TWN Info Service on Trade and WTO Issues (July08/38)
25 July 2008
Third World Network

Trade: Many Ministers frustrated at being excluded from WTO talks
Published in SUNS #6525 dated 25 July 2008

Geneva, 24 July (Kanaga Raja) -- The G7 small group process where WTO negotiations take place among only seven WTO members has been attacked by many Ministers who have been excluded.

Ministers of many delegations, at an informal Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) meeting Thursday, voiced strong concerns over the "G7 process" convened by Director-General Pascal Lamy which has replaced the larger Green Room process as the principal organ of the negotiations at the WTO mini-Ministerial currently underway here.

Speaking at the informal TNC meeting, some eight delegations - either individually or representing country-groupings - expressed frustration and concern over the lack of transparency and inclusiveness of the G7 process. Some of these delegations were represented by Ministers and even a Deputy Prime Minister.

The Director-General also reported on the G7 meeting that began Wednesday afternoon and ended after 3 a.. m. on Thursday. He said that there was no convergence yet on the key issues in agriculture and NAMA. (See below.)

The seven members invited by Lamy into the new process are the United States, the European Union, India, Brazil, Japan, Australia and China.

Speaking at a media briefing Thursday, WTO Spokesman Keith Rockwell said that a number of delegations including Ministers took the floor and expressed "some concern and frustration" at the way that this process is taking place because of the small-group format.

According to Rockwell, there was an understanding of the way things work, and an understanding of the need to get convergence in the small group before it can go to wider groups. Nonetheless, said Rockwell, there was frustration expressed.

Asked to elaborate, Rockwell said that those who expressed a view were concerned about transparency and inclusiveness. He said eight delegations spoke about their frustrations of the G7 process but declined to name them.

According to Rockwell, the Director-General said that he understood this frustration and had empathy for those who felt this way and said no decision will be taken other than by the entire membership in the format of the Heads of Delegation of the TNC.

Lamy explained that until the process is right in the smaller group, it cannot be subsequently advanced to the larger groups. He also indicated that the G7 process would continue.

According to a trade diplomat, Switzerland was the first at the TNC meeting to voice its concerns over the small-group G7 process. Others who also voiced their concerns were the Indonesian Trade Minister, Kenya's Deputy Prime Minister (for the African Group), the Egyptian Trade Minister, Mauritius for the ACP Group, as well as Argentina, Turkey and Chinese Taipei.

Switzerland (which coordinates the G10), represented by Federal Councillor D. Leuthard, referred to the Director-General calling Ministers to a negotiation to Geneva. "You asked us to take time, to put our energy in the process, to negotiate. Many of my colleagues and myself have followed your call.

"However, you changed at short hand, the process and decided to work in one very small group only. By doing so, you have put many of us Ministers in the waiting room - which creates political problems for me at home because I am not able to defend fully the Swiss interests and many of the G10 colleagues are in the same situation."

He said that he had strong doubts on the composition of the small group, which he said does not reflect the interests and sensitivities of many countries, in particular the smaller G10 countries like his. "This is very difficult for me to accept," he said.

He recalled that last Tuesday, the Director-General said that there are topics that he did not want to discuss in the Green Room at this stage, one of these being the
(tariff) capping issue. Noting that this issue is very sensitive to Switzerland, the Councillor said that he had been informed that nonetheless, this topic has been discussed in the small group, in the absence of Switzerland. "This is unacceptable."

He urged the Director-General to revert to the original setting of the Green Room process.

Kenya's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade Uhuru Kenyatta, on behalf of the African Group, said "While we appreciate your efforts which we believe are aimed at reaching a successful conclusion of the Round, we wish to register our strong concerns on the way the process of negotiations is being handled."

He supported the sentiments expressed by Mauritius on behalf of the ACP Group, Indonesia, Switzerland on behalf of G10 Members, and many others.

Said Mr. Kenyatta: "While we understand that there is need for consultations amongst smaller groups in order to reach consensus, it is imperative that this process is all inclusive considering that development is central to the Doha Round of the negotiations and to which we attach a lot of importance. It will be difficult for the African Group to have a consensus on issues agreed upon by a few Members. The process of negotiations must therefore remain inclusive and transparent.

"I as much as the big countries have their constituents to report to, we equally have our own constituents whom we have to consult, report to, and sell the outcome of these negotiations. We must therefore be part of the consultation process."

The Indonesian Trade Minister, Dr. Mari Pangestu, reportedly complained that the Ministers and officials that are not in the G7 have been kept waiting in the dark in the waiting room.

At the meeting, Lamy also gave a briefing on the G7 meeting, which he said is focusing on six areas in agriculture and three in NAMA.

The agriculture issues are overall trade-distorting domestic support (OTDS), cotton, market access formula for developed countries, sensitive products, Special Products and Special Safeguard Mechanism. The NAMA issues are the formula and flexibilities, the proposed anti-concentration clause and sectoral initiatives.

According to the WTO spokesman, the Director-General said that on these key issues, "we do not have convergence yet" but there remains a genuine interest and desire to bridge differences. The negotiations have been detailed and specific involving numbers and a clear enunciation of possibilities in problem areas.

Lamy said however that on some of the key issues mentioned, positions still remain too far apart. The priorities among these issues vary among delegations but all agree that more work is needed overall.

These issues are both technically and politically complex, he said. There remains a firm commitment among the delegations he has consulted with to renew their efforts to find convergence today, and that everyone wants to find a positive solution to these differences because our common interest is so great.

He said that now more than ever, we need the members' undoubted political will to be applied to finding additional flexibility so that we can bridge the remaining differences rapidly.

Lamy said that as a result of the extended consultations in this format, the services conference would have to be further postponed to Saturday (26 July) and that the concluding TNC currently scheduled for that same day will probably also have to be adjusted.

Norway's Minister Jonas Store then reported on his consultations on the three TRIPS-related issues (GI register, GI extension and TRIPS/CBD relationship).

According to Rockwell, the Minister said that he started the process yesterday by meeting with delegations representing the main positions on both sides of each issue. Store said that it is clear that important differences of substance remain on all three issues as well as differences on process and mandate in relation to GI extension and the TRIPS/CBD issue.

Store said that he would continue his informal contacts with delegations today in a variety of formats with the view to assisting members to find a common understanding of the way forward on these issues. He will report to the TNC Friday.

Asked about the fact that cotton is one of the issues being discussed in the G7 process but without the least developed countries participating, Rockwell said that the solution to cotton will flow from the solution to the overall trade-distorting domestic support. +