TWN Info Service on Trade and WTO Issues (July08/34)
24 July 2008
Third World Network

Trade: Lamy outlines Green Room talks and new negotiating format
Published in SUNS #6524 dated 24 July 2008

Geneva, 23 July (Kanaga Raja) -- WTO Director-General Mr. Pascal Lamy this morning gave a brief account of the talks at the Green Room meeting on 22 July, and announced that instead of the Green Room, smaller group meetings and consultations will be held instead on Wednesday.

According to WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell, Lamy told the informal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting (to which all WTO members are invited) that the Green Room meeting (to which only 30-40 delegations are invited) on Tuesday had a full run-through of the revised agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA) draft modalities texts.

Nine issues were taken up, six in agriculture and three in NAMA. The agriculture issues were overall trade distorting domestic support (OTDS) including Amber Box and Blue Box, Cotton, market access formula for developed countries, sensitive products including the number of such products and the tariff rate quota expansion, Special Products (SP) and Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM). The NAMA issues were the formula and flexibilities, the proposed anti-concentration clause and sectoral initiatives.

Lamy, who is also chair of the TNC, said these are not the only open issues. Negotiating group chairs are continuing to hold consultations on a number of issues on which he believes it is not efficient to focus on at the moment.

In agriculture, these include the question of preferences, tropical products, in-quota rates, tariff simplification, tariff capping, and export competition. In NAMA, the issues are preference erosion including those disproportionately affected by the proposed measures.

On the question of small vulnerable economies, Lamy said that the issue is technically stable. We need a final political decision.

Overall, he would characterize the consultations as constructive with a very strong commitment to engaging directly and in good faith, but he emphasized that the progress has been modest.

In agriculture, Lamy said that the new US offer of reducing its (allowable) OTDS to $15 billion was seen as a welcome step. However, several members urged the US to continue to consider further reductions, according to Rockwell.

On Amber Box subsidies, members focused on two main issues - the base period for product-specific cuts and whether the US should be given head-room for the starting point for those cuts. The US indicated that it could accept the base period proposed in the draft text. On Blue Box support, the discussion centred on the head-room issues.

On cotton, there was a renewed sense of engagement, said Rockwell. The proponents of the sectoral initiative on cotton - the Cotton-4 - challenged members to respond in detail to their existing proposal. There was greater clarification of the specific concerns and possibilities of members on different sides of the issue.

On the issue of cuts in agriculture tariffs, the focus was on developed countries, and the emphasis was on cuts in the top band of the formula.

Regarding sensitive products, the discussion focused on three issues - the number of tariff lines to be designated as sensitive, the treatment to be afforded these products in terms of the expansion of the quota, and whether the creation of new tariff rate quotas should be permitted.

On the question of SP designation for developing countries, members narrowed their discussions on whether there should be a single or two-tier system under which a certain proportion of designated tariff lines could be exempted from tariff cuts, and the other lines subjected to an average tariff cut.

On the SSM, the talks focused mainly on whether the pre-Doha bound rates could be exceeded when the SSM was implemented.

On the NAMA issues, Rockwell said, members mostly restated their well-known positions on the formula and flexibilities, but the Director-General did detect a willingness to engage seriously.

On the anti-concentration clause, Rockwell said that there remains marked difference of views but there were also efforts to move forward towards a mutual understanding and some ideas were floated which can be followed up.

On sectorals, all present recognized that these are not to be mandatory, but differed on the emphasis which should be placed upon this particular question. There was an exchange of views on whether sectorals should be seen as part of the overall balance in NAMA. Some suggestions were made on how this issue could be resolved.

According to Rockwell, the Director-General said that his overall sense from yesterday's meeting was that while progress is being made, it is unevenly distributed across the issues discussed. It is clear we need to move into a more intensive mode of consultations including smaller configurations, he said.

Beginning today, he plans to put more emphasis on "variable geometry" working on key issues in agriculture and NAMA in smaller groups together with the negotiating group and General Council Chairs.

In order to allow of intensive series of consultations in the coming day, Lamy said that it will be necessary to move the services "Signaling Conference" on services to Friday.

In his capacity as Director-General, Lamy informed the TNC that he has asked Norway Minister Jonas Store to help him as a Friend of the Director-General by holding informal contacts with delegations on the TRIPS-related issues of GIs and TRIPS/CBD relationship. The Minister will report to the TNC.

Asked whether the pushing back of the Signalling Conference will also push back the end date of the Ministerial (scheduled for Saturday), Rockwell said that it could well mean that things are pushed back, but for exactly how long, he did not know.

Asked about the fact that some members have been unwilling to use the draft NAMA text as the basis for negotiations, Rockwell said that there clearly are members who have problems with elements in both the texts. There is also a very wide acknowledgment that these texts are the only game in town. They will have to be revised.

"But if you don't have a framework within which to operate at Ministerial level, given the complexity of the issues and the great number of them, I think there is a very wide acknowledgment among the Ministers that the hopes for success would be virtually nil," said Rockwell. "I think that was acknowledged last night." +