WTO: 2009 NEWS ITEMS

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They were speaking in a working session on the “Review of WTO activities, including the Doha Work Programme” on the second day of the Geneva Ministerial Conference, when they also discussed regional trade agreements, Aid for Trade, countries’ negotiations to join the WTO and some other topics.

The four subjects were suggested in an opening statement by Director-General Pascal Lamy, in a session that was chaired by the Conference chair, Chilean Finance Minister Andrés Velasco.


Doha Round: more than stocktaking?

On the need for action over the coming months, some delegates such as Australia and Pakistan went further than their colleagues in arguing that ministers’ involvement in early 2010 should be more than simply to take stock of the situation. These members said ministers should get down to bridging the gaps on outstanding political questions.

Some delegations also said a “roadmap” for future work will be needed. Some speakers envisaged this as a possible outcome of a week of meetings of senior officials from members’ capitals, already scheduled to take place in Geneva in the week of 14 December.

This would continue the sequence of monthly senior officials' meetings set up in response to the urging of a group of ministers who met in New Delhi in September. Sessions of the various negotiating groups have also been organized around these senior officials’ meetings.

The result has given the negotiations some structure, but some delegations such as India said the topics discussed have only been technical and therefore have not moved the substance of the negotiations forward.


Doha Round: bridging the gaps

India called for discussions on “headline” issues, such as cotton, domestic support in agriculture, and “mode 4” in services (when the supply of a service involves workers going into the consuming country).

Singapore referred to seven issues that Mr Lamy recently highlighted as politically difficult subjects that need to be settled: in agriculture the special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, resolving conflicting proposals over tropical products and products currently enjoying preferences in richer markets, and cotton; in non-agricultural market access (NAMA) bilateral testing of the implications of various flexibilities, and free trade in individual sectors; services; rules, including fisheries subsidies; and intellectual property. (Some of these are explained here.)

“The days of only nice statements should be over,” said EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel.

Several ministers or officials also repeated the positions that their countries have held for some time.

Ministers generally acknowledged that quite a lot has been achieved in the Doha Round since the last Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong in 2005. Most, but not all, referred to 2010 as the deadline or target for concluding the Round and indicated that the pace of the negotiations would have to accelerate if members were to achieve that.

Minister Rita Lau of Hong Kong, China, urged her colleagues “to exercise maximum flexibility in the Doha Round” in the coming months.

Many countries said that the drafts on agriculture and non-agricultural market access circulated by the negotiating groups’ chairs in December 2008 should remain the basis for negotiation and that the development dimension should be retained at the heart of the Round.


Doha Round: kick-off questions

At the start of the session, Mr Lamy said: “The longer it takes to conclude the negotiations, the longer the WTO’s insurance policy to guarantee stability and predictability of market access to governments and traders alike will remain unsubscribed.”

He added: “The amount of progress that has been made since the last Ministerial Conference, in 2005, is quite impressive.”

Mr Lamy asked: “How do we translate this political will into concrete action? How do we organize ourselves to tackle the last few remaining issues, bridge the last gaps, paving the way for a successful conclusion of the Round?

“We already have a meeting of senior officials scheduled for December here in Geneva. Isn’t it time to agree on a calendar of future meetings and to take a deep breath and push for this last stretch?”


Regional trade agreements

Speakers broadly agreed that the proliferation of bilateral or regional trade agreements was a concern for the multilateral trading system. They said members need to ensure that the two approaches to trade liberalisation continue to support each other, although different speakers had different views about how to do this.

Some supported putting a mechanism in place which would ensure the eventual convergence of the two approaches. However, some rejected the idea of converting the benefits offered in regional agreements into the multilateral system.

Some suggested that the new WTO transparency mechanism — information compiled and distributed on various agreements — had worked quite well but that it could still be improved.


Accessions

Several ministers representing current members said they wished to see negotiations to become members streamlined so that neighbouring countries with which they trade actively could join the WTO. They were particularly keen to see this happen for least-developed countries. Five observer governments negotiating membership or waiting to negotiate — Sudan, Iran, Algeria, Ethiopia and Montenegro — called for their accessions talks to conclude as quickly as possible.

Speakers broadly agreed that accession is important for broadening and strengthening the WTO. But views differed on how to advance these: through closer collective attention (the “multilateral” part of the membership talks) or through the usual practice of giving priority to bilateral discussions.

Mr Lamy had asked them: “Some questions to help the debate: are you yourself given the necessary attention to all of these processes ? Of course there is political attention — and perhaps too much attention — to the accession of some countries, but then not enough to other countries.

“Why is it that some small candidates, some of them LDCs [least-developed countries], who have already made a lot of progress in bilateral negotiations and in internal reform, do not seem to be able to make it in? Are we doing everything we can to facilitate accessions? Is there something acceding countries need from members to help them push the necessary domestic reforms?

“My purpose here is not finger-pointing, but simply to try to clarify and try to help us enlarging the family, in a way which addresses the interests of all members.”


Aid for trade

Speakers also recognized that providing market access for developing countries and least-developed countries is not enough. They said Aid for Trade is important to address supply-side constraints and other bottlenecks. Several called for donors to live up to their commitments.

The question Mr Lamy posed was “How can we secure future financing of Aid for Trade programmes, in a time when public treasuries are suffering from the crisis, but in a time where previously available private finance has disappeared to support capacity building in areas like transports or energy infrastructures?”


Other comments

Canadian Trade Minister Stockwell Day said it is important to remember that there are some good stories to tell on trade as well. As an example, he cited the fact that the share of global trade held by least-developed countries has more than doubled from 0.6 per cent to 1.1 per cent since 2000.

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EUROPEAN UNION

For the first time in the WTO, the name “European Union” was used in the 1 December 2009 working session at the Geneva Ministerial Conference. This was the result of the Lisbon Treaty taking effect.

Before that, for legal reasons the European Union was known officially in the WTO as the European Communities and that name will continue to be found in older documents. More.

> Press conference by WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell

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