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.
As members continued to examine this new “package” on Day Six of these
ministerial-level talks, a group of ministers participated in a
services signalling conference,
postponed from Thursday 24 July.
The new numbers are proposed compromises on a handful of major issues in the agriculture and industrial products negotiations. They are the result of discussions the previous day first among a group of seven ministers and then the larger representative group of about 30 ministers (the so-called Green Room).
“The package will remain on the table as a contribution toward our work” WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy reported to members in the informal Trade Negotiations Committee, where the full membership can oversee the “concentric circles” of small and large meetings.
“But as you will recognize, this is by no means the full picture of our task. There remain many elements not in this package which are dear to many of you and therefore need to be tackled urgently in order to find the overall political balance. This is necessary because as I have said to you, there is no such thing as partial modalities.”
“Modalities” is the term used to describe the blueprint agreements in agriculture and non-agricultural market access, including formulas for cutting tariffs and agricultural subsidies, which will then be applied to individual products and support programmes.
The new figures include proposed compromises on key issues members have been discussing over the past few days:
in agriculture: the US and EU cuts in overall trade-distorting domestic support, cuts in developed countries’ highest tariffs; maximum tariffs for developed countries’ non-sensitive products, how many sensitive products (which would be shielded from the full force of tariff cuts) and the size of quotas with lower tariffs for these products; developing countries’ special products (which would also be shielded from tariff cuts but without quotas), including how many, the size of the cuts and whether some would escape cuts completely; the new special safeguard mechanism for developing countries (temporary increases in tariffs to deal with import surges or price falls), including whether in some cases the raised tariff could go above present legally bound maximums; whether the present special safeguard should be phased out
in non-agricultural market access: the tariff-cutting formula and variations (or “flexibilities”) for developing countries; provisions that would prevent entire sectors from being shielded from tariff cuts; and wording on provisions for free or freer trade in entire sectors.
While members consider these proposals, chairs of the agriculture and
non-agricultural market access talks will hold more technical
consultations on a number of remaining issues, which members will turn
“The next step in our consultative process therefore is to address these other issues,” Mr Lamy said.
He listed as examples, in agriculture: cotton, preference erosion (the weakening of the advantage that preferential tariffs give when general tariffs are lowered), tropical products, bound in-quota tariffs (legally bound limits on tariffs for quantities within quotas), tariff simplification (particularly converting most if not all tariffs to simple percentages of the price), developing country sensitive products.
For industrial products, the issues include preference erosion, issues concerning countries that recently joined the WTO and have introduced reforms as part of the membership agreements, and provisions for Venezuela, which wants to be treated as a small and vulnerable economy — meaning its tariffs would be bound at an average level — because its imports are concentrated among a small number of products, which in turn has implications on it applying the same tariff cutting treatment as larger developing countries.
Mr Lamy said he would report on further consultations when the full membership meet again on Monday 28 July.
As before, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre reported on his
consultations, which he described as constructive
but still insufficient to allow him to present specific proposals.
He said he had continued to explore possible ways forward, taking into account members’ various concerns and the fact that their views are “diametrically opposed” on some key issues. He said he is aiming for a solution that takes account of differences on questions such as whether negotiations on these subjects would be part of the Doha Round “single undertaking” and the legal form of the outcome.
His consultations are 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 (“disclosure”) — formally the relationship between the WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). (See explanations here.)
All of the speakers — about 30 — either said the new package should be
accepted, however painful some parts of it might be, or that it was an
acceptable starting point for further negotiation.
Some chose to focus only on the proposals’ importance. One delegation said that it is disturbed by some aspects of the package but even more disturbed by the prospect that attempts to change it might destroy it. “If we make the wrong decision now, we would fail. Period,” this delegation said. Another warned that attempts to alter the carefully-balanced package would be “playing with fire.”
However some had more serious reservations, ranging from problems with individual parts of the package to complaints that the agriculture and non-agricultural proposals are unbalanced.
One of the issues raised most was the new special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, particularly when this raises tariffs above pre-Doha Round (or Uruguay Round) legally bound maximums.
In today’s meeting, the debate was between two groups of developing countries, one group arguing for the need to protect their poor farmers, another arguing that their poor farmers need to export to other developing countries.
The first group said the conditions are too tight — to exceed the pre-Doha round ceilings would require an import surge of 40% more than a base level, and the size of the tariff increase would be limited to 15% of the tariff or 15 percentage points above the tariff, whichever is greater. Some other developing countries took the opposite view — that the package should be accepted because they have accepted it despite opposing tariffs rising above the carefully negotiated Uruguay Round maximums at all.
Today’s speakers in the informal Trade Negotiations Committee were:
India, the informal group of developing countries (Sri Lanka speaking),
the least-developed countries (Lesotho speaking), Costa Rica, the US,
Argentina, the African Group (Kenya speaking), the
African-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) group (Mauritius speaking), Hong Kong
China, Venezuela, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Egypt,
Turkey, Chinese Taipei, South Africa, small and vulnerable economies
(Dominican Rep speaking), Switzerland, Bolivia, China, the Philippines,
Paraguay, Rep Korea, Colombia, Cuba, Uruguay, the EU.
Texts of some of the statements — those supplied by delegations for publication on the website — can be found here.
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