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WTO NEWS: 2002 NEWS ITEMS

1 February 2002
WTO members kick off negotiations with decisions on organization

WTO member governments agreed, 1 February 2002, on how to organize negotiations launched at the Doha Ministerial Conference on 14 November 2001. The decisions were taken in the new Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), which consists of all WTO members and countries negotiating membership.

Among the points agreed were: which bodies will handle negotiations on specific subjects; and arrangements for appointing chairpersons for these bodies. The meeting agreed that the WTO director-general would chair the Trade Negotiations Committee ex officio.

The chairperson distributed a statement describing the organizational principles. The meeting took note and endorsed them.

Chairperson’s statement: full text including principles and decisions

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> Negotiations, implementation and development: the Doha agenda
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> How the negotiations are organized

> Press release: Governments set negotiating guidelines; Moore to head TNC

THIS IS AN UNOFFICIAL SUMMARY OF WHAT HAPPENED IN THE MEETING, PREPARED BY THE WTO SECRETARIAT’S INFORMATION AND MEDIA RELATIONS DIVISION TO HELP PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING. THE MEETING’S MINUTES ARE THE ONLY AUTHORITATIVE AND DETAILED ACCOUNT.

The TNC meeting’s decision-making agenda

For the record, the decisions were taken in this sequence under the meeting’s agenda

1. Election of chairpersons

2. Structure of the negotiations and  arrangements for chairing

3. Schedule of work of the Trade Negotiations Committee


The Doha Ministerial Declaration, which sets the mandate for the negotiations, required WTO members to set up a Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) by 31 January 2002. The TNC would then establish negotiating mechanisms and supervise the negotiations under the authority of the General Council.

The TNC held its first meeting on 28 January. After four days of discussions and consultations, the meeting resumed on 1 February. This is what was agreed:

 
Where the negotiations take place
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Supervision: the Trade Negotiations Committee, which reports to the General Council.

In new negotiating groups:

  • Market access
  • WTO rules (anti-dumping, subsidies, regional trade agreements)

In existing bodies:

  • Agriculture: in special sessions of the Agriculture Committee
  • Services: in special sessions of the Services Council
  • Geographical indications, a multilateral registration system: in special sessions of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Other TRIPS issues given priority in regular TRIPS Council meetings
  • Dispute Settlement Understanding: in special sessions of the Dispute Settlement Body
  • Environment: in special sessions of the Trade and Environment Committee
  • Negotiations on outstanding implementation issues: in relevant bodies according to paragraph 12 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration. (See explanation)

The decision also places considerable emphasis on special and differential treatment for developing countries in three ways. It affirms that this is an integral part of the WTO agreements. All negotiations and other aspects of the Doha agenda’s work programme are to take this principle fully into account. And all special and differential provisions are to be reviewed to make them more precise, effective and operational. To this end:

  • Review of all special and differential treatment provisions: in special sessions of the Trade and Development Committee

 
Chairs
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The Trade Negotiations Committee chairperson is the WTO director-general in an official capacity. The meeting agreed that this would apply until the end of the negotiations, which ministers fixed in Doha as 1 January 2005.

For the other chairpersons, since the Trade Negotiations Committee has only just decided on the negotiating groups and special sessions, none have been appointed yet. General Council Chairperson Stuart Harbinson will consult members on this.

The meeting agreed that the selection should aim for an “overall balance between developed and developing country candidates, bearing in mind the quality and integrity of each individual”. The majority should be representatives based in Geneva, WTO members decided, but some officials based in members’ capitals could be chosen, provided they are available in Geneva as often as needed, and that the costs no members would be put at a disadvantage because of the costs.

WTO member governments also agreed that the chairpersons would serve until the Fifth Ministerial Conference, which is scheduled to take place in Mexico in 2003, and to take stock of progress in the negotiations.

 
Work schedule
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The Trade Negotiations Committee is to meet once every two or three months, more frequently if necessary.

 
Principles and practices
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Ambassador Stuart Harbinson, who chairs the General Council and opened the first Trade Negotiations Committee meeting, distributed a written report on his consultations with delegations which led to these TNC decisions. It included some principles and practices for the committee and the negotiations. The meeting took note and endorsed them.

General Council authority. The Trade Negotiations Committee comes under the authority of the General Council. The committee and the other negotiating bodies are therefore not a parallel structure. The General Council remains responsible for the whole work programme agreed at the Doha Ministerial Conference, and for preparations for all Ministerial Conferences — the next conference is an important step in the negotiations since it will take stock of progress.

Transparency and process. The Doha Declaration says the negotiations should be transparent among all members and should allow all members to participate effectively. In order achieve this, the committee will follow “best practices established over the past two years” on internal transparency. This was spelt out by the then chairperson at a July 2000 meeting of the General Council — recorded in minutes WT/GC/M/57. Briefly, this required all members to have an opportunity to debate their views in informal consultations, and to follow informal consultations through frequent reporting back to meetings of the full membership.

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In addition, the minutes of the Trade Negotiations Committee and the other negotiating bodies are to be circulated quickly in all three official languages (English, French and Spanish). And the WTO Secretariat is to make sure all information about the negotiations reaches delegations with small missions and those without missions in Geneva, quickly and efficiently.

TNC role. The Trade Negotiations Committee is to monitor and supervise the timetable of all negotiations meetings so that the schedule takes into account the constraints of smaller delegations. As a guideline, on more than one negotiating body should meet at the same time.

The committee should also clarify which WTO bodies should handle outstanding implementation issues under paragraph 12 of the Doha Declaration. (Paragraph 12 says “negotiations on outstanding implementation issues shall be an integral part of the Work Programme” in the coming years. The ministers established a two-track approach. Those issues for which there was an agreed negotiating mandate in the declaration would be dealt with under the terms of that mandate. Those implementation issues where there is no mandate to negotiate, would be the taken up as “a matter of priority” by relevant WTO councils and committees. These bodies are to report on their progress to the Trade Negotiations Committee by the end of 2002 for “appropriate action”.)

Chairpersons of the TNC and negotiating bodies. All chairpersons must be impartial and objective, working according to the mandate that ministers conferred. They should aim to achieve consensus and produce consensus texts wherever possible. They should encourage transparency and inclusiveness in decision-making, taking into account the WTO’s character as an organization of governments with decisions taken by members. Their reporting to supervising bodies should reflect consensus — if that is not possible, it should reflect different positions on issues.

The General Council is to ensure continuity in the Trade Negotiations Committee’s work during the transition from the present director-general to the next. The committee’s chairperson is to work closely with the General Council chairperson and those of the negotiating bodies.

 
Background
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The Trade Negotiations Committee picks up the negotiating mandate that WTO ministers agreed in Doha, 14 November 2001. This launches negotiations on a range of subjects and incorporates existing negotiations on agriculture, services, and the multilateral registration system for geographical indications on wines and spirits.

All but one of the negotiations are part of a “single undertaking” (they form a single package with all members participating), with stock-taking scheduled for the 2003 Fifth Ministerial Conference in Mexico, and 1 January 2005 set as the concluding deadline. The separate negotiation is on the Dispute Settlement Understanding (with a May 2003 deadline).

Find out more
> Negotiations, implementation and development: the Doha agenda