WTO: 2006 NEWS ITEMS
WTO NEWS — DDA JUNE/JULY 2006 MODALITIES: SUMMARY 30 JUNE
Lack of progress in discussions immediately before the weekend’s deliberations on template agreements — known as modalities — is “sobering”, Director-General Pascal Lamy told an informal meeting of the full membership on 30 June 2006. A number of countries shared his concern that continuing deadlock could wreck the chances of concluding a deal that would boost global economic growth, correct imbalances and promote development.
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.
Opening an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee, which
he chairs, Mr Lamy said discussions with ministers and other delegates
over the past few days show that “some numbers remaining on the table at
this stage do not create a landing zone. … To reach agreement, we need
to close numbers.”
Members are trying to reach agreement on “modalities” in agriculture and industrial products. These will include formulas for cutting tariffs in both and subsidies in agriculture, along with other details such as flexibilities for political and developmental purposes, along with other disciplines.
The “modalities” are needed so that countries can list their new commitments to reduce tariffs on thousands of products and to cut farm subsidies. The lists will be in documents known as “schedules” that will run to several hundred pages per country and to tens of thousands of pages for the whole membership.
“What we need from these hours is to move the negotiations to the next phase, i.e., the phase where schedules can be drafted,” Mr Lamy said. “In order to do this, you need full modalities — which means parameters which cover the subjects identified by the chairs of the agriculture and NAMA (non-agricultural market access) negotiating groups.
“This means real negotiations. This is why ministers have come here. Yet, I regret to say that, at this hour, it is not clear that real negotiation will take place.”
His message was blunt. “The question before all of you today is how you are going to reconcile the commitment you have all made to finishing the round this year, with your apparent inability to negotiate in any real sense. This is a question which cannot any longer be avoided.”
The potential cost
Failure in the negotiations would mean losing work that already has the
potential to produce reforms that are “deeper, larger and fairer” than
the previous multilateral trade negotiation, the 1986-94 Uruguay Round,
Mr Lamy said.
In addition to the more ambitious cuts in tariffs and support, and the elimination of export subsidies, also at risk are duty-free, quota-free import regimes for least-developed countries’ exports, an aid-for-trade package, improved rules on subsidies in general, a trade deal on cotton, and disciplines providing developing countries with additional flexibility to address their needs.
“At this moment, all of this may be at risk,” he said. But above all is the possible damage to the multilateral trading system, which will mostly harm developing countries, he warned.
Several members echoed Mr Lamy’s assessment, both about the lack of progress and the dangers that failure might bring to the world economy and to weaker countries. Some developing countries said it is up to the major powers to move first.
Part of the debate reflected continuing differences about how much
countries are able to do, whether current proposals are too weak to
provide meaningful increases in trade, or too strong to protect weak and
vulnerable sectors. Countries emphasized either the need for more
ambition or for a higher level of flexibility.
Some countries expressed their concerns about products of particular interest to them such as textiles and bananas. Supporters of the cotton initiative urged members to act before African cotton producers disappear as a result of prices depressed by subsidies. They called for an early meeting of the World Bank and other donors for the development side of the cotton package.
A few countries asked for more transparency when smaller groups of ministers meet.
One country said it sees no basis for returning to Geneva in a few weeks if delegations are unable to agree this weekend.
The schedule and process
Mr Lamy repeated the schedule that he outlined at the
previous informal meeting. At 9
a.m., two hours before today’s (30 June) informal meeting of the Trade
Negotiations Committee, he had started discussions in a “ministerial
consultative group”, a gathering of about 30 ministers representing all
the coalitions among the membership, sometimes known unofficially as
“the Green Room”.
The focus was mainly on making a start, and getting a clearer indication of possible movements in the positions of key players following discussions among ministers and other delegations in recent days, he said.
Late in the afternoon of 30 June, the ministerial consultative group will meet again to move on to a more substantive and structured discussion, Mr Lamy said. A similar pattern could be followed in coming days.
WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell was asked at a press conference whether members had criticized the process, which involves smaller-group “Green Room” meetings and private consultations among a much smaller group of up to six key members (some or all among Australia, Brazil, the EU, India, Japan and the US) .
He said there has been less criticism of the Green Rooms since the process was reformed a few years ago to ensure participants better represent the full membership and to improve the flow of information between participants and members who are outside. However, a perfect process is difficult to achieve, he said.
However, a number of members are saying that it is up to the six to lead the way by moving first. Without some agreement among the six, other countries say it is difficult for them to move, Mr Rockwell reported, although even then, more work is needed before consensus can be reached among the full membership.