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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
> 14 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
Tonga’s membership agreement signed
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Ministerial Conference plenary, 6 pm, and
signing, 8.15 pm
The Hong Kong Ministerial Conference approved
Tonga’s accession agreement on 15 December, paving the way for the South
Pacific island nation to join the WTO. Tonga will now ratify the agreement
and will become a full member 30 days after it has informed the WTO that
it has ratified. It has agreed to do this by 31 July 2006.
At a signing ceremony afterwards, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy
observed that Tonga will become the WTO’s 150th member. “Unfortunately we
don’t have special prizes for that,” he joked.
“Four weeks ago, we welcomed another kingdom into the WTO family. Not too
many families welcome two members in one month!” he said.
Tonga’s Labour, Commerce and Industries Minister Feleti Sevele described
his country’s “long course” of membership negotiations that began in June
1995. “We believe, despite what some NGOs have said, we will be grateful
for many years to come with this decision,” he said.
Not being a WTO member is “simply not an option,” he went on. “Reform is
an ongoing process, and it’s something that has not been extracted from
us, but part of a long-term process.”
Paying tribute to countries and organizations that helped with the
negotiations, Minister Sevele said: “At the end of the day, we have to
weigh the pros and cons of WTO membership. We believe this is the right
decision to take as a member of the world community. We will continue our
efforts to be a good citizen of the world. We will, of course, ratify in
Tonga is the fourth Pacific Island state to join, after Fiji, Papua New
Guinea and Solomon Islands.
See press release
> More on the Accession of Tonga
> For explanations of the following issues
see the briefing notes
> See also draft ministerial text
Heads of delegations
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Informal meeting 5 pm
As usual the purpose of this heads of delegations meeting was to share
information. Chairperson Tsang told the ministers that there were signs of
progress here and there, particularly on issues concerning Least Developed
Countries. But he said members remain far from agreeing on outcomes in a
number of difficult issues.
Chairperson Tsang told the meeting that another minister, Foreign Minister
Walker of Chile has started working as his “facilitator”, coordinating
discussions on specific subjects. The full list is now:
Non-agricultural market access — Commerce Minister Humayun Khan of
Agriculture — Trade and Industry Minister Mukhisa Kituyi of Kenya
Development issues — Foreign Trade and International Cooperation
Minister Clement Rohee of Guyana
Three more are facilitators-at-large, who could assist as necessary on
services, rules and other issues:
Trade Minister Hyun Chong Kim of Korea (now working on
Foreign Minister Jonas Støre of Norway; and
Foreign Minister Ignacio Walker of Chile (now working on
and other issues, and bananas).
Chairperson Tsang said members needed to begin developing texts that would
lead to solutions that members could adopt and which would permit the
Chairman and the Director-General to circulate an improved Draft
Reminding ministers to keep the task in perspective, he stressed that the
Hong Kong Ministerial Conference is neither launching nor concluding a
round. Instead it is an opportunity to take the Doha round a step further
towards conclusion, he said.
Members will, he said, need to work with a much greater sense of urgency
over the next two days and he asked his facilitators to intensify their
work over the course of the day and to focus on developing compromise
Five “facilitators” reported on their consultations:
Agriculture. Minister Kituyi said he had met a number of delegations over
the course of the last day, the latest being the recently acceded members
and China. He urged delegations interested in submitting inputs to his
text to get in touch with him.
Specific development issues. Minister Rohee began by reassuring members
that he fully recognized that the development package was not limited
solely to the question of duty-free quota-free market access for
least-developed countries (LDC) or to the other LDC issues alone. He
pointed out that he had prioritised his discussions on this issue and that
very soon he would take up other development issues.
On the issue of duty-free quota-free market access for least-developed
countries, he underscored the following points:
least-developed countries want a predictable and secure commitment to
provide them with duty-free, quota-free market access, and that they
wanted members to go beyond the commitments taken at Doha, Minister Rohee
He said most members were positive about providing this preferential
access and that they were considering how to provide the access securely
and predictably, including by legally binding.
