WTO: 2014 NEWS ITEMS

TRADE NEGOTIATIONS COMMITTEE: FORMAL 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.

The official record is in the meeting’s minutes.

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MINUTES:

Good morning everyone — and welcome to the thirty-fifth formal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee.

Our meeting today comes at a very important moment. These are difficult days for our organization.

As you know, we reached a major impasse in July, related to the interplay between two of the Bali decisions — public stockholding on one hand, and the adoption of the protocol of amendment on the Trade Facilitation Agreement on the other. While there is no formal or legal linkage here — clearly an important political linkage has been made bringing the two together.

We made every effort to resolve the problem in July. But in the end our efforts came to naught. As a result we missed the deadline for the adoption of the protocol of amendment on the Trade Facilitation Agreement, which was the first deadline that Ministers set us in Bali.

I said at the time that I feared there would be serious consequences. I asked you to reflect over the summer and talk to each other about potential ways forward. And I carried on my own consultations as well.

To address the situation, I convened an informal Heads of Delegations meeting on 15 September, immediately after the summer break. That meeting marked the beginning of a period of intense and comprehensive consultations to break the impasse and move forward.

Since then, the Chairs of the relevant negotiating and regular bodies have been working hard. They have been taking stock of Members’ positions and discussing how we can move forward to implement all of the Bali decisions, and develop a post-Bali work programme.

Meetings have been held in a range of different formats and configurations. Members have been engaging with each other — both here in Geneva, and in capitals. I have spoken to a wide range of delegations and groups of delegations — as has the General Council chair, Ambassador Fried. I have also met with Ministers wherever possible. We have tried everything to resolve the problem.

We are now at the end of that period of intensive consultations. I promised that, at this stage, I would give you a clear assessment of the situation — based on your views and those of all Members. So that is what I will try to do today.

Statement by the Chairman of the General Council

Reports by Chairpersons of the Bodies established by the TNC

Having listened to those reports, and on the basis of my own consultations with Members, I will now make my formal statement as TNC Chairman, to provide you with my sense of how I see the current situation. I think it is my duty to give you my views — and to be honest and straight-forward in doing so. I stress that this is only my perspective — and that it is based primarily on what I hear from you.

As I see it the situation is clear as day:

  • First, we have not found a solution for the impasse. The deadline on the Trade Facilitation Agreement passed more than two months ago. We are on borrowed time.
  • Second, as I feared, this situation has had a major impact on several areas of our negotiations. It appears to me that there is now a growing distrust which is having a paralysing effect on our work across the board.

This is the situation. And I am not in a position to tell you that a solution for our impasse is in the making. Of course I encourage you to keep working and keep looking for a solution. And I will keep trying as well.

However, I have promised to give you my frank assessment, and it is my feeling that a continuation of the current paralysis would serve only to degrade the institution — particularly the negotiating function.

I think we have a responsibility to the people who sent us here to be realistic about the situation — and therefore to find ways to continue our work and to keep moving forward, while still looking for a way out of the impasse. In my view, this is our only option. We have to continue our work.

But, we all heard the reports a moment ago. They were not encouraging. Work on substance seems unlikely to advance. Therefore, I think our first step now should be to start a broader discussion about the basis on which we can overcome the current scenario of disengagement. I think we need to start a discussion about the future — a future which honours the aims of the Marrakesh Agreement, which is worthy of our role in international relations, trade and development, and which delivers for the people we are here to serve — particularly the poorest. It is time to face up to the undeniable problems we have in this organization and have an open and honest discussion about how we can move forward.

There are a numbers of layers to this discussion, each of which I think we must address. In order to better frame our dialogue, I suggest that we take a look at all these different layers. And in my opinion, the issues at stake fall into four concentric circles.

The first circle covers Trade Facilitation and Public Stockholding. Progress on the TF Agreement is stalled as we wait for progress on the adoption of the protocol of amendment. And public stockholding is stalled too, as the conversations have ground to a halt. So, how should we respond? Do we simply put these two Bali decisions on the shelf? Is there a way to move them forward?

