WTO: 2006 NEWS ITEMS
WTO NEWS — DDA JUNE/JULY 2006 MODALITIES: MEETING SUMMARY 28 JUNE
From Friday 30 June 2006, a series of meetings open to all members, alternating with hard talking among a representative group of ministers and other forms of consultations, will aim to produce “vital operational decisions” over the weekend.
THIS BRIEFING NOTE IS DESIGNED TO HELP JOURNALISTS AND THE PUBLIC UNDERSTAND DEVELOPMENTS IN THE DOHA AGENDA NEGOTIATIONS. WHILE EVERY EFFORT HAS BEEN MADE TO ENSURE THE CONTENTS ARE ACCURATE, IT DOES NOT PREJUDICE MEMBER GOVERNMENTS' POSITIONS.
Director-General Pascal Lamy announced the schedule to an informal
meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee, which he chairs, on 28
June. It is modelled on the approach used at previous meetings such as
the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference
and will focus on template agreements known as “modalities” for cutting
tariffs and subsidies in agriculture and opening markets for industrial
goods, the two main areas of the weekend's meeting.
These will be used to compile individual members’ commitments on agricultural supports and tariffs on thousands of goods, a major part of the entire package due to be completed by the end of the year.
“It is the moment of truth”, he told a press conference afterwards. “I don’t think we can postpone the decision anymore.”
The schedule is the result of his consultations with the chairs of the General Council and the agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA) negotiating bodies and with members.
The rest of Wednesday 28 June and the whole of Thursday 29 June is left
open for members to consult among themselves as many of their ministers
and other delegates arrive in Geneva.
Friday 30 June will begin with a brief small-group consultation among some ministers and their representatives. After that, a pattern is set that could be followed through the weekend. Another informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee, which comprises all WTO members, will take place, still in the morning.
The afternoon will be left for various consultations, including for delegations participating in small-group meetings to share information and hear reactions from the coalitions they represent.
In the evening a smaller “ministerial consultative group” will meet. This will be “along the lines of the group that met in Hong Kong, and … largely representative of the membership”, Mr Lamy told delegates.
Although the schedule can vary, a similar pattern could be followed on subsequent days, following a “fairly regular rhythm”, he said.
All agree that “every effort must be made to ensure a transparent process, underpinned by constant information flow,” Mr Lamy told delegates. The responsibility is shared, he stressed.
“I have urged all those who have participated in … consultations over the past few days to share what has been discussed with those not present at these meetings. Managing these negotiations is our collective responsibility, and while we all recognize that small-group meetings are useful in making progress, we have to avoid any notion of a privileged class.”
The discussion will focus on a number of issues “considered key” in
agriculture and non-agricultural market access. This is designed to
provide a suitable sequence and does not mean that these issues are
priorities, Mr Lamy said
At his press conference, he compared the process to building a cathedral. The first step is to make sure the three key pillars are tall enough (i.e. further offers to cut agricultural tariffs, domestic support in agriculture and industrial tariffs) so that the rest of the construction can be added on. All parts are important but the pillars have to be right first.
Each of the two main subjects will be handled in two rounds.
For agriculture the discussions will concentrate first on: in market access, the formulas for cutting tariffs, the number and treatment of sensitive and special products (which will be given flexibility to deviate from the formulas), and the special safeguard mechanism for developing countries; in domestic support, the overall reduction in trade-distorting domestic support, reductions in the Amber Box (most distorting subsides), Blue Box (less distorting subsidies) and de minimis (minimal amounts of permitted distorting subsidies), and disciplines on the Amber and Blue boxes and cotton.
The second round would deal with: export subsidies and other export competition issues; in market access, putting caps or ceilings on tariffs, the present special safeguard, tropical products, the erosion of preferences, countries that recently joined the WTO, and least-developed countries; and the Green Box (domestic supports that do not distort trade or do so minimally).
Replying to comments from some countries making proposals on small and vulnerable economies, Mr Lamy said this issue has not been listed at this stage in agriculture because unlike for industrial products, there are more issues to be sorted out first before members can consider whether extra flexibility is needed for these countries, including smaller cuts under the tariff formula for developing countries, and other questions such as sensitive products, special products and the special safeguard mechanism.
For non-agricultural market access (NAMA) the focus will first be on:
the formula and coefficients (numbers applied to the formula that
determine how steep the cuts will be and what the maximum final tariffs
will be); the treatment of tariffs that are not currently committed (or
“bound”) in the WTO; and flexibilities for developing countries subject
to the formula.
Next would come: duty-free and quota-free market access for exports from least-developed countries; flexibilities for developing countries with a low proportion of products bound in the WTO; small and vulnerable economies; recent new members; non-reciprocal preferences; and the implementation period.
‘Later means too late’
At the press conference afterwards, Mr Lamy was asked about the
possibility of delaying agreement on “modalities” until the end of July.
“Later puts us in the zone of ‘too late’,” Mr Lamy told reporters. This would cause too many issues to pile up because members aim to complete major steps in services, trade facilitation, anti-dumping and fisheries subsidies at that time. “The state of progress of many of these issues is promising,” he said.
In addition, the modalities now under discussion are by no means the end of the agriculture and non-agricultural market access negotiations, he went on. These modalities will be the tools for producing “schedules”, lists of cuts in tariffs on thousands of products and in agricultural subsidies for each of the WTO’s 149 members, a process that will take months.