TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (July08/04)
7 July 2008
Third World Network

Trade: Consultations on SP, SSM and also a Green Room meeting
Published in SUNS #6510 dated 4 July 2008

Geneva, 3 July (Martin Khor) -- There have been continued disagreements on the subjects of special products (SP) and special safeguard mechanism (SSM) in small informal consultations held by the chair of the agriculture negotiations in the run up to the WTO's mini-Ministerial meeting.

Ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand has been holding a number of small consultations on various agriculture issues in what has been called "a walk in the woods."

Today, a Green Room meeting was also convened by WTO Director General Pascal Lamy for about 25 delegations. The meeting reportedly discussed how the "other issues" of services, intellectual property and rules would be treated in relation to the mini-Ministerial which will start on 21 July. (See end of article).

In the recent agriculture small meetings, the topics have included SP, SSM, green box and in-quota tariffs.

On Friday (4 July), Falconer will convene a "Room D meeting" with 36 delegations during which he will explain the results of the "walk in the woods" consultations. An open-ended agriculture meeting to which all delegations are invited will be held either Friday afternoon or more likely next Monday.

At the "walk in the woods" on SP and SSM, Falconer reportedly put forward some "new ideas" on the SP and SSM issues. According to some diplomats who attended the meeting, he showed participants some figures in two alternative options on the SP issue. However, he took back the paper on which the figures were given, according to the diplomats.

As a result, there is not a clear or confirmed version of what Falconer had put forward. According to one version, the Chair had given one option in which 2 to 6 per cent of tariff lines (in brackets) would be allowed to have no tariff cut or a cut by 5%, while another 8 to 12 per cent of tariff lines would have an average cut of 15% with a minimum cut of 10% per line.

A second option is for up to 10 to 18 percent of tariff lines to achieve an average cut of 14%, and some of these lines would also be allowed not to have a minimum cut per line. However, in this option, no more than 2 to 6 per cent of tariff lines may fall under a 5% cut per line threshold.

According to a diplomat, the possibility of some lines having a zero cut is implicit in this second option, although this is not explicitly stated.

It was not possible to confirm the accuracy of this version of these alternative options, due especially to the absence of a written proposal.

According to diplomats, the US preferred the second of the options but the figures were not acceptable to it. The G33 preferred a graded approach, and said that for it the inclusion of some lines with a zero cut is a must, and this must be explicitly stated.

On the SSM issue, one key aspect discussed was whether developing countries would be allowed to have extra SSM duties that would bring the overall duty beyond the Uruguay Round or pre-Doha bound levels, or whether the extra duties would be limited so as not to exceed the pre Doha bound rates.

This has been a major "sticking point" in the agriculture negotiations, with the G33 strongly insisting on the SSM being used in a way that exceeds the Uruguay Round or pre-Doha bound rates, as otherwise the SSM would be an ineffective instrument if such a constraint were to be imposed, while major agriculture exporting counties have been insisting on this condition.

At the "walk in the woods" meeting, Australia could not accept a treatment that allowed the duty to go beyond the Uruguay Round bound rates, except for LDCs and small vulnerable economies, according to a diplomat.

The US was not totally against a remedy that took duties above the Uruguay Round bound rate, but wanted this applied only in emergency situations, which needs to be defined. Canada was of the same view, stating also that the remedy is more important than the trigger for the SSM.

The G33 reacted that both the triggers and the remedy are important for its members. It stressed that in the revised draft that the Chair is expected to prepare, new figures are required but also an architecture that is workable. There should also be fair treatment in the use of brackets, i. e. if proposed figures of the G33 are placed in brackets, so too should the proposed figures of the other side.

The Chair reportedly also provided some suggested figures for the triggers and treatment with regard to the volume and price triggers of the SSM.

On Thursday (3 July), there was also a "Green Room" meeting convened by the WTO Director General Pascal Lamy in which about 25 delegations were invited. The meeting reportedly discussed the "other issues" that could figure in the mini-Ministerial, though not as directly as agriculture and NAMA (non agricultural market access) which are the two issues that will preoccupy the mini Ministerial.

These "other issues" are services, TRIPS and rules. According to diplomats who were present, a significant development is that Lamy announced he would hold consultations on the TRIPS issues (TRIPS' relationship with the Convention on Biological Diversity and extension of geographical indications) prior to the mini-Ministerial.

This is a significant modification of position from the one Lamy had taken at the Trade Negotiations Committee meeting last Friday, when he indicated he would not hold consultations to try to attain convergence, and that members would have to try to reach their own agreement, said a diplomat.

The Green Room meeting also discussed the procedures for the rules issue at the mini-Ministerial, and on how to provide "comfort" to delegations that are unhappy with the present draft text of the Chair of the rules negotiations, especially on the issues of "zeroing" in anti-dumping, and on fishery subsidies.

While the Chair, the Uruguay Ambassador, has insisted that he will not revise his draft before the mini-Ministerial, many delegations are insisting that the mini-Ministerial will at least discuss the issues and that their objections to his text can be duly registered at the mini-Ministerial. +