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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Speaking in an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee, which oversees the negotiations in all topics, WTO ambassadors accepted that agreement on agriculture, non-agricultural market access, services, trade remedies and intellectual property are unlikely to be achieved by then.

They endorsed Director-General Pascal Lamy’s proposal for these three groups of issues to be approached at different speeds — in fast, medium and slow “lanes” (see his statement below).

They stressed that producing a partial outcome in December should not mean the remaining issues should be ditched, and some added that the WTO’s routine work remains valuable even without agreement in the Doha Round.

Mr Lamy, who chairs the committee, said he will continue to consult members on the issues, and report back at the next meeting on 9 June. He also urged them to consult among themselves and with their capitals.

His three-speed proposal came from meetings around the world since the committee last met on 29 April 2011. They included the UN Conference on Least-developed Countries (LDCs) in Istanbul, the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) group’s trade ministers’ meeting in Big Sky, Montana, and an informal gathering of a group of trade ministers in Paris.

He highlighted principles that have emerged:

  • sticking to the mandate of the round, also known as the Doha Development Agenda
  • sticking to the “Single Undertaking” (all subjects negotiated and agreed as a single package)
  • producing some results at the next Ministerial Conference in December as an “early harvest”, in anticipation of the full package
  • agreeing on a work programme for the remaining subjects after the Ministerial Conference so that the negotiations continue
  • recognizing that the most feasible and desirable issues for agreement by December are those with a strong development content, and in particular for least developed countries.

And he stressed that time is running short with only 15 WTO working weeks remaining. One speaker translated this into 75 working days.

As delegations listed the issues that they considered to be feasible and of particular interest to them, some speakers cautioned that even agreeing on an “early harvest” of issues for the December conference will not be easy. They said expanding the December package beyond a small number of issues could trigger calls for trade-offs in other areas, leading to an unmanageable number of topics and the risk of another failure.

Ambassadors broadly looked for more than a package for least developed countries (an “LDC-plus” package). Among the “plus” topics some countries suggested were trade facilitation (cutting red-tape), provisions on special and differential treatment, export subsidies and other areas of export competition in agriculture, fisheries subsidies, provisions on regional trade agreements or  liberalized trade in environmental goods and services. Some have also mentioned a  “standstill” commitment to refrain from raising trade barriers even within countries’ committed limits.

However some members had reservations about some of these. Some said the talks on fisheries subsidies are not ready for an outcome. On cutting cotton subsidies, one country said it cannot “negotiate in the dark” because a major market has not notified the WTO about the recent support it has given to cotton.

 

Chairman’s opening remarks

I would like to welcome you to this informal TNC meeting.
 
As indicated in my fax on 5 May, the purpose of today's meeting is to report back to you on my consultations and contacts over the past few weeks and to continue our discussion on the next steps for work on the DDA.

On 29 April we had a first opportunity to discuss the state of play in the Doha Round after the circulation of the Easter package on 21 April.  By facing up to the impasse in the negotiations, Members acknowledged the gravity of the situation for the Round and for all of the efforts and aspirations it embodies.  But you also expressed a clear desire to chart a path forward that would preserve the goals and ambitions contained in the Doha mandate.  The discussion was a first joint step towards defining a way forward that all of you could embrace. 

Consultations

Over the past few weeks, I have consulted with groups and individuals on how to follow up on the views and ideas expressed at the last TNC on the way forward.  I have consulted groups and individual Members in various configurations and at various levels, including at Ministerial level.  At the beginning of this month I attended the fourth United Nations Conference on Least-developed Countries (LDCs) in Istanbul and more recently I attended the APEC Trade Ministers meeting in Big Sky, Montana.

