Day 4: Ministers talk numbers till late but breakthrough remains elusive

A group of seven ministers negotiated hard and determinedly into the early hours of 24 July but remain far apart on some key issues WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said in the latest of his daily reports to meetings of the full membership today.



> July 2008 package
> Briefing notes
> Lamy calls for political will to rapidly bridge differences


> Opening remarks by Chair

> Closing remarks by Chair

> Press Conference: Mr. Keith Rockwell, WTO Spokesman

> help


> More Audio/podcasting




Meeting summaries:
> 21 July
> 22 July
> 23 July
> 25 July
> 26 July
> 27-28 July
> 29 July
> 30 July

The seven ministers and their officials are part of what Mr Lamy has called the “variable geometry” of the talks. This change results from slower progress in the “Green Room” meetings of about 30 representative ministers.

Mr Lamy stressed to the 24 July informal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting that whatever is agreed among the seven would still have to go through the larger groupings such as the Green Room and eventually the full membership — a process sometimes described as “concentric circles

An area showing significant progress is export competition (export subsidies and related issues such as export finance and food aid), “with just a few loose ends to be tidied up,” he said.

The ministers’ consultations ended at 3.30 am. Mr Lamy said they genuinely shared a desire to bridge differences. The discussion was intensive, detailed and specific “involving numbers and a clear enunciation of possibilities and problem areas”.

In agriculture the focus continued to be on: overall trade-distorting domestic support for developed countries; cotton; top-tier tariff cuts for developed countries; sensitive products, which will be shielded from full tariff cuts in return for some market access through quotas with lower tariffs; developing countries’ special products which will also be shielded from full tariff cuts; and temporary increases in developing country tariffs to deal with import surges or price slumps — the “special safeguard mechanism”.

On non-agricultural market access (NAMA) the focus was on: the formula and flexibilities (allowing smaller tariff cuts); the anti-concentration clause (a proposal to prevent an entire sector from being shielded from cuts); and “sectorals” (free or freer trade in a sector).

(For explanations see: unofficial guide to the 10 July 2008 agriculture draft, available here, and “the July 2008 NAMA modalities text made simple”)

On some of these issues, “positions still remain too far apart. The priorities among these issues vary among delegations, but I think all agree that more work is needed overall. These issues are both technically and politically complex,” Mr Lamy reported. The seven delegations would meet again later on Thursday 24 July, the fourth day of the meetings involving ministers.

Mr Lamy asked Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre to report on his consultations on three intellectual property issues: the multilateral register for wines’ and spirits’ geographical indications (GIs), extending higher level geographical indications protection beyond wines and spirits (“GI extension”), and proposals to require patent applicants to disclose the origin of genetic material and traditional knowledge — formally the relationship between the WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Despite the late finish, the informal Trade Negotiations Committee, chaired by Mr Lamy, met as usual at 10 am. But the need for more time for all the processes means the services signalling conference will now be on Saturday 26 July, two days later than originally scheduled, and the formal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting, due to wrap up these talks on 26 July, will also probably be postponed — Mr Lamy did not say when it would meet.

“So please spare no effort over the next 24 hours to resolve the comparatively few outstanding issues,” he said. “I believe the prize is within sight, and we must not fail to claim it. What’s on the table is already potentially major progress.We know we’re not there yet, but let’s not … let this slip.”

Members’ comments

Several members said they were concerned that the negotiations now involved only seven members. They said they understood the need for consultations in small groups, but the seven could not properly represent them and lack of information about the discussion meant that even some group coordinators could not brief their coalitions. They cautioned that this could jeopardize the “transparent” and “inclusive” principles of the negotiations process and deprive members of ownership of the outcome.

“I totally agree that we have to work out this problem of ownership,” Mr Lamy replied. “This problem exists. … Ownership is a problem, but there is a bigger problem if there is nothing to own.”

He added that he had already scheduled briefing sessions with some coalition coordinators so that they in turn could keep the members of their groups informed.

A few speakers focused on urging fellow-members to recognize that what is on the table represents a good deal, and that members should grasp the opportunity. Some underscored their concerns about some of the issues being discussed. One said that as a developing country the “development dimension” of the Doha Round should be achieved by providing opportunities to trade and not through protectionism, and by strengthening the WTO’s trading system, which has already proved its worth.


Today’s speakers in the informal Trade Negotiations Committee were: Switzerland, the African-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) group (Mauritius speaking), Chile, Indonesia, Argentina, the African Group (Kenya speaking), Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Chinese Taipei, Uruguay, New Zealand.

Texts of some of the statements — those supplied by delegations for publication on the website — can be found here.



During the meeting, Mr Lamy aksed Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre to report on his consultations on intellectual property issues. This is what he said:

“As the Director-General informed you yesterday, he has asked me to help him in the capacity of a “friend” by holding informal contacts with delegations on the TRIPS-related issues of the GI register, GI extension and the TRIPS/CBD relationship.

“I started this process yesterday by meeting delegations representing the main positions on both sides of each issue. This was useful in giving me a first hand understanding of their positions and concerns. It is clear that there are important differences of substance on all three issues and on process and mandate in relation to GI extension and TRIPS/CBD, although it appears that some issues may prove to be more difficult than others.

“I will be continuing my informal contacts with delegations today, in a variety of formats, with a view to assisting Members find a common understanding of the way forward on these issues. I will report to you once more tomorrow on my consultations.”


> Report by Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre

> help


> Problems viewing this page?
Please contact [email protected] giving details of the operating system and web browser you are using.