On the Trade Facilitation question, this also affects the Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility, which will become operational once the provisions of the TFA are being implemented. Despite the current situation — or rather because of it — we need to work to keep the Facility alive and keep donors interested in the initiative. Of course donors have budgetary and time constraints — and so they need clarity about what is happening. And despite the state of affairs here in Geneva, I see a lot of support out there. On Friday I was in Washington to enhance the WTO’s cooperation with the World Bank on this issue. President Jim Kim and I announced a strengthened partnership, under which the WTO and World Bank would work closely together to ensure that support is available for all who need it under the terms of the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

Meanwhile, on Public Stockholding, it is my sense that there is a widespread positive disposition to negotiate an outcome — or a “permanent solution” as it has been branded. Nonetheless, there also seems to be an overarching reluctance to put other issues on hold while that “permanent solution” is sought.

So this all begs the question: is there any way for Members to move forward on these two issues in the context of the current paralysis and distrust that we are now seeing? That’s the first circle.

In the second circle are the other 8 Bali decisions, including agriculture, the monitoring mechanism and the package of measures for LDCs. Members must consider what is going to happen with these issues.

The LDCs, for example, have made clear that they are not preventing any other issues from progressing — so of course they ask, why should they be punished and their issues be held back as well? On the reverse side of this debate, others say that Bali was a package, and that we cannot easily separate off certain elements to take forward. This camp sees linkages among the Bali Decisions and is not ready to ignore them.

Despite these conflicting views, there is a clear appreciation from most of the logic that led to the different timeframes agreed in Bali for each specific issue. And I think it’s clear that what happens in this second circle is intertwined with what happens in the first. Our ability to implement the other Bali decisions affects our ability to move forward on Trade Facilitation and public stockholding — and vice versa. This is the second circle.

The issue in the third circle is the post-Bali work program. This task was mandated to us by Ministers with a deadline of 31st December this year. But realistically we have until the December meeting of the General Council. That gives us 8 weeks.

On the basis of the conversations we were having before July I was aiming at a very detailed and specific work program, which came very close to setting out modalities. As I said at the TNC meeting in June: if we prepare the ground properly, “we will be able to construct the clearly defined work program that we were tasked to deliver by the Bali declaration.” And I thought that if we could achieve that it would mean we were in a position to conclude negotiations on the DDA fairly rapidly.

I am very sorry to say that, in my view, such a detailed and precise modalities-like work program is now very unlikely to be ready by the end of the year. Of course, what happens is up to you. But I struggle to see how this can be achieved in the current circumstances. We have lost too much time due to the current impasse. And we have just heard from the Chairs’ reports that the engagement we need is simply not there.

Let me be clear that in saying this, I am not prejudging — this is very important so write it down! — I am not prejudging what can be achieved on the work program when the time is right. I am not commenting on the ambition, coverage and substance that it will have. All of this will be determined by you. I am simply commenting on the timing — and what I am saying is that in the 8 weeks we have until the December General Council, it seems very unlikely that a detailed, precise, modalities-like work program is possible. That’s all I am saying.

Therefore we have to ask, how are we going to deliver on the mandate we were given in Bali? If we are to deliver by December, as instructed, what shape will this work program have? That’s another conversation that Members need to have. And again, what happens in this third circle affects the first and second — and vice-versa. So that’s the third circle.

The issue in the fourth and final circle, which encompasses all of the others, is what does this mean for the organization itself?

Once again the negotiating track is stuck. Of course this is not new to us — deadlock has unfortunately become a familiar position. But that doesn’t make it any more acceptable. And it is not often that we have been able to overcome situations like this. We did so in Bali — and that gave us hope for a new WTO. Yet, now, we are here again. The lack of ability to find full convergence quickly leads to deadlock, and deadlock leads to paralysis. We have seen this situation too many times. So we can’t continue in such an inefficient and ineffective way that is so prone to paralysis.

Frankly, we know that Members have been talking about the other, non-multilateral options that are open to them. We may see these Members disengaging. We may see that these Members pursue other avenues. We may see that these Members explore other tracks — inside the WTO or outside.

So we have to think about the consequences of the situation we’re in — and consider how this organization can work. Again, this is something you have to talk about.

I will be here to facilitate this conversation. I will hold meetings with you. The chairs will convene meetings. And I urge you to talk to each other. As ever, we will need to engage in different formats and different configurations — including open-ended meetings.

This could be the most serious situation that this organization has ever faced. I have warned of potentially dangerous situations before, and urged Members to take the necessary steps to avoid them. I am not warning you today about a potentially dangerous situation — I am saying that we are in it right now.

