TWN Info Service on Trade and WTO Issues (Dec08/05)
5 December 2008
Third World Network

Trade: "More engagement" on SSM, but no convergence yet
Published in SUNS #6601 dated 1 December 2008

Geneva, 28 Nov (Kanaga Raja) -- Discussions at a Green Room meeting Thursday on the issue of the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) for developing countries, a key sticking point during the failed July Ministerial, saw more engagement than before but reached no convergence, according to participants.

Speaking to journalists after the Green Room meeting, Ambassador Roberto Azevedo of Brazil said on the discussions on the SSM that "there wasn't exactly convergence or agreement on anything, but concepts were put on the table by both sides..."

The Brazilian envoy was referring to some concepts on SSM that were explored in consultations earlier in the morning, and were discussed again in the Green Room in the evening.

"There wasn't exactly convergence on these but there was no clear-cut rejection," he said, adding that there was certainly more engagement and interaction than there was ever before on the subject.

While there are concepts that haven't been fully accepted, they were not rejected either, he said.

On the issue of cotton, which was taken up in an earlier consultation, Azevedo said that as on the SSM issue, there is sign of more engagement from all parties.

"Everybody is engaging. Up until July, I think there was almost no engagement whatsoever."

"I am not saying that moves were made, but at least people began to say what their problems were, what things would be a no-go, although they didn't really say what things would be a go," he said.

On "both cotton and SSM, I think we had more positive discussions than we have had before..."

Another participant in the Green Room said that there were no compromise solutions as yet on the issue of SSM, but everyone agreed to think about the compromise plan.

Argentina's chief negotiator, Nestor Stancanelli, said that different issues under the subject of SSM were discussed, but that there was still no conclusion. He also pointed out that the issue of triggers was not discussed in the Green Room.

Asked if there had been any movement, he said "I don't know, because we didn't discuss the tricky issues, or the thorny issues like the triggers, for example."

A trade diplomat from a key developing country said that the discussions on the issue of SSM in the Green Room were not conclusive. Only a couple of issues were discussed. The issue of triggers was not discussed. It was a very small discussion on which there was also no consensus.

"We have still a lot of distance to cover," said the trade diplomat.

The Chair of the agriculture negotiations at the WTO, Ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand, told journalists after the Green Room meeting that some ideas were put on the table and that "some concrete things have come out of that".

He said that he saw movement in positions. "Better than they were last week," he said, noting however that there are still problems in areas of significant divergence at the moment that have to be dealt with.

Asked if he saw some material change this week, he said "I've seen some material change, but not all the things that I would have liked to have seen have happened."

Meanwhile, after an informal open-ended agriculture meeting on Friday, as to what assessment he had provided to members on his consultations this week, Falconer told the SUNS that he felt that progress had been made.

"Compared to last week, people were trying to provide some flexibilities," he said, adding that it was a very positive engagement.

"That's meant that in some areas, I've got more positive elements to work with. But on the other hand, it hasn't gone so far as to enable me to get to clear-cut agreements on the most difficult issues. I am still some way from that on a number of them," he said.

He added that he will have to reflect on what he will do next in relation to them, "because I don't have a nice clean agreed approach on any of these things, and certainly not on the key ones."

"There's been good progress, but not enough," said the Chair.

Asked about the fact that in the Green Room discussion on Thursday on the SSM, issues such as the triggers were not taken up, Falconer said that "people didn't spend a lot of time on the triggers discussion."

Falconer said that he read out a note that he had on his understanding of the working hypothesis on elements that included the triggers, but nobody came back on them in detail in the discussion they had.

Asked if he was still on track to produce a revised text next week, Falconer said that he now has got more things that he can put in for the revision. "But I am not going to take a formal decision on what I do on all of that" until the Green Room discussion had taken place this Sunday (30 November). +