WTO: 2011 NEWS ITEMS

TRADE NEGOTIATIONS COMMITTEE: INFORMAL MEETING

NOTE:
THIS NEWS STORY 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.

“INFORMAL MEETING” means there are no minutes.

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“Now is the time for all of you, and in particular those among you who bear the largest responsibility in the system, to reflect on the consequences of failure,” he said in an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), which oversees talks in the various subjects, and which he chairs. (Full text below)

He urged members “to reflect on the costs of the non-Round to the world economy as well as to the development prospects of Members, in particular the smaller and least-developed which are more dependent on an improved set of global trade rules.

“And above all, it is time to think about the consequences of the non-Round to the multilateral trading system which we have so patiently built over the last 70 years. It is the time to think hard about multilateralism, which your leaders, yourselves and myself preach at every occasion. In politics, as in life, there is always a moment when intentions and reality face the test of truth. We are nearly there today.”

Delegations broadly echoed his concern, some arguing that progress is still possible provided members show the political will to produce give and take.

Mr Lamy said gaps remain too wide in a range of issues for the negotiating group chairs to produce the revised draft negotiating texts that members have agreed should be produced by Easter (the weekend of 24-25 April).

He identified one issue as the biggest stumbling block at this stage: “NAMA sectorals”. This is about proposals for major trading countries — including emerging economies — to allow duty-free or lower-than-normal duty on imports in particular sectors within the non-agricultural market access (NAMA) negotiations.

“The absence of progress in NAMA sectorals constitutes today a major obstacle to progress on to the remaining market access issues,” the TNC chairperson said. “However, let me be clear, this is not the only market access related problem area. There are other issues whether in agriculture or to a larger extent in services — which have not been resolved either.”             

He said he will consult members privately in the fortnight starting on 4 April, “with a view to understanding the size of the gaps on the NAMA market access,” he said.

“Once I have done this I intend to report to the entire membership. Together — and on the basis of an across the board view of progress in all areas in the negotiation, including the regulatory part as well as market access — we will then decide on the next steps.”

Delegations reiterated the particular issues that concern them: agriculture, non-agricultural market access, services, the balance of ambition between the three, special treatment for developing and smaller countries, cotton and fisheries subsidies and so on.

Some developed countries called for more real access to markets; some developing countries said they were demanding too much, particularly when compared to what they were offering in agriculture. Some said focusing on single issues such as free or freer trade in a particular non-agricultural sector will not work at this stage since negotiators have to view this in comparison with other issues such as agricultural reform.

Some briefed the meeting on their attempts at a breakthrough bilaterally or in groups such as a group of 11 WTO members sometimes called the G-11.

But with the focus on the aim of producing revised negotiating texts in less than a month, some were still in favour of having revised texts, while some others cautioned that if the revisions reflect little progress, then an alternative such as chairs’ reports might be more suitable. Several delegations said a decision on texts could be left until the committee meets again, some suggesting this should be after the director-general has held his consultations.

Several also said the revisions should be based on inputs from members and not on chairs’ attempts to propose compromises or on inputs from some groups of members.

“Texts are means to capture negotiations. And at the end of the day the negotiations are in your hands,” Mr Lamy said.

“And therefore texts are in your hands. But do not renounce texts as an excuse for refusing to engage in negotiations! Or to remain in the comfort zone of ‘all options still open’ after ten years of negotiations.”

 

 

Director-General Pascal Lamy’s statement
Informal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting,
29 March 2011

I would like to welcome delegations to this informal meeting of the TNC.

As indicated in my fax to you of 24 March, and in keeping with our commitment to transparency and inclusiveness, I thought it would be useful for us to review and assess the latest developments in the Doha Development Agenda and to discuss together the next steps.    

But before we get into the substance of this meeting, I would like to extend the deepest condolences of the WTO community to the people of Japan, and particularly to the families of the victims of the appalling natural disasters they have suffered. I would like our Japanese friends to know that we stand firmly with you in your losses. I ask the TNC to observe a minute of silence in memory of all the victims of this tragedy.

[Delegates stood for a minute’s silence, and Japan thanked members adding a plea for them not to over-react by restricting imports]

 

Setting the scene

Now, I think it would be useful if I set the scene for our discussion today by recalling briefly the objectives and the process we have been pursuing since the beginning of this year.

Bearing in mind our collective objective to conclude the Round by the end of the year, we agreed to a sequence of work which identified Easter as an important stage for evaluating and capturing progress in the multi-layered negotiations into which you have all put so much effort — the so-called cocktail approach. Throughout this process it was always clear that we were working towards texts in all areas, as a tool for capturing progress and for taking our collective negotiating efforts to the next level.

