TWN Info Service on Trade and WTO Issues  (July08/14)
17 July 2008
Third World Network

Trade: Lamy lays out format and process of WTO mini-Ministerial week
Published in SUNS #6518 dated 16 July 2008

Geneva, 15 July (Martin Khor) -- In the week of the "mini-Ministerial" meeting at the World Trade Organisation, there will be informal meetings of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) in the mornings, while the Ministerial Green Room meetings will start in the afternoons, according WTO Director General Mr. Pascal Lamy in a letter sent to WTO delegations today.

The letter sets out the format and schedule of the various WTO meetings to be held in the week starting 21 July.

In it, Lamy also says that a formal TNC meeting on 26 July will establish modalities in agriculture and non agricultural market access (NAMA) and "take note" of the reports given by Chairs of negotiating groups on other issues (such as services and TRIPS).

The formal TNC meeting is also to set the dates for submission of draft schedules in agriculture and NAMA and the equivalent dates in services.

The letter, which Lamy sent out in his capacity as Chair of the TNC, does not mention the process involving the General Council, which is scheduled to hold a meeting on 29-30 July.

However, several WTO delegations are discussing the implications of the scenario put forward by Lamy at a Green Room meeting on 10 July, in which the General Council will not make a decision on the agriculture and NAMA modalities, but merely "take note" of them. (See end of article).

In the letter faxed to WTO Missions today, Lamy announced that an informal TNC meeting will be held on Monday 21 July, starting at 10 a. m. During the week, the informal TNC meetings will be held in the mornings. [All delegations are invited to the TNC meeting].

The letter says that such TNC meetings should focus on new developments and ideas, and what can help bring the members to "convergence", and should not be used for lengthy statements.

Meetings of groupings can be held before 10 a. m. and at lunch time.

The "Green Room Ministerial" meeting will most likely start in the afternoon of each day. Lamy said that the basis of work of the Green Room meeting is the Chairs' texts on agriculture and NAMA (non agricultural market access). He adds that Ministers are free to discuss any other issues they wish, but the mandate puts focus for action on agriculture and NAMA modalities.

The letter does not reveal which WTO members have been invited to participate in the Green Room meetings. It, however, says the composition of the Green Rooms will ensure the full spectrum of members' views and interests are represented. It adds that there will be some extent of "variable geometry" (which is understood to mean that some members will be invited to only some sessions in which they are deemed to have a significant interest).

It is widely believed that some 30 to 40 WTO members have been invited to the Green Room, but there has so far been no official confirmation of this nor any announcement of the list of invitees, and the Lamy letter also does not provide such a list. It is the tradition in WTO not to provide lists of invited participants to such "informal" Green Room meetings, which have often been termed "non-meetings."

For example, the existence of the meetings of some 30 delegations in the "Green Room" during the most recent full and formal WTO Ministerial Conference (Hong Kong, December 2005) were neither confirmed nor denied by the WTO office.

The letter also says that the services "signaling conference" will be held on Thursday 24 July. According to some diplomats, this conference was originally scheduled for 23 July, but was put back by a day because of the expected late arrival of the Indian Commerce Minister Mr. Kamal Nath. The diplomats also believe that the services conference would last the whole day.

[According to a source in the Indian delegation, Mr. Kamal Nath is now expected to be in Geneva this Friday (18 July) and stay to Sunday (during which Ministerial meetings of the G20 and G33 will be held). However, he will fly back to India for the session of Parliament in which a vote of confidence in the Indian government will be taken on 22 July. He is then expected to return to Geneva to attend the rest of the meetings linked to the mini-Ministerial.]

The Lamy letter adds that a formal TNC meeting will conclude the week of 21 July and establish modalities in agriculture and NAMA. This meeting is scheduled for Saturday 26 July, but it may be postponed or continued on subsequent days.

To provide "comfort" to members on other areas of the Single Undertaking, the Chairs of various negotiating groups will also report to the formal TNC meeting on the state of play of the negotiations and a roadmap of the way ahead, said the letter. Lamy himself will report on the issues of geographical indications extension and the TRIPS/CBD relationship, as well as on the services signaling conference.

The letter says that the TNC will be "invited to agree that the prescribed modalities have been established, take note of the reports and statements, and set the dates for submission of the draft schedules in agriculture and NAMA and the equivalent dates in services."

The letter does not mention the subsequent process that is scheduled for the General Council. According to the official programme of the WTO, the General Council is to meet on 29 and 30 July.

According to trade diplomats, Lamy had at a Green Room meeting on 10 July announced his intention that the General Council would "take note" of the modalities in agriculture and NAMA as well as take note of the reports on other issues (services, TRIPS, rules, etc).

In this scenario, the General Council would not adopt or endorse the modalities.

Several diplomats have been debating the legal and political implications of this proposed procedure, in which the TNC agrees to the modalities that have been worked out in the Green Room by a minority of members, and in which the General Council merely "takes note" but does not make a decision to adopt them.

They point out to the July 2004 "package", later termed "framework agreement", which had been adopted through a decision of the General Council (and not by the TNC).

Veteran observer and analyst of the GATT and WTO process, Mr. Chakravarthi Raghavan, said that there are only two main decision-making bodies of the WTO, the Ministerial Conference and the General Council. The TNC is only charged to supervise the negotiations, and to do this clearly under the authority of the General Council, and the TNC is thus not a decision-making body, and thus has no authority to decide on modalities or on the outcome of the negotiations, said Raghavan.

[The Doha Ministerial Declaration which launched the Doha Work Programme in 2001 states in paragraph 46 that "The overall conduct of the negotiations shall be supervised by a Trade Negotiations Committee under the authority of the General Council... It shall establish appropriate negotiating mechanisms as required and supervise the progress of the negotiations."].

Raghavan recalled that during the Uruguay Round the Trade Negotiations Committee in GATT adopted texts including modalities in 1999, and the GATT contracting parties prepared their schedules based on the modalities. However, said Raghavan, the GATT unlike the WTO was not a fully-fledged organization, but only a contract among contracting parties, whereas the WTO is a fully-fledged organization, with the Ministerial Conference and the General Council as the decision-making bodies.

Several delegates to the WTO, who have been discussing this issue of which body (if any) should adopt the modalities, are also puzzled why the option of the General Council only "taking note" but not adopting a decision to agree to the modalities has been floated and apparently chosen by Lamy. +