TWN Info Service on Trade and WTO Issues  (Dec08/08)
5 December 2008
Third World Network

Trade: New draft texts end week, no dates yet for WTO Ministerial
Published in SUNS #6602 dated 2 December 2008

Geneva, 1 Dec (Kanaga Raja) -- Both the Chairs of the agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA) negotiations at the WTO are expected to come up with new revised draft modalities texts by the end of the week, trade officials said following a Green Room meeting at the WTO on Sunday.

According to trade officials, no dates were set in the Green Room for a Ministerial meeting, envisaged for sometime around mid-December in order to make another attempt to reach an agreement on the modalities in agriculture and NAMA, following a failed attempt earlier in July.

Trade officials said that the target is to get new revised texts by the end of the week -- either this Thursday or Friday.

This would then be followed by a "period of reflection", said trade officials, adding that whether this would involve further Green Room, plurilateral or negotiating group meetings remains to be seen.

Trade officials acknowledged that this would also mean that it would be "tight" to hit the early part of the 10-19 December range of dates that has been mentioned for a possible Ministerial meeting.

Trade officials said that it is still not known if Ministers are coming to Geneva, and that Director-General Pascal Lamy did not make a decision on that at Sunday's Green Room meeting.

Trade officials indicated that a big factor in whether there is going to be a Ministerial meeting or not would depend on what the Chairs bring out at the end of the week.

On substance, trade officials said that progress has been made in some key areas, but differences remain on issues such as Tariff Rate Quota creation, tariff simplification and tariff capping, as well as sensitive products. The issues of Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) and cotton are "still problematic".

Trade officials also noted that the issue of sectorals in NAMA remains a divisive issue.

Speaking to journalists after the Green Room meeting, Argentina's chief negotiator Mr Nestor Stancanelli said that there was positive engagement in the discussions.

What was discussed was more or less the balance in this Round, that it was necessary to reach a balance that is fair for everybody, he said. He noted that if Ministers are coming, it should be for a deal.

He said that the discussions were in terms of reaching a fair solution in the negotiations. "We discussed a fair agreement for everybody -- for developing [and] developed countries -- in NAMA and agriculture, and that everybody should be on board."

He said that there was still no decision on the dates for a Ministerial meeting. "We still don't know. It's tentative. It depends on the progress we are making."

Noting that the Chairmen would be continuing with their tasks in trying to improve their texts in order to have a basis for discussions, Stancanelli was of the view that there should be clear-cut proposals for Ministers.

He also said that Sunday's discussions in the Green Room were like a kind of horizontal process where everything was discussed across the board.

According to another participant in the Green Room, the discussions focused on the linkage between agriculture and NAMA in terms of the level of ambition.

Also speaking to journalists after the Green Room meeting, Ambassador Roberto Azevedo of Brazil said that the Director-General is hoping to get some kind of texts (on agriculture and NAMA) by the end of the week.

It was left open as to whether there would be further Green Room meetings this week. The Director-General and the Chairs may call meetings if necessary to clear up some issues, but as of Sunday, there is no agenda for the week, said the Brazilian envoy.

Asked whether any possible dates for the Ministerial meeting were discussed, he said that the Director-General is looking at a window at the end of the year which goes all the way up to 19 December, which is the date of the General Council meeting.

Director-General Lamy has not yet said whether he is going to call the Ministers. "That is still open," said the Brazilian envoy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese ambassador to the WTO, Mr. Sun Zhenyu, has been quoted by Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, as having told a public forum on Thursday, that all members "need to be realistic and try to have a balanced outcome."

Mr. Sun referred to the efforts under way to achieve modalities in agriculture and NAMA, before the end of this year, and said that the major issues to be overcome include the Special Safeguard Mechanism and sensitive products in agriculture, as well as sectorals and preference erosion in NAMA. "These are all very delicate issues, and eventually there must be a kind of balance," he is reported to have said.

The Chinese envoy, according to Xinhua, underscored that the situation now is quite different from that in July, when a WTO Ministerial meeting fell apart due to major differences on SSM and other delicate issues. "Now, everybody is in crisis ... (and) in order to get what we did not get in July, we have to be more realistic on those issues," he said.

He urged developed countries to bear in mind the development mandate of the Doha Round and not to seek their own comfort without considering major concerns of developing countries. He also warned of a danger that some developed members in the WTO might try to "raise the stake" at this time of financial and economic crisis.

"If you raise the stake at this stage, try to ask for more on the basis of July, that will probably not fly," Mr. Sun said, adding "that is probably the main problem we are facing now." +