TWN Info Service on Trade and WTO Issues (July08/23)
22 July 2008
Third World Network

Trade: Fears of a last-minute "Chair's Text" as WTO week begins
Published in SUNS #6522 dated 22 July 2008

Geneva, 21 July (Martin Khor) -- The World Trade Organisation's latest and perhaps last effort to conclude key modalities for the Doha negotiations began today at an informal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting, and with most delegations pledging to contribute to the success of this week, but with several of them questioning the process by which decisions are to be taken to make a possible deal.

In particular, some developing countries are concerned about the possible or even probable tabling of revised texts for agriculture and NAMA at the "eleventh hour" by Mr. Pascal Lamy in his capacity as Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee, with little time left for delegations to study the documents, let alone to make changes to them.

The developing countries are worried that the formal TNC meeting scheduled for Saturday may be used to "bulldoze through" or to "rubber stamp" the revised texts that may be presented a day before at the "Green Room", to which some 30-40 WTO members at Ministerial level have been invited.

The first Green Room meeting began at 4.00 pm today. Today's meeting was expected to only provide an opportunity for each Minister to briefly explain his or her positions and expectation.

Officials of some prominent developing countries are worried that they may be pressurized at the Green Room itself to consider the revised texts while having very little time to do so, given the tight schedule of this week's events.

At a press briefing on Saturday, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said he had met Lamy and told him that whatever plans he may have, "it is important that if there is a revised text at some point, we have to be sure there is enough time to renegotiate on the basis of the new text. Otherwise, we will have a Cancun type situation."

To a question on whether he anticipated a draft by Lamy late in the negotiations, Amorim said he did not think that Lamy, having a sense of fairness, would run the risk of tabling a take-it-or-leave it text for members.

"We need a minimum time to review the text," he said, recalling that in the July 2004 framework, after the negotiations, the Chair produced a final text that did not faithfully reproduce what had been intended. There was thus a big risk to put a take-it-or-leave-it text, as this could lead to a Cancun-like situation (which eventually led to a collapse of the Ministerial in 2003).

The head of delegation of another developing country that is participating in the Green Room said it was his understanding that after views are put forward on Monday to Wednesday in the Green Room on agriculture and NAMA, and after the services signaling conference" on Thursday, there would be only one day left (Friday) for the Green Room to try to reach agreement on a wide range of issues which can be expected to be still unresolved.

At this point, a revised text by the Chair of the meeting (Lamy) may be tabled, and delegations may be asked to consider it, while in fact there would be inadequate time to have prior study, and even less time to suggest or agree to changes.

"We may at that time be faced with a serious problem, of time limitation, and the pressure to adopt it on the basis that this is the way to save the meeting and the Round itself," said the senior official.

The Minister of another developing country, who is also taking part in the Green Room, also expressed concern about the lack of clarity on the negotiating and decision-making process, and as to whether even the Green Room participants would have the opportunity to decide on whether and when a revised text should be produced, and how the Ministers and officials could be given time and opportunity to revise it.

"I am worried if a point will come when we are confronted with a new text or new texts and told that few changes can be made as time has run out," said the Minister. "I am also not sure how to react then, or what will happen."

Meanwhile, some political leaders and diplomats of countries not invited to the Green Room are even more worried, as they have the additional problem of not even knowing what goes on in the Green Room.

For them, the key question of process is how the Green Room discussions and any decisions will be transmitted to the informal TNC, and whether those in the TNC will have the information and the opportunity to also take decisions, as contrasted to being asked to endorse decisions taken in the Green Room.

At least one country, Venezuela, raised this issue at the informal TNC meeting today. Its Minister of Trade, referred to Lamy's reference to final draft modalities, and requested him to clarify when the drafts will be presented, and who will be preparing the documents, since the process would then not be guided by the Chairs of the (agriculture and NAMA) negotiating groups. "We don't want any surprises," he said.

Some delegates are also concerned that the method used by the Chair of the NAMA group, Ambassador Don Stephenson, in the final stages of his work, might be sought to be applied in this week's process of preparing a possible new draft.

Stephenson had told the delegations in his final NAMA meetings that if they had problems with parts of his text, they could try to find "convergence" among themselves for alternative language or text to replace the language they did not like.

If a consensus could not be found to change his text, then his text would stand.

This stands the normal consensus practice (i. e. that a text is not adopted unless there is consensus on it) on its head. There may be a case for it when only a tentative Chair's draft is being prepared, but it is a totally different situation when a final draft text is the subject of the decision-making process, pointed out a senior diplomat.

The Ambassador of a country that has been actively involved in the negotiations also expressed concerns over a discussion involving a Secretariat official in which the question of "freezing the negotiating papers" had been raised.

This was apparently in reference to what would happen if an agreement cannot be reached this week.

"If documents are to be frozen so that they can be re-opened again when negotiations resume some time from now, we should all decide which documents are elected," said the Ambassador.

"It should not be a Chair's draft text that is frozen. The proposals by every group or country should be still on the table if the talks are suspended, so that they are on the table when the talks resume." +