TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Nov08/06)
18 November 2008
Third World Network

Trade: Work expected to step up in WTO following G-20 talks
Published in SUNS #6592 dated 18 November 2008

Geneva, 17 Nov (Kanaga Raja) -- Work on agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA) is expected to accelerate at the World Trade Organization, following a clear political signal sent by the G-20 leaders meeting in Washington over the weekend to strive to reach agreement on modalities this year.

This emerged from the discussions at a Green Room meeting of some thirty-plus WTO members convened by Director-General Pascal Lamy on Monday following the conclusion of the G-20 leaders' summit in Washington on 15 November to discuss the global financial crisis.

Paragraph 13 of the communique issued by the G20 leaders related to the Doha negotiations.

It says: "We underscore the critical importance of rejecting protectionism and not turning inward in times of financial uncertainty. In this regard, within the next 12 months, we will refrain from raising new barriers to investment or to trade in goods and services, imposing new export restrictions, or implementing World Trade Organization (WTO) inconsistent measures to stimulate exports. Further, we shall strive to reach agreement this year on modalities that leads to a successful conclusion to the WTO's Doha Development Agenda with an ambitious and balanced outcome. We instruct our Trade Ministers to achieve this objective and stand ready to assist directly, as necessary. We also agree that our countries have the largest stake in the global trading system and therefore each must make the positive contributions necessary to achieve such an outcome."

Speaking to journalists after the Green Room meeting, Ambassador Faizel Ismail of South Africa said that the question of the date for the ministerial meeting is not yet clear.

He said that from South Africa's point of view, "we are willing to work for it provided the developed countries translate the political signals in Washington into some concrete flexibilities".

He added that South Africa made the point that if the developed countries simply demand what they want and what flexibilities they require, "we are not going to get the necessary political signals translated into leadership, and what we require now is leadership, particularly from the developed countries, to ensure that we see the flexibilities that is required to solve some of the outstanding issues."

"We are ready to work, but of course, our concerns have to be addressed in these negotiations," the South African envoy said.

Ambassador Bruce Gosper of Australia, who is also the General Council Chair, said that members talked about the "necessary acceleration of the technical work... We begin the acceleration straight away and let's see where we get to."

Ambassador Roberto Azevedo of Brazil told journalists that there was no real discussion on the specific dates for a ministerial, but there were several comments made that "we needed some check points along the way just to establish whether we were in the right path and whether the Chairs had the elements to produce the texts."

"Essentially, it is a text-driven process. We need a text to get the ministers here. The question is, have we given enough to the Chairs so that they can produce a text that is useful for a ministerial meeting..."

The Brazilian envoy also said that there is going to be an acceleration of the process from now on. "That's also the consensus that we need to step up the pace," he said.

He noted that there is a General Council meeting on 19 December, so ministers have to finish their work before 19 December. "The earlier they (ministers) come, the more time they have to get things right and finalized.... Which means we don't have a lot of time."

The Brazilian envoy said that there will be another Green Room meeting on Sunday which would assess the work done this week, which is still the Chairs-led process.

Then, on Sunday, the Director-General holds a Green Room and "we could start into a horizontal mode from that point on."

He said that everybody agreed that there was a clear political signal coming from the G-20 meeting in Washington, in that we need to translate that into action in Geneva.

According to the Brazilian envoy, no one expressed reservations about holding a ministerial meeting.

According to Uruguayan Ambassador Guillermo Valles Galmes, everyone at the Green Room meeting made a reference to the G-20 communique and welcomed the paragraph relating to Doha.

The Chairs-led process will continue and will be backed up by some horizontal discussions that will start from Sunday, with the Director-General chairing those meetings, he said.

He added that no dates were mentioned for a ministerial but everyone kept in mind that the General Council meets on 19 December.

Philippine Ambassador Manuel Teehankee, referring to the political signal from Washington on concluding modalities by year-end, said that the function of delegates in Geneva is to re-calculate the work programme in order to meet the mandate provided by the G-20 leaders.

He said that to comply with the G-20 leaders' mandate, a ministerial would be required.

He pointed to two ingredients for modalities, namely, political leadership and momentum, and actual substantive technical work and consensus building by senior officials.

"So, we have condition number one, and so what remains is to fill in the second condition, which is the real substantive work," the Philippine envoy said.

Meanwhile, media reports from India have quoted Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath as warning that there will be no compromise from India particularly on the issue of agriculture.