THIS NEWS ITEM IS DESIGNED TO HELP THE PUBLIC UNDERSTAND DEVELOPMENTS IN THE WTO. WHILE EVERY EFFORT HAS BEEN MADE TO ENSURE THE CONTENTS ARE ACCURATE, IT DOES NOT PREJUDICE MEMBER GOVERNMENTS’ POSITIONS.
About 30 ministers spoke in a morning meeting of the WTO’s full
membership of 152. More delegations will speak tomorrow when this
informal session of the Trade Negotiations Committee continues.
Scheduled for the rest of the day were consultations in a wide range of different forms, including “Green Room” meetings of a representative group of about 40 ministers.
Several speakers picked up a number of themes introduced by Director-General Pascal Lamy at the start of the meeting. He spoke of the difficult task ahead of them, the need to conclude the Doha Round in order to stimulate and stabilize the world economy, the need for WTO members to make an effort as a team to reach agreement.
The central task before WTO members during the coming week is to try to
agree on “modalities”, which will include formulas for cutting
agricultural and non-agricultural tariffs and farm subsidies.
“Establishing modalities in agriculture and NAMA [non-agricultural market access] does not mean that the negotiations on these two issues are over,” Mr Lamy reminded members when he opened the meeting. “ Let me again stress that the establishment of modalities is, instead, a necessary stage to allow us to proceed to the preparation of schedules [ie, each country’s tables showing cuts in tariffs and subsidies and other details], and to accelerate the negotiations in the other areas.”
The “uphill journey” requires “patience and determination” but agreement on this major step in the negotiations is within reach, he said.
“I can think of no stronger spur for our action than the threats which are facing the world economy across several fronts, including rises in food prices and energy prices and financial market turbulences. There is widespread recognition that a balanced outcome of the Doha Round could in these circumstances provide a strong push to stimulate economic growth, providing better prospects for development and ensuring a stable and more predictable trading system.”
Mr Lamy also described the planned process: “no surprises, intensive informal consultations in a variety of configurations — bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral”, with decisions only taken by the full membership in a process that is “transparent” (information shared fully) and “inclusive” (all members represented).
He compared the task to climbing a mountain. “The only way to reach the top is understanding each others’ interests and limitations.”
The starting point will be the 10 July draft agriculture and non-agricultural (industrial products) market access texts. Mr Lamy reported that some further progress has already been made in market access for industrial products and that details would be circulated later in the day.
The formal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee, which would end the present phase of the talks, is scheduled for Saturday 26 July, but it could be postponed to allow all delegations to study “the final product”, he said.
All the speakers in this morning’s meeting were ministers. They
expressed strong support for concluding the “modalities” texts in
agriculture and non-agricultural products.
Several said they also want to move forward on some issues that interest them such as services, rules (including fisheries subsidies) and in some cases intellectual property — the multilateral register for wines’ and spirits’ geographical indicators, extending to other goods the enhanced protection currently given to wines’ and spirits’ geographical indications, and requiring patent applicants to disclose the origin of genetic materials and traditional knowledge used in their inventions.
Several echoed Mr Lamy’s comment that concluding the Doha Round is needed in the present economic climate of uncertainty, high food and fuel prices and financial problems.
Many said agreement is within reach because of the tremendous amount of work that has been achieved by senior officials and the chairs of the agriculture and industrial products talks.
And several reminded fellow-members of the issues that concern them.
Developing countries focused on development needs, but with different interpretations of what that means. Some said they need flexibilities to shield their vulnerable farmers or their economies as a whole. Others said too much flexibility for developing countries would prevent development through South-South trade.
Countries facing large adjustment in agriculture called for more access to developed and advanced developing country markets in industrial goods and services. Others said it is up to the richest countries who distort agricultural markets the most to make the largest contributions — and the largest economies accepted this responsibility provided others also contribute.
But no new positions were indicated. This is normal practice in an opening meeting of this kind, spokesperson Keith Rockwell told a press conference afterwards.
The informal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting continues on Tuesday morning 22 July.