So we have to move on. We should keep working for a solution to the current impasse, but we should also think about our next steps. I will be starting this discussion on what to do straight after next Tuesday’s General Council meeting — and all of you will have an opportunity to put your views forward on all of these issues.

As to the content of our discussion, I suggest that we try to answer the questions that are before us. Specifically:

  • What should we do with the decisions on Trade Facilitation and public stockholding?
  • What should we do with the other Bali decisions, including the LDC package?
  • How should we respond to the Ministerial mandate to develop a work program on the post-Bali agenda?
  • And how do we see the future of the negotiating pillar of the WTO?

I hope these questions will help to structure the conversation. I want to hear from you. Tell me what you want to do, what your priorities are, where the linkages lie — both legal and political. We often say that the WTO is a member-driven organization. It is you, the Members, who must now take control and find a way forward. You are the ones — the only ones — who can answer those questions. In short, I am extending to you an invitation for reflection. I hope you will accept it.

Thank you for listening.

This concludes my statement.

 

ANNEX I

REPORT BY THE CHAIRMAN OF THE COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE IN SPECIAL SESSION
AMBASSADOR JOHN ADANK (NEW ZEALAND)

Since the last informal TNC on 31 July just before the summer break, and following the communication of 2 September 2014 highlighting the need to re-engage quickly to find solutions to the implementation of the Bali outcomes, I have been consulting with a range of delegations.

I also held an Informal Open-Ended CoA SS on 23 September as part of the follow-up to the 15 September Heads of Delegation meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to recap on where we stood just before the summer break as well as on developments since then so as to refresh everyone’s memories. The meeting was also intended to provide a further opportunity to the Members to take stock of their positions concerning the way ahead for the negotiations and the work programme mandated at Bali.

Just in terms of where we stood before the summer break, at the COASS meeting on 23 July I reported on my informal consultations that aimed at clarifying the perspectives Members have on the way forward for the Bali work programme in agriculture. At that point I noted that it was clear that more focussed and in-depth discussions would be required in a range of areas if we were to take our work forward and I had circulated prior to that meeting a set of questions aimed at encouraging greater engagement. In the same meeting, the G33 introduced three proposals — on Public Stockholding (JOB/AG/27), Special Products (JOB/AG/28), and SSM (JOB/AG/29) — that had been circulated to the Members a week before.

But as I have been repeatedly reminded by delegations at successive meetings we have held, the CoA SS does not exist in isolation from the broader work on Doha and Bali follow-up. Even at the meeting on 23 July it was clear that in the event no solution was found to the impasse on the protocol on the Trade Facilitation Agreement was threatening to have a broader impact on work within all bodies tasked with Bali and Doha follow-up, including the CoA SS.

The CoA SS on 23 September confirmed what I had already heard in my consultations. It was evident from the various views expressed that this unresolved situation regarding the implementation of the Bali TF Protocol was clearly of significant concern to Members. I heard a range of different perspectives or takes on what this means for the work of the Special Session. A number of Members underlined that unless the TF Protocol can be adopted and opened for signature, it will not be possible to advance further work in the CoA SS or in any other Committee mandated to pursue follow-up negotiations to Bali. These delegations pointed to the fact that Bali was a carefully negotiated package and that in order for work to be advanced across the board it has to be advanced — as a whole — as envisaged in the Bali decisions in accordance with the sequential milestones outlined there.

Some other Members, in contrast, suggested that, notwithstanding the current situation affecting implementation of Bali decisions, work should continue within this Committee as envisaged prior to the summer break. These Members suggested that all issues in Bali decisions should be the subject of independent follow-up without linkages between issues.

Another set of Members highlighted more generally the importance they place on work within the CoA SS given the importance of agricultural reform more broadly and the unique role that the WTO has to play in this regard. While these Members underlined that they want to see progress they also acknowledged that this will be extremely difficult in the current context given that advancing issues requires willingness for genuine engagement among Members on the range of substantive issues that will necessarily feature in any post-Bali work programme. It was very evident to them that this kind of engagement was doubtful in the event that the impasse in respect of Bali implementation was not resolved.

