TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Nov08/05)
17 November 2008
Third World Network

Trade: NAMA Chair to continue consultations
Published in SUNS #6591 dated 17 November 2008

Geneva, 14 Nov (Kanaga Raja) -- The Chair of the WTO Negotiating Group on Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA), Ambassador Luzius Wasescha of Switzerland, reported to the broader membership Thursday on his recent consultations with small groups of members on a number of outstanding issues in the NAMA negotiations.

The Chair told the membership that he would be holding consultations throughout next week. He also said that work might be needed on the July text with the presence of high-level officials to take decisions.

At a media briefing following the informal open-ended meeting, Ambassador Wasescha said that it was premature to talk about progress. "You have to give the message that these guys have to wake up, not that they fall asleep because they see that they made progress in two or three areas," he said.

As to whether a deal on modalities is possible or premature by the end of the year, the NAMA Chair said that the possibility is still open since there is still a long time to go, provided people work "day and night". (see below)

In his report to the informal meeting, on the situation of Venezuela, the Chair said that information is still being awaited on the justification for the country's request for special treatment. This information will be discussed with members next week.

With respect to South Africa, the Chair said that members feel that there is a case for special treatment, since South Africa undertook commitments as a developed country during the Uruguay Round negotiations. The situation has now changed and South Africa would have to take much deeper cuts than other members in a comparable situation.

Concerning the Small, Vulnerable Economies (SVEs), the current text is "stabilized" if members accept the upper figures in the ranges now in brackets in the 10 July text.

According to trade officials, SVEs gave their conditional approval to these figures pending the final resolution of the numbers in the formula and flexibilities and the agriculture package.

Gabon, asking for special dispensation, will hold consultations with the EC on that.

With respect to the Recently Acceded Members (RAMs), trade officials said that the US and the EC reject re-opening the treatment provided to the RAMs (longer implementation period than other members applying the formula) once the numbers in the formula and flexibilities are settled. The RAMs are insisting on additional flexibilities.

Oman's special situation among the RAMs, in the context of its membership of the Gulf Cooperation Council, is still a matter of consultations.

On the issue of preference erosion, the situation is still highly complicated with new members adding themselves to the list of those disproportionately affected by a possible solution. The Chair said that the issue still requires intensive consultations.

On Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs), the text is "stabilized" pending one exemption (Cuba) for which further consultations will have to be held.

The Chair also reported that he had consultations with Argentina on some unspecified special treatment for this country.

According to trade officials, Argentina will provide new documentation in due time for a discussion on the current reservation that Argentina has on the architecture of the formula and flexibilities. A methodology to solve this case would be similar to the one studied for other special cases.

As to the way forward, Ambassador Wasescha said that he would be holding consultations throughout next week, adding that work might be needed on the July text with the presence of high-level officials to take decisions.

The Chair said that this Round its not only about trade opportunities but also about improving trade capacity for development strategies. The bigger (countries) should be more generous with the small, he said.

It is important that all members feel comfortable and achieving everybody's specific concerns have to be accommodated in a balanced manner, he said, adding that nobody can achieve 100% of their negotiation objectives.

The Swiss envoy urged members to find a solution among themselves.

According to trade officials, the EC said that the objective is to finalize modalities before the end of the year. "There is no Plan B", said the EC, adding that the presence of senior officials or ministers in the near future might be required.

Trade officials said that the EC defended the July package, including the August report by the previous Chair (Ambassador Don Stephenson of Canada), saying that it was a result of widespread consultations with the result of a careful balance of all interests.

According to trade officials, Uruguay said that there is need for absolute urgency to conclude modalities by the end of the year. It said that it was in a position to support any process that can advance the modalities. We have a common responsibility to act urgently in the context of the international situation.

A group of twelve countries (the so-called "Middle Ground Group") issued a statement stressing the importance of bringing the Doha Round to a successful conclusion.

The twelve countries are Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong-China, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Peru, Singapore and Thailand. The statement was supported by Ecuador.

In their statement, the group was of the view that an agreement on modalities is needed as soon as possible. This is a necessary step to bring about the Doha Round to a successful conclusion.

The group said that this would send an important and positive signal to the global economy. At the same time, this would give the business community some sense of certainty about the future.

In that context, the group saw the 10 July NAMA text as a basis for these negotiations. Moreover, it was of the view that the August report captures the progress made. "Therefore, we see it as a document on which we can build upon to continue this process," said the group.

According to trade officials, the US voiced concern about the magnitude of the request for special exemptions in some of the special cases now on the table. It said that if we continue on this road, it will put us further away from the modalities.

The US was of the view that members should explore whether their particular needs are satisfied with the use of the flexibilities already envisaged. Some members say that these are not enough to satisfy their needs.

Members promoting sectoral initiatives provided a status report on their consultations with other members to achieve wide participation in this initiative to reduce tariffs as close to zero as possible if "critical mass" of participation is achieved.

According to trade officials, China said that the pressures from other members to participate in these initiatives puts it in a very, very difficult position. China added that it needed to protect some sectors and was not in a position to participate in the initiative.

Korea said that sectorals is a key issue for the country. It is an important way to give content to the negotiations.

Switzerland also said that sectorals are of great importance to it because some substance needs to be put on NAMA, and that might come from the sectors.

Speaking at a media briefing following the informal NAMA meeting, Ambassador Wasescha said that there has been increased dialogue among the parties since the last informal open-ended meeting (in late October).

He said that nobody objected to the methodology of work that he has suggested to address the various issues. Also, nobody raised the question as to what was the basis for the work.

According to the Chair, some members expressed concern that by having too many open-ended meetings, there is a risk of unraveling what is on the table, whilst others recalled the link between NAMA and agriculture.

Noting that many delegations have offered him their support, the Chair said that he mentioned to delegations that the first element of contribution that they can provide was to give instructions "to their technicians to come in a mood of solution-seeking and with sufficient flexibilities to take account of the needs, especially with regards to overall small problems, which are very essential to one or several smaller members of the WTO."

With respect to the debate on sectorals, he said that it has shown that "we can discuss sectorals as long as we are fact-oriented, sector-by-sector oriented and looking in the technicalities in each sector before starting to talk about mandatory and non-mandatory critical mass and balance, and all these kinds of theological terms which provide you with an opportunity to discuss and discuss but which prevents you to come to action."

The Chair said that if modalities are in sight within a short period of time, there will be need to develop a work programme for sectorals and Non-Tariff Barriers, which will accompany the scheduling phase of the operations.

Asked as to when a revised NAMA text will be ready, the Swiss envoy said "I need some nice ingredients to put in the text before producing one."

Asked if this meant that the EC's request at the General Council the previous day for the Chairs (both agriculture and NAMA) to produce texts by the end of the month is premature, Ambassador Wasescha said "let's not forget that we're on the thirteenth of the month. If people are ready to work day and night, this is [a] long time until the end of the month, so the option of producing a text by the end of the month is still open."

Asked as to whether he had received any indication from Argentina as to what they are looking for in terms of additional flexibilities, the Chair said that Argentina will produce a paper explaining its specific problems.

Asked about there being no clear discussion so far on the formula and flexibilities, the Chair said that he is just a technician, "so, I have to do technical work in all areas, also in sectorals, and for the time being, nobody has refused to cooperate."

He added that all issues are linked to the formula and flexibilities. The higher the level of ambition, the more the need for special treatment.

Asked if until now there has been any concrete progress that he could measure, Ambassador Wasescha said that it's premature to talk about progress. "You have to give the message that these guys have to wake up, not that they fall asleep because they see that they made progress in two or three areas."