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THIS BRIEFING NOTE IS DESIGNED TO HELP JOURNALISTS AND THE PUBLIC
UNDERSTAND DEVELOPMENTS IN THE HONG KONG MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE. WHILE EVERY
EFFORT HAS BEEN MADE TO ENSURE THE CONTENTS ARE ACCURATE, IT DOES NOT
PREJUDICE MEMBER GOVERNMENTS' POSITIONS.
> 13 December
> 15 December
> 16 December
> 17 December
> 18 December
Other WTO Ministerials:
10–14 Sept. 2003
Doha 9–14 Nov. 2001
Seattle 30 Nov.–3 Dec. 1999
18-20 May 1998
9–13 Dec. 1996
They had been asked to “facilitate” consultations on these subjects by the
conference chairperson, John Tsang, Hong Kong’s Commerce, Industry and
Technology Secretary. He told the heads of delegations that time is running
short, so they need to move quickly to negotiations that are based on a
At a separate formal meeting on cotton, a number of African countries called
for a clear decision on this at the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference,
arguing that failure to reach agreement would undermine the credibility of
Heads of delegations
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Informal meeting 5 pm
When chairperson John Tsang introduced his
facilitators, he made clear that their work was in no way a substitute for
the heads of delegation process and would not distract from the decision
making rights of WTO members. Rather the task of the facilitators was to
help generate the consensus that will be needed to approve any text
emerging from these negotiations — any decisions taken here can only be
taken by the membership as a whole, he said.
of facilitators: Day 1 report
This was the first informal heads of delegations
meeting, coming towards the end of the first full day of consultations
with contacts between the delegations accelerating. Secretary Tsang said
he would hold heads of delegations meetings every day at the same time to
keep ministers fully informed. He said he would hold other consultations
as well, to help build consensus.
He told delegations that he has asked Minister Hyun Kim of Republic of
Korea to consult delegations on the services part of the draft ministerial
text. And said that should any delegation have any views it wished to
convey on rules, delegates could do so through the facilitator at large,
Jonas Støre of Norway, who is standing by should his services be required.
Three of the facilitators reported on the consultations they held on 13
and 14 December (details below and in the Day 1 news story).
Kenyan Trade and Industry Minister Mukhisa Kituyi, who facilitates the
agriculture discussions, reported that “no great advance has been made on
these issues so far.”
Pakistan’s Commerce Minister Humayun Khan, who facilitates
non-agricultural market access, said the members’ main differences were
about how ambitious the market opening should be and how this related to
flexibility. He said that delegates indicated a willingness to find middle
ground but continued to adhere to maximalist positions. He said it was
“time to start breaking the ice if we are to move at all.”
The facilitator on
development issues, Foreign Trade and International
Cooperation Minister Clement Rohee of Guyana, said that while all
development issues are important he intends to concentrate initially on
the least-developed country proposals contained in Annex F of the draft
ministerial text and specifically the question of duty-free, quota-free
market access for least-developed countries.
He said he does not have a mandate to discuss some issues raised in his
consultations because they belong in the agriculture or non-agricultural
market access negotiations. This is particularly true of the rather
divisive issue of preference erosion, he said.
On the issue of duty free, quota free market access for least-developed
countries, Minister Rohee said his discussions went well beyond the
technical level and that resolution of this matter could only come through
intervention at the highest political levels. While divergences existed,
he said, he remains hopeful members can arrive at a way forward.
For explanations of the following issues see the briefing notes
> See also draft ministerial text
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Group meeting 11:30 am
This first agriculture meeting open to all members focused on what members
considered to be the tasks for ministers, with some apparently conflicting
advice for Minister Kituyi on what the aim should be.
Among the suggestions were: to concentrate on the less developed issues to
do with flexibilities in market access particularly for developing
try to settle the end date for export subsidies and deal with the basic
level of ambition for market access and domestic support; to aim for a
balance where flexibilities and ambition are linked and for “parallelism”
in eliminating export subsidies and disciplining other export measures;
and to focus on developing countries’ issues such as cotton and market
access for tropical products and crops produced as alternatives to
This does not necessarily reflect the full range of views among all
members because a number of groups did not speak. The meeting lasted over
its scheduled hour and the “facilitator” said it would resume at 11 am the
next day (Thursday 15 December), when he would give priority to those who
had not spoken.