Let me again stress that both the Chairs and myself we are committed to working in a bottom up way, where texts reflect the convergence achieved and also lack of convergence where necessary. Let me also be clear: texts are not an end in themselves. It is not about “texts for the sake of texts”. Texts cannot replace negotiations. Texts are a means to capture negotiations. And at the end of the day the negotiations are in your hands. And therefore texts are in your hands. But do not renounce to texts as an excuse for refusing to engage in negotiations! Or to remain in the comfort zone of “all options still open” after ten years of negotiations.

The capturing of progress by Chairs serves two fundamental objectives. First, it provides an across-the-board picture of the remaining gaps which will need to be addressed in the end game. This is needed for transparency and inclusiveness in the interests of all Members, as the situation remains unclear for many of you who are not always involved in smaller informal discussions. For the first time in this round, we would have the opportunity to have an across-the-board evaluation in all areas at the same time.

Second, such an across-the-board evaluation would provide us with the tool to move into a more horizontal phase in the negotiations — a phase where key obstacles are crystalized and remaining trade-offs identified. I say “remaining” because I do not forget that ten years of negotiations have already resulted in “trade-offs”. Of course, not the final ones, but trade-offs to build upon. Capturing progress across all areas is therefore a necessary and logical step in the sequence of work that we identified in February.

 

In all honesty, we’re not on target

So, with less than a month to go, are we on track to meet this target?

In all honesty I must tell you we are not. Since the 8 March TNC we have continued to see an impressive level of activity at every level of our negotiating process. On the multilateral track, the Negotiating Chairs have diligently and systematically worked through their individual agendas and I can only express my admiration for the energy and tenacity with which they have approached their task.

On the bilateral and plurilateral levels activity has also been intense.

Overall, there have been elements of progress. But, in truth, far from enough. While the Negotiating Groups are proceeding across the board, including on a number of technical issues, the bilateral and plurilateral discussions on the market access leg have reached an impasse. The outstanding substantive gaps which existed three weeks ago persist today.

The absence of progress in NAMA sectorals constitutes today a major obstacle to progress on to the remaining market access issues. However, let me be clear, this is not the only market access related problem area. There are other issues whether in agriculture or to a larger extent in services — which have not been resolved either. As G-20 Leaders agreed at Seoul, what is needed overall is a spirit of “give and take” and we need this across all areas.

This is the hard reality that we collectively must face up to. As the Chairman of the TNC I have an obligation to ensure transparency and inclusiveness at the multilateral level and as such it is incumbent on me to share with you my frank and honest assessment of the seriousness of the current situation. In the same spirit it is my responsibility to caution you against the temptation to rush to conclusions or to point fingers. It has been tried before and it simply does not work. In the blame game everybody loses.

 

Positive reality and consultations

On the contrary, I believe our focus now should be on recognizing and respecting the collective determination among all Members to work hard to overcome the few, yet important, issues that continue to divide you. This, if you wish, is a positive reality facing us all. Clearly, Members will have to take a closer look at individual positions and tactics. Clearly, your political masters will want to know and understand why we are where are. You must all be in a position to answer the call from your leaders who pledged to conclude the Round in 2011. Throwing in the towel now is certainly not what Ministers and Leaders instructed us to do last year, neither is it what they are expecting from us.

Over the coming two weeks, starting April 4, I will undertake consultations with a number of Members with a view to understanding the size of the gaps on the NAMA market access. Once I have done this I intend to report to the entire membership. Together — and on the basis of an across the board view of progress in all areas in the negotiation, including the regulatory part as well as market access — we will then decide on the next steps.

I do not think that today is the time for long interventions. Now is the time for all of you, and in particular those among you who bear the largest responsibility in the system, to reflect on the consequences of failure. To reflect on the costs of the non-Round to the world economy as well as to the development prospects of Members, in particular the smaller and least-developed which are more dependent on an improved set of global trade rules. And above, it is time to think about the consequences of the non-Round to the multilateral trading system which we have so patiently built over the last 70 years. It is the time to think hard about multilateralism, which your leaders, yourselves and myself preach at every occasion. In politics, as in life, there is always a moment when intentions and reality face the test of truth. We are nearly there today.

Jargon buster 

Place the cursor over a term to see its definition:

• bottom up

• box

• bracketed

• CBD

• concentric circles

• CRTA

• CTD

• CTDSS

• CTE

• CTESS

• DDA

• DSU

• formal/informal

• GATS

• geographical indications (GIs)

• Green Room

• HoDs

• horizontal

• inclusive

• LDCs

• modality, modalities

• modes, modes of delivery

• multilateral

• NAMA

• NTBs

• open-ended

• overall trade-distorting domestic support (OTDS)

• plurilateral

• RTA

• rules

• S&D

• schedules

• Special Sessions

• square brackets

• templates

• TNC

• trade facilitation

• transparent

• TRIPS

> More jargon: glossary

 

Throwing in the towel now is certainly not what Ministers and Leaders instructed us to do last year, neither is it what they are expecting from us”

 

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