TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct08/18)
28 October 2008
Third World Network

Trade: NAMA Chair to hold intensive consultations from next week
Published in SUNS #6575 dated 24 October 2008

Geneva, 23 Oct (Kanaga Raja) -- The Chair of the WTO Negotiating Group on Market Access for Non-agricultural Products (NAMA) announced on Wednesday a programme of intensive consultations starting next week.

Chairman Ambassador Luzius Wasescha of Switzerland made this announcement at an informal open-ended meeting of the NAMA Negotiating Group, where he also briefed delegations on his recent consultations with some 47 members (another 10 are scheduled).

In his briefing to delegations, the Chair said that the core issue of "formula and flexibilities" will have to be addressed at a later stage when he has a clearer view of members' vision. He also acknowledged that a multilateral negotiation on sectorals has all but been abandoned for the time being.

According to trade officials, the Chair's main "finding" is that members want to use the Chair's text of 10 July 2008 (third revision of the modalities text -- TN/MA/103/Rev. 2) as "the starting point" (but not the base) for the resumption of negotiations leading to a possible deal on modalities by the end of this year.

The "consolidation of progress" during the July mini-ministerial (the "report by the Chairman" of 12 August 2008) has thus been rejected as a base or a starting point.

However, in his report to delegations, the Swiss envoy said that "further avenues were explored both by Don (Stephenson, the previous NAMA Chair) and Pascal (Lamy, WTO Director-General) in July and we shall revert to this at a later stage to see how stable or promising these avenues may be".

Ambassador Wasescha said that everybody is committed, and that everybody wants a deal. While nobody is totally happy with what is on the table, nobody is totally depressed.

He added that he is working under the assumption that he needs to deliver a modalities text by the end of the year.

According to trade officials, the Chair further said that he will start "serious consultations" next week with the involvement of experts from capitals and he envisaged the presence of senior officials later.

The Chair stressed that he is only a facilitator, not a deal-maker and commented that the present overall financial environment is not encouraging, and prompted delegations to set aside minor details and seek a deal.

Ambassador Wasescha reported that the core issue of "formula and flexibilities" will have to be addressed at a later stage when he has a clearer view of members' vision.

He also noted that Argentina has not yet joined the growing consensus around the numbers in the formula and flexibilities chapters in the 10 July text.

On sectoral negotiations -- for the total elimination of tariffs in some sectors -- the Chair said that neither the proponents nor the skeptics are keen to engage at this stage in a multilateral process.

He also said that paragraph 24 of the Hong Kong Ministerial declaration, which establishes a link between agriculture and NAMA, is not a one-way street and the approach has to be that movement in either negotiation can encourage movement in the other.

The Chair added that those that want special treatment should convince the others about the merits of their particular case for everybody to know that there is a problem, if indeed there is one. "But we have to recognize that there might be some circumstances where a group of Members have a serious problem," said the Chair.

Concerning the programme of work, in the week of 27 October, there will be consultations on Oman, which has submitted a request for special treatment due to its association with other Gulf Cooperation Council members; preference erosion; and Venezuela, which has also asked for special treatment.

In the week of 3 November, there will be meetings on Recently Acceded Members (RAMs); South Africa (also a "special case" because of the South African Customs Union); Small and Vulnerable Economies; and Non-tariff Barriers (NTBs).

The week of 10 November will see meetings with a larger participation, and a "transparency session" at the end of the week.

A run-through of all the issues will be done at informal sessions in the week of 17 November, ahead of the possible issuing of a new modalities text the following week.

According to trade officials, members did not object to this approach.

Hong Kong-China said that it was encouraged to hear that members want an early conclusion to the Round.

Chile said that members have to give a positive signal to the world in this moment of difficult economic circumstances.

Chinese Taipei continued to press for the special case of the RAMs.

Asked by Argentina as to when the issue of the formula and flexibilities is going to be addressed, the Chair said by late November.

According to trade officials, no other member took the floor.

Meanwhile, speaking to journalists after the informal NAMA meeting, Ambassador Wasescha, in response to a question about how he rated the chances of success in these consultations, said that if the members engage and do the work, it's feasible, "not easy but feasible."

However, if members expect the Chair to act on their behalf, it will be much more difficult. "The Chair is a facilitator, not a deal-maker," said the Swiss envoy.

"Either members find a solution among themselves or... the Chairman has to impose a solution," he said.

The Chair acknowledged that if nothing happens in agriculture, it will be more difficult to have progress in NAMA.

He also acknowledged that a multilateral negotiation on sectors has all but been abandoned for the time being, although that is up to members to decide. "With regard to sectorals, both the proponents and the skeptics are not keen to engage in a multilateral process at this stage," said the Chair.

Noting that each sector is different, and that the problems in these sectors, the coverage and participation are different, he said "so, why should you devise an overall architecture for that."

"Let's see what is achievable in individual sectors and then when there is a need to do so, let's adapt the language," the Chair said. +