Minister Kituyi had already held consultations with a number of groups and
individual members and he said he would continue to do so. He particularly
urged members to negotiate among themselves because they do not want
attempted compromises to be imposed on them. If the approach is to be
“bottom-up”, the compromises have to come from the members, he reminded
The purpose of this first meeting was to start looking for compromises,
Minister Kituyi said. He urged them not repeat long, detailed and
well-known explanations of the reasons for their positions. “We are here
to find compromises between positions — not to tell others what they
He said the Ministerial Conference is the best chance in a long time to
find compromise: “Our diplomats in Geneva and our experts from capitals
have not succeeded and now it is for ministers to show leadership and take
responsibility and calculated risks.”
Part of the purpose of the meetings open to the full membership is
transparency. Minister Kituyi informed the membership that he had already
met the US, EU, four cotton proponents, G-10, G-20, Cairns Group and Japan
and that he would continue to meet others.
“I encourage you to negotiate with each other and not to wait for me to
invite you to consultations,” he said. Countries or groups that fail to do
that will miss the opportunity to “contribute” to the outcome, he
In the discussion: Some countries sought agreement on an end date for
export subsidies with the understanding that disciplines on export credit,
food aid and exporting state trading enterprises would also have to be
agreed eventually. Some of these also argued that the level of ambition
for market access (the tariff reduction formulas) have to be settled
before flexibilities can be sorted out.
Some others more broadly stressed the priority they give to market access,
one citing World Bank figures indicating that the largest gains from an
agreement, including for developing countries, would come from improved
Another group stressed the need to focus on flexibilities first, so that
countries can be confident about making ambitious commitments more
generally, or because they see flexibilities as important for developing
A group of about a dozen Latin American countries stressed their call for
developed countries to give duty-free and quota-free market access to
tropical products and alternatives to narcotics from developing countries.
One member stressed the need for balance and parallelism: the tariff
reduction formula and flexibilities are linked and should be discussed
together, and the end date for export subsidies cannot be agreed before
the issues of export credit, food aid and exporting state trading
enterprises are settled.
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Group meetings 14 December, 4 pm, and 13 December 2005, 5 p.m.
The meeting on 14 December was a transparency exercise for Minister Rohee
to report on his consultations with delegations in groups or individually.
This was similar to the report he gave to the heads of delegations meeting
At an earlier meeting on 13 December, members raised issues including:
special and differential treatment for developing countries, food
importing countries, trade and the transfer of technology, trade and debt,
commodities, supply-side constraints, aid-for-trade, cotton,
implementation (including intellectual property and the Convention on
Biological Diversity) and the erosion of preferences.
Some linked some of these issues to technical assistance and capacity
building, and some supported the package of proposals for least-developed
economies and announced new financial assistance.
Minister Rohee concluded that some of these issues are directly related to
the specific development agenda, while others need to be discussed in
other negotiating groups such as agriculture and non-agricultural market
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Formal plenary session 8 pm
Background: Cotton Sub-Committee
The four countries that had originally proposed the cotton initiative
(Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali) called for members to act quickly and
concretely, in order to help countries escape a situation that the Chad
minister described as worse than misery. They blamed subsidies in some
rich countries on depressed prices and repeated the
they submitted to the Cotton Sub-Committee in Geneva a month earlier.
Some other African countries (Niger, Cameroon, Guinea, Uganda, Ghana and
Rwanda) supported the proposal and said they are also affected. India
described the cotton situation as a “bleeding wound on the conscience of
the world”, Brazil said the G-20 considers this to be a priority issue in
Hong Kong, Australia said a breakthrough in the agriculture negotiations
is needed to deal with the cotton problem, and the EU appealed to all WTO
members to work for a solution, saying it had opened its markets and
reduced its subsidies.
The US appreciated other countries’ restraint in not mentioning the US by
name and accepted that as the major subsidizer it has a responsibility to
deal with the problem, which it will not shirk. Part of this is happening
with new proposed legislation aimed at scrapping the export subsidies that
a WTO dispute panel ruled was illegal, the US said.
But the US added that 11 studies show that the impact of the subsidies on
prices is considerably less than alleged and therefore the problem also
arises because of supply constraints, which the African countries also
mentioned. For this reason, the US is also working on development
assistance for the four cotton countries to help increase yields and
tackle such issues as marketing.
The US concluded it has had good meetings with the “Cotton Four” and will
continue to work for a solution.