Chairs report progress as hours tick by

Consultations on the key issues in the “July package” are progressing gradually and a realistic estimate of when a revised draft text will be circulated is “very, very late” this evening, or early the following day, WTO members heard today, 28 July 2004.

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“All delegations are engaged and we’re making worthwhile progress in all areas,” General Council chairperson Shotaro Oshima told heads of delegations at the latest meeting called to keep negotiators informed about the various consultations taking place.

But above all, a revised text for the July package awaits the section on agriculture, with the subject’s “facilitator”, Ambassador Tim Groser of New Zealand, hoping to produce a new draft later in the day, members were told.

Many delegations said they were encouraged by the progress and were willing to wait another half day for a revised text if that could lead to agreement. But several warned that enough time should be left for those who are not directly participating to be able to have a say, and for them to seek reactions from their capitals.

The meeting lasted almost two hours.

Process    back to top

Ambassador Oshima reported that negotiators had worked intensively on individual sections of the text — agriculture, non-agricultural market access, trade facilitation and development issues.

He and WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi were working intensively with the chairs of the different subjects (the “facilitators”) to produce a new text for members to consider as soon as possible, Ambassador Oshima said. They had asked the facilitators to ensure that the process is transparent and includes all interested delegations, the General Council chairperson added.

Given the short time left before the deadline (end of Friday 30 July), the next draft will be the final major revision, he went on.

He said another heads-of-delegations meeting will be held shortly after the new text is circulated.

Agriculture   back to top

Because Ambassador Groser, who is the agriculture facilitator, continued to be involved in consultations, the General Council chairperson reported on his behalf.

He said intensive negotiations continued among a group of major parties in the talks with “very visible” progress. Ambassador Groser felt that agreement within this group was a prior condition for agreement among the whole membership, the General Council chairperson went on, and when that is achieved, Ambassador Groser will hold intensive consultations with other delegations before submitting a revised draft to Ambassador Oshima and Dr Supachai.

Several countries not participating in the small-group consultation warned that their concerns would have to be included, one speaker adding that 119 members are not taking part.

Non-agricultural market access (NAMA)   back to top

The facilitator, Ambassador Stefán Jóhannesson of Iceland, described consultations over the previous few days, which had focused on a “vehicle” (such as a covering letter or note, or introductory paragraphs within the draft decision) to deal with various members’ concerns about the draft annex on this subject.

A first attempt was “road-tested” over the weekend in meetings with 60–70 delegations, Ambassador Jóhannesson said. Critics said it was too ambiguous, too long, or generally did not help to make them feel more comfortable with the annex. A new, shorter version (a “Smart vehicle”) was drafted. Members continued to discuss this intensively and constructively among themselves with a wish to narrow their gaps even though no agreement had been reached yet, he reported.

In the discussion afterwards, some delegations continued to object to the use of the unaltered annex even though it had never been agreed, but they said they would continue to strive for agreement. (Ambassador Jóhannesson had previously explained that he had submitted the annex in that form because members had not been able to produce any alternative.)

Trade facilitation   back to top

“We’re within striking distance,” reported the facilitator, WTO Deputy Director-General Rufus Yerxa, cautioning that this did not guarantee success.

Over the past several days the consultations on “modalities” for launching negotiations have been constructive and representatives of all three groups submitting proposals have been central in the discussions.

“They’ve been very productive but not conclusive,” Mr Yerxa said.

(Immediately afterwards, he held a brief meeting open to all delegations. He explained further that among the key issues still under discussion are: what an agreement on trade facilitation would cover and what its objectives would be; provisions on “special and differential treatment” for developing countries; the role of other international organizations; and cooperation between countries’ customs offices.

(Mr Yerxa also reported that members are closer to agreement on wording for a key issue that concerns a number of developing countries — the cost. This is the cost of implementing an agreement on trade facilitation, and it is related in particular to technical cooperation both to help developing countries participate in the negotiations and to help them put the agreement into practice.)

In the heads of delegations meeting some developing countries asked what was happening to the three other “Singapore” issues (investment, competition policy and transparency in government procurement) that are now set to be dropped from the Doha Agenda work programme. Ambassador Oshima said no change has been made to the draft since no proposals have been received.

Development   back to top

The focus of the discussion has been the second paragraph of the section on development issues in the first draft. This deals with special treatment for developing countries and refers to “preference dependent, commodity dependent countries”, “net food-importing developing countries”, and “small, vulnerable developing economies”. Although the paragraph also says this will not create a sub-category of members, some developing countries have said that the draft could lead to discrimination between developing countries and could hamper South-South trade.

Facilitator Faizel Ismail of South Africa said that the whole paragraph had been redrafted in response to numerous comments.

“We didn’t sleep much over the weekend. Some time on Sunday we were able to make a breakthrough with a new paragraph,” he told delegates.

Although countries are not entirely happy with the draft, “at this stage I have not heard any serious objections to this draft,” he said. Those who feel that the new draft is not explicit enough in identifying categories of developing countries or their concerns, can nevertheless view it as an attempt to reach consensus among all members, he said.

Other questions   back to top

Several countries called for consultations on implementation issues, some of them wanting to discuss geographical indications. One country wanted the text to include a reference to commodity issues.

Next   back to top

Consultations continue with a revised draft expected late on 28 July or early 29 July. When it is circulated, another meeting of heads of delegations will be held. The deadline remains the end of 30 July.