

"So, in my view, essentially nothing was achieved in the week," Stephenson said, elaborating that nothing was achieved, neither inside nor outside the negotiating group.

He observed that on the upside, in the last week, there was a little more engagement at the senior official level in the NAMA process, which he said "has been very sorely lacking."

He however noted that in agriculture, senior officials had spent a total of 25 weeks in Geneva since last July on the basis of the Chair's text. Nothing similar has occurred in the NAMA process, Stephenson complained.

"It is time for members to take their responsibility for the NAMA negotiations. It is time for them to work among themselves to bridge their positions and that until they do that, it is pointless to continue to convene NAMA negotiating group sessions..." the Chair told journalists.

He said that he had indicated to members his intention to convene no further meetings in the negotiating group until members signal that they have achieved some convergence among each other on the issues and that they would like to have an opportunity to share that convergence with the wider membership and try to multilateralise any understanding that they have been able to come to.

Noting that some senior officials are planning to return to Geneva in the week of 9 June to spend the time necessary to make progress on the issues, Stephenson said that he was prepared to convene a meeting in any format, on any issue and at any time, provided that members indicate to him that they have a proposal to bridge positions.

Asked about the specific areas where members appeared to be going backwards, Stephenson pointed, for example, to the average tariff in respect of members with low levels of binding which continued to be reopened in some members' positions. With respect to the architecture of paragraph 7 (relating to the coefficients and flexibilities), he said that although there continues to be "very broad support" for that architecture, some members reopened it in their positions.

The new proposals that were made on non-tariff barriers "certainly takes us no closer to resolution of that set of issues."

He also said that he did not think that he would characterize the discussion on (tariff) preferences as some kind of turning point in the week.

Asked if he had failed in his method because of the fact that his text was not able to bring any convergence, Stephenson stressed that it was not about him. "It's about the members coming to consensus on a set of issues. All I tried to do is to reflect back to them what I've heard from them."

"They're their (members') proposals and its their lack of work to try to reach consensus, it's their lack of engagement in the process, it's their failure to negotiate. Not mine... It is the members' failure."

According to trade officials, during five sessions of "Room D" consultations that were aimed at removing brackets in the Chair's revised text, there was no consensus on any of the issues discussed. Most of the paragraphs in the revised text were considered.

Trade officials said that there was no discussion on the coefficients, and since this is the most crucial issue, members waited to see the overall balance in the negotiations, in particular, their interests in the agriculture negotiations.

The US introduced a proposal for a text on sectors on behalf of itself, Canada, and the European Communities.

The proposal recalled the mandate of the Doha Ministerial Declaration for Members to reduce or eliminate tariff peaks, high tariffs, and tariff escalation, and noted that the current Draft Modalities for Non-Agricultural Market Access may not meet this mandate.

It recognized calls by some Members for compensation for the additional flexibilities currently included in the Draft Modalities, as well as that some developing Members have raised concerns with respect to the bracketed language in paragraph 7 (i).

The three countries proposed replacing the text in brackets in paragraph 7 (i) with the following: "Participation in non-mandatory sectors that reach critical mass could help to maintain or achieve a proper balance with certain values of coefficients, levels of flexibilities, and related provisions of paragraph 7. The specific sectoral commitments are to be negotiated among Members as discussions on coefficient and flexibilities advance."

(The current paragraph 7 i says: [Additional points in the coefficient in the formula shall be provided as a "credit" to developing countries participating in sectoral agreements as follows: [ ].])

According to trade officials, the US said that they wanted to reinforce the positive role of sectors in getting a balance.

Argentina was of the view that this cannot be linked to the coefficient. Argentina stressed that it does not agree with the architecture of the NAMA Chair's text.

According to trade officials, China said that it was surprised that the US had come with a new idea, when before, they were suggesting giving credits (to developing countries participating in sectoral agreements).

South Africa said that this text (on sectors) was worse than the current text. It was of the view that there should not be a link to the coefficient. According to trade officials, Brazil was also of the view that a direct link to the coefficients has made this text worse than the previous one. +