But he said that members generally felt that “binding” in the classic
legal sense was not practical. Instead, they were considering other
options, including using the phrase “on a lasting basis”, which was
attracting broad convergence.
Another question is whether duty-free, quota-free market access would
apply to all least-developed countries. While some countries have a
problem with this idea, he said that in an endeavour to move the process
forward, members have proven willing to accept a reference in the text to
“all LDCs,” he said.
The third issue before members on this topic related to product
coverage, he went on. LDCs insist that all their export products included
but that some members said they could not accept duty-free, quota-free
market access for all products.
As a possible compromise he is exploring the possibility of using the
text that currently appears in the draft. This text allows members with
difficulty on this point to start by providing duty-free, quota-free
market access for a specified percentage of products (tariff lines) by a
given year. They would then increase this percentage progressively.
Minister Rohee said he hoped to build convergence around this approach.
Developing countries say they would like to participate but would need
flexibility in applying it, he reported.
Services. Minister Kim said the starting point for his consultations was
the part on services in the draft ministerial text. Many delegations
considered that this offers a sound basis for the way forward; others
wanted the text strengthened, a third group felt that the text was too
prescriptive and not in line with the General Agreement on Trade in
Services and the Doha negotiating mandate.
Concerns focused on provisions in the text dealing with qualitative
objectives, sectoral objectives and references to plurilateral
“request-offer” negotiations, Minister Kim said.
He said he would be conducting further consultations in an effort to
narrow divergences. Later on, Malawi on behalf of the G-90, said they
would be meeting with Minister Kim later this evening to present him with
the G-90 version of the text.
Non-agricultural market access. Minister Khan expressed concern that
delegations have remained increasingly entrenched in the positions they
had adopted in Geneva. They are not flexible enough to turn this
Ministerial Conference into a success story, he said, cautioning that
there may be a risk of some backsliding on this issue.
In his report to delegations, said Minister Khan had met intensively with
delegations either separately or in groups. He said he did not see much
progress towards consensus on amendments to the ministerial draft. He said
that while there was broad support for using a Swiss formula (a
mathematical formula for cutting tariffs that results in steep cuts on
high tariffs) with two coefficients (the numbers in the Swiss formula that
determine how steep the cuts are and set ceilings on the final tariffs).
He said that several developed countries who had been indicating in Geneva
that they preferred a formula with a single coefficient have now given
clear support to this dual-coefficient approach.
In addition, he went on, a group of developing countries which insists on
linking tariff reductions in agriculture and non-agricultural market
access — so that cuts made by developing countries on non-agricultural
products are related to the cuts made by developed countries in
The group also wants flexibilities to be independent from the formula, he
reported. And differences also remain on the question of unbound tariffs,
the erosion of tariff preferences and a sectoral component to the NAMA
negotiations (such as having totally free trade for some sectors).
Other issues, implementation, and bananas. Minister Walker said he had
consulted a number of countries who wanted to discuss trade and
environment, electronic commerce, geographical indications, the WTO
intellectual property (“TRIPS”) agreement and the Convention on Biological
Diversity, “non-violation complaints” in intellectual property.
Minister Walker has also been asked by the conference chairperson to hold
consultations related to a request by Honduras on the EU’s banana regime.
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Group meeting, 3.30 pm
This meeting took place before the heads of delegations meeting.
Facilitator Rohee explained to delegates that while the focus of the
development talks is currently on the duty-free, quota-free market access
proposal for least-developed countries’ exports (Annex F of draft
ministerial text), the “development package” as a whole remains the
objective of the negotiations.
This least-developed country proposal is being discussed first because ministers
have shown they are willing to offer preferential market access to these
countries. A key remaining question is how to find a legal way to provide
this securely and predictably. Also being discussed are which countries
would be involved and whether all products from them would be covered (see
Some developing countries said that they would not let specific
development issues be diluted. They spoke favourably about giving
preferential access to exports from least-developed countries, although
they asked for flexibilities on such issues as which products would be
covered, and how long the preferences would apply.
Countries describing themselves as small and vulnerable welcomed the
initiative in favour of least-developed nations. They also wanted to make
sure their interests would not be diluted when the ministerial text is