TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (June08/22)
28 June 2008
Third World Network

Trade: Lamy announces intention for 21 July WTO mini-Ministerial
Published in SUNS #6504 dated 26 June 2008

Geneva, 25 Jun (Martin Khor and Kanaga Raja) -- WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy announced on Wednesday his intention to convene, starting 21 July, a mini-Ministerial meeting for selected Ministers at the WTO in an attempt to finalise some critical aspects of the Doha negotiations.

Lamy, who is also the Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) that oversees the Doha negotiations, told a "Green Room" meeting of some 25 Ambassadors of the date of the meeting. A meeting of the TNC will be held this Friday to discuss this with the wider membership of the WTO.

The Ambassadors and capital-based senior trade officials of several developing countries, coming out of the Green Room meeting Wednesday morning, expressed mixed feelings about the planned mini-Ministerial.

Most of those interviewed were of the view that at present, there is a lack of agreement on many key issues in agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA) and warned that unless there was significant progress in narrowing the gaps in the next two weeks, there was a danger that if a mini-Ministerial held on the date suggested may end up in failure.

While no one in the Green Room meeting objected to the suggested time table for the mini-Ministerial, said the diplomats, the preparation for it in terms of a series and combination of formats of meetings in the few weeks ahead would reveal whether a mini-Ministerial in July would succeed.

"There are many unanswered questions at this stage, on substance, on when the texts will be ready, and on the process before and after the texts are issued," said a senior capital-based official.

Lamy had assessed that there would be a 50% chance of success if a Ministerial is held in July, and less chances after that, and thus a July meeting was needed, said the official.

Commenting on the chances of success, Ambassador Sun Zhenyu of China said that in Lamy's assessment, the chances of success at a July mini-Ministerial is 50% or higher. But by the time of the meeting, this figure must be higher, he said, as no one wants failure. The next two weeks would thus be crucial to determine if the chances of success can improve. "There is a danger of failure if the chances do not improve before the meeting is held."

Ambassador Sun said that there had been incremental progress in the NAMA-12 meetings (held at the US Mission) but not enough. On agriculture, there are still many important outstanding unresolved issues, including overall trade-distorting support and cotton, while the discussions on special products and special safeguard mechanism had not been well structured.

On NAMA, unresolved issues include anti-concentration, preference erosion, treatment for Mercosur countries and Recently Acceded Members, he said.

A senior official of another major developing country said that he took the announcement of a 21 July date as a "marker". In his assessment, Lamy was hoping that in the next ten days, there would be breakthroughs to make the holding of a mini-Ministerial worth the risk of convening it.

Argentina's senior capital-based negotiator, Mr. Nestor Stancanelli, echoed the same sentiments.

He said that giving a date may give a spur for more intensive talks to bridge the many existing gaps. But it is still too early to say if it is possible for success, given the many differences. It is hard to predict what will be the outcome of the next two to three weeks of negotiations.

The Argentinian official asked: "when you're calling a ministerial, what is your aim for a ministerial?" There are still many substantive issues with substantial differences among members regarding what are the possible solutions.

He said that an intensive engagement is needed in order to negotiate and see if it's possible to bridge the present gaps in positions.

Asked whether Argentina would accept that 12-14% of tariff lines would be subject to lesser cuts (as reported to have been mooted in relation to Mercosur in the G12 NAMA talks), Stancanelli said "we don't agree because it's not covering all the tariff lines of the customs union of Mercosur."

Individual countries are entitled to cut from 10-14% of tariff lines and in the case of Mercosur, in order to have the 10% of tariff lines individually, we need 16.5% of tariff lines, and this is not covered, he said.

"For Argentina, we cannot accept this, because its not giving to us, I would say, and equal foot to individual countries in flexibilities," he said.

There were discussions on flexibilities for Mercosur that he said haven't reached the final stage or agreement, because "we believe they are not covering our needs on flexibilities. They are not our needs, I would say, a fair treatment vis-a-vis individual countries," the Argentinian official said.

He elaborated that a wider number of tariff lines is needed in order for all individual countries of Mercosur to be entitled to the same number of flexibilities as individual countries out of customs unions.

Stancanelli said that if country X has the possibility to declare sensitive products for 10% or 14% of tariff lines, if you are within a customs union, you have to have the same rights. "If you're having, I would say, less, well you're not treated fairly."

Ambassador Ujal Singh Bhatia of India told journalists that the common objective is not to have a ministerial per se but to have a successful ministerial.

He said that what is needed is serious consultations to resolve the outstanding issues that still remain especially in agriculture.

Those understandings have to be reflected in revised texts. After that, "we would need to have a process of consultations to see whether the revised texts are suitable to be presented to ministers."

And it is only when you passed these tests can you talk about a definitive ministerial date, the Indian envoy stressed.

The Indian ambassador noted that agriculture and NAMA are important and need to be solved. But these are not the only issues, he said, pointing out that there are a large number of delegations that have concerns on issues such as services, rules and TRIPS-related issues.

While noting that there has been both progress and conflict in NAMA, Ambassador Bhatia was of the view that agriculture is the main problematique that the Doha Development Agenda has to solve.

He noted that there has been no clarity on where the ambition on the Overall Trade Distorting Support will lie, no clarity on disciplines that will be put in place, and no clarity on what kind of resolution of developing country issues such as Special Products and Special Safeguard Mechanism.

According to trade officials, Director-General Lamy told the Green Room meeting that there was need for greater clarity in the process. Without clarity in the process, it will affect the substance negatively.

Lamy envisaged a Ministerial gathering on 21 July, with ministers to be in Geneva on 19 July.

According to trade officials, Lamy said that in his judgment, the chances for a successful Ministerial meeting is greater than 50%. If we do not have an agreement on modalities by end July, the chances of the Round succeeding are less than that.

According to trade officials, there were no objections to the Director-General's proposed date for the Ministerial gathering. However, a number of delegations voiced concerns in relation to the amount of work that needs to be done between now and 21 July.

Trade officials said that concerns were voiced over the issues of anti-concentration, SP/SSM, tropical products, preferences and the architecture of the NAMA text.

On services, Lamy was of the view that more work needed to be done on preparing for the signalling conference.

Trade officials said that the Director-General also called for more engagement on the issues of TRIPS/CBD, GI register and GI extension.

Meanwhile, in a short statement on the Ministerial, Assistant US Trade Representative Sean M. Spicer said: "While there has been progress in recent days, in the weeks leading up to the ministerial meeting there still is a lot of work and still important differences in agriculture, NAMA, and services. Ambassador Schwab and our teams will continue our intensive efforts to solve problems with other countries that are prepared to work with the same spirit. If enough countries approach the next several weeks' work with that attitude, then we have an opportunity for a success." +