TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (June08/15)
24 June 2008
Third World Network

Trade: Agriculture, "G12" NAMA talks to continue next week
Published in SUNS #6496 dated 16 June 2008

Geneva, 13 Jun (Kanaga Raja) -- Consultations by the Chair of the agriculture negotiations are expected to continue into the first half of next week, while meetings of senior officials from some twelve countries on non-agricultural market access (NAMA) are also expected to continue next week.

The Chair of the agriculture negotiations, Ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand, announced on 11 June that he will delay the next agriculture meeting (of the broader membership) perhaps until the middle of next week, as his consultations with individual delegations or small groups are continuing constructively.

According to trade officials, Falconer will delay the next meeting of the agriculture negotiations, perhaps until "around the middle of" next week, while consultations continue in various forms.

The Chair had previously indicated that he would try and organize a meeting (of the broader membership) towards the end of this week.

On 11 June, however, he told delegates that his consultations with individual delegations or small groups of them are continuing constructively and "there is good reason to believe that they will continue at least into the first half of next week".

Members have also been talking among themselves, including on tropical and preference products, Falconer said in a communication to delegates.

"I must say that those discussions I am involved in demonstrate a genuine engagement on the part of members to think creatively about how to deal with our remaining 'hot spots'. And I am assured that others that are taking place between delegations are operating in the same way," said the Chair.

Whether these consultations produce enough progress to discuss among a broader membership is still unclear, he said.

So, the next meeting of the 37 representative delegations would be to assess the situation, and if progress has been made, to work on what has been achieved, Falconer told delegations. There will also be an informal meeting of the full membership, he added.

The situation in agriculture contrasts sharply with the situation on non-agricultural market access (NAMA), whose talks had been suspended by its chair over a week ago due to a lack of progress.

Following from this, at the instance of the US, senior officials from some twelve countries - the group is being dubbed the G12 - had convened in Geneva from 9 June for talks on NAMA. These talks are being hosted by the US at its mission here.

Those participating are senior officials from the EU, United States, India, Brazil, China, Mexico, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Africa, Australia, Canada and Japan.

According to a trade diplomat, the US is perceiving the G12 as a negotiating group but other members are taking it as merely a discussion group.

He said that among the issues being discussed by the group are unbound tariffs and the formula and flexibilities. According to the trade diplomat, the issue of customs unions (where special treatment is being suggested by the NAMA Chair in his draft text) is a contentious one, with the US and EC voicing their concerns on this.

(Within the group, the US and EC have reportedly mooted proposals to restrict even further the flexibilities that are to be available to developing countries in cutting tariffs under the rubric of sensitive products. Brazil, India, and South Africa have rejected such an approach.)

The question now is the way forward, said the trade diplomat, pointing out that the G12 will be meeting next week.

Meanwhile, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy held a "Green Room" meeting of key delegations on Friday morning to assess the state of play in the agriculture and NAMA talks.

According to a trade diplomat who attended the meeting, there was not really much to report with respect to the consultations. He said that they are taking place in a good atmosphere.

According to the trade diplomat, there was no mention of any time-frame with respect to a ministerial meeting.

(At the meeting, Lamy was of the view that it was too premature to go to a Ministerial at this stage, according to other sources.)

Another trade diplomat said that on the NAMA issue, the Chair of the NAMA negotiations, Ambassador Don Stephenson of Canada, had received a mandate to consult on the other NAMA issues, except for paragraph 7 (of the draft NAMA text dealing with coefficients and flexibilities for developing country Members subject to the formula) which he said remains the domain of the G12.

The diplomat also said that TRIPS-related issues came up at the meeting.

Asked if a Ministerial is still possible end June or early July, the diplomat said that is still the intention of the Director-General.

Meanwhile, according to a press communique issued in Buenos Aires on the occasion of the visit of Indian Commerce Secretary, Mr. Gopal K. Pillai to Argentina - where he met with Argentine Secretary of Trade and International Economic Relations, Ambassador Alfredo Chiaradia, on 9-10 June - both Secretaries agreed on the importance of concluding the multilateral negotiations as soon as possible in line with the Doha Development Mandate and to liberalise and expand trade, particularly in goods and services of special interest to developing country members.

They underlined the need to correct the current imbalances observed in the negotiating text, particularly in the key areas of agricultural and non-agricultural goods (NAMA). In this regard, both sides noted the key role played by the G-20 and the NAMA-11 groups of developing countries of which both India and Argentina are members.

As regards agriculture, both sides agreed that a substantial reduction in the overall trade distorting subsidies (OTDS) should be achieved so as to eliminate the possibility available to developed country members, specially the United States and the European Union, of increasing currently applied support levels. At the same time, it should be ensured that the green box payments are budget neutral and that no distorting subsidies are transferred to the green box.

Regarding market access, said the press communique, both sides stated that the linear percentage of a minimum 54 percent of average tariff cut proposed for developed countries in the chairman's text should be respected as also the granting of a significant expansion of tariff-rate quotas for sensitive products, which should be transparent and explicit.

In relation to non-agricultural goods, both sides noted that neither India nor Argentina would be willing to an agreement that disregards the Doha mandate, the July framework agreement of 2004 and the Hong Kong Ministerial Agreement of 2005 stipulating less than full reciprocity in reduction commitments for developing countries in relation to developed countries.

Both sides also stressed on the compliance with paragraph 24 of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration which called for a balanced outcome in market access for agriculture and NAMA.

Both sides noted that the current draft text for NAMA did not reflect this balance, but called upon developing country members, especially members of the NAMA-11, to take much higher cuts than those undertaken by developed countries. "This was totally unacceptable". +