You will have all seen the documents emerging from these gatherings.  In Istanbul I received an unambiguous message of concern and pre-occupation on the part of LDCs regarding the state of the DDA.  Similarly, Ministers at the APEC meeting recognised that work towards a DDA end-game had not progressed in keeping with the aspirations of Leaders at the G-20 and APEC summits last year.  They therefore expressed strong concern about the difficulties confronting the Round.  However, resolve and commitment to work together to develop a clear and realistic path forward was also expressed.  Last week I also attended the small gathering of trade ministers hosted by the Australian Trade Minister in the margins of the OECD Ministerial Meeting.  Finally, I held a Green Room meeting with a range of Members yesterday.

Emerging elements

From all of these meetings, as well as from the bilateral consultations I have held, I see a number of elements emerging.

First, nobody wants to drop the Doha mandate.

Second, nobody wants to break the Single Undertaking and no Member is ready to see its specific issues of interest disappear from the mandate.

Third, there is a unity of purpose among you to ensure that the WTO 8th Ministerial Conference (MC8) taking place in Geneva in December delivers results in the Doha Round.  If not the full Round, then at least an early harvest of issues as under Paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration.  

Fourth, many Members have also stressed the importance of having – by the time of the Ministerial – clarity about the road map for work on the Doha Development Agenda after MC8.  I know that a number of you see it as essential to build in a sense of the continuation of the Round to its full completion at a later date.

Fifth, many of you see development as the common thread running through the issues which could be mature by the end of the year, and in particular LDC-related issues.

I know that discussions have already begun among many of you on specific issues which could be delivered by the end of this year.  My sense is that we now need to intensify them.  I will be doing so in the days ahead in my own consultations.  I believe we have to approach this process in a co-operative and constructive spirit.  Presenting lengthy lists of demands and insisting on all of them will not help us to move forward.  Even though the Ministerial is in December, we cannot afford a Christmas tree. We have to build “up” rather than “down”.  There is precious little time if we are to deliver by the WTO Ministerial Conference.  It is time we roll up our sleeves and restart working – that is, negotiating.  And as we do so, we must re-create the spirit of co-operation that was present when we launched the Doha Round.

Fast, medium, slow tracks

On the issues, my consultations so far suggest a way of approaching the substantive issues and I believe this way could help to facilitate convergence. 

Firstly, priority should be given to LDC issues such as Duty-Free, Quota-Free, including Rules of Origin, the LDC Services Waiver and a step forward on Cotton. These LDC specific issues should be put on a Fast Track. 

Secondly, we will need an LDC–plus outcome with a significant development component by December and there are a number of issues which could be candidates for adding in to the LDCs specific issues.  These issues, to come to the table through your on-going deliberative process, make up what I would call the Middle Lane.

Thirdly, from my consultations there are issues like market access in NAMA, Agriculture and Services, trade remedies and TRIPS issues which you do not see as candidates for outcomes this year.  If you allow me to continue with the analogy, these issues will move into a Slow Lane, it being clear that for these areas we will need to look beyond MC8 and plan accordingly latest by December 2011. 

The immediate challenge, then, is to generate momentum on realistic, credible and achievable targets for a positive result by the end of the year, so that we can get down to working on them without delay.  We need to avoid a lengthy negotiation about the issues to be negotiated, or we could find ourselves going round in circles.  Nonetheless, I have the impression that a little more time is needed for me to consult further with you, for you to consult among yourselves, and for you to consult with your capitals.

Following this meeting I will therefore be stepping up my contacts and consultations with you, individually and in groups, to facilitate convergence on these possibilities.  As usual, I will do so in full respect of transparency and inclusiveness.  In this effort I will also be working closely with the Chairs of the Negotiating Groups and the Chairman of the General Council, who as you know has begun consultations on the overall scenario for the Ministerial, including non DDA related WTO issues.

I intend to call another informal TNC meeting on 9 June, by which time my aim is to have more clarity on your targets for December, in order to go back as soon as possible to the real work, i.e. negotiations among you.  I count on everyone to make this possible.  With only 15 weeks of work remaining until mid-November, we have no time to waste.  It is vital that we get into the substance of the priority issues for the Ministerial without delay.

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