In terms of more specific issues, in that meeting the G-33 clarified that it would see this Committee, rather than the Regular Committee, as the place for taking forward negotiations regarding the public stockholding permanent solution issue. At the same time, it was also clear that the willingness of many Members to move this work forward is dependent on progress made on adoption and opening for signature of the Trade Facilitation Protocol. A number of Members also noted the importance of finding ways to address issues of concern to LDCs.

Against this background, my general conclusion from the last Informal CoA SS on 23 September unfortunately still holds — in the absence of a solution to the current impasse in respect of Trade Facilitation and broader Bali implementation, there is no consensus on how work can be taken forward in the CoA SS.

 

ANNEX II

REPORT by THE CHAIRMAN OF THE NEGOTIATING GROUP ON MARKET ACCESS
AMBASSADOR REMIGI WINZAP (SWITZERLAND)

Following the General Council and informal TNC meetings of July, I convened an open‑ended meeting of the Negotiating Group on Market Access on 22 September 2014 to take stock of Members’ positions and to exchange views on the way ahead.

In the two earlier open‑ended meetings of the Negotiating Group which had taken place on 31 March and 9 July 2014, I had been able to report on fruitful exchanges with Members in the preceding weeks and on a good engagement of the Membership. Unfortunately, I was not in a position to do the same at the meeting of 22 September 2014, because I did not sense a comparable level of interest to engage in NAMA lately. I understand this to be a consequence of the deadlocked situation in the WTO since early July 2014, and in particular after the deadline of 31 July 2014 passed without a General Council decision on the adoption of a Trade Facilitation Protocol.

The views expressed by Members in the meeting of 22 September may broadly be divided into three groups. For some, work on NAMA should continue. For others, business as usual was not possible because trust had been undermined as a result of the non‑adoption of the TF‑Protocol. Having said that, these Members also said that they would be ready to move forward on NAMA once the current impasse was resolved. The view of the third group was that we should remain positive and wait for eventual results of on-going consultations.

Although some Members have expressed support for further work on NAMA in the open‑ended meeting of 22 September 2014, my assessment, based also on bilateral contacts over the last weeks is that there is no appetite — and therefore also no consensus — in the Membership at large to work on NAMA and to engage on this aspect of the work programme at this moment in time.

 

 

ANNEX III

REPORT BY THE CHAIRMAN OF THE COUNCIL FOR TRADE IN SERVICES IN SPECIAL SESSION
AMBASSADOR GABRIEL DUQUE (COLOMBIA)

Over the past several months, I have continued to consult in different configurations with Members on the way forward in trade in services. Most recently, in mid-September, a Services Special Session provided me the opportunity to hear how Members envisaged the possibilities for future work in this area.

My consultations show that Members acknowledge the existence of an impasse in the DDA, and that this is having a serious effect on the services component of the negotiations. Reactions vary however as to the effect of this crisis. Some Members are committed nonetheless to continue work in services, on the basis of previous milestones in the negotiations. They are not prepared to ’lose the dream’.

Some added that the operationalization of the LDC services waiver should not be jeopardized by the overall impasse in the DDA negotiations.

However, a significant number of other Members take the view that the services negotiations cannot progress without full implementation of the Bali package, including the TFA. In their view, further negotiations are presently impossible, due to a climate of distrust arising from failure to agree on the TFA protocol. Several Members argue that in any case there can be no progress for now in services without any advances in the agriculture component of the DDA.

Before last July, I had observed a willingness to make progress in the services negotiations, in particular through the examination of a number of constructive proposals made by several Members. However, as Chairman of the Special Session I must now reluctantly report to you that at present there is no consensus within the body to move forward with the services negotiations within its mandate.

 

ANNEX IV

REPORT by THE CHAIRMAN OF THE COMMITTEE ON TRADE AND DEVELOPMENT IN SPECIAL SESSION
AMBASSADOR HARALD NEPLE (NORWAY)

An informal open-ended meeting of the Special Session of the CTD was held on 19 September 2014 to ascertain Members views on the way forward given the impasse.

At that meeting, some Members strongly regretted the non-implementation of the Bali Package, in particular of the TFA related deadlines, and said that had undermined the prospect of any productive engagement in the Special Session in the present circumstances. These Members felt that without the full and faithful implementation of the Bali package, any attempts to stimulate work in the Special Session of the CTD at this stage would be unrealistic.

Other Members, however, expressed the hope that the DG led consultative process would lead to finding a resolution to the current conundrum. They also felt that given the centrality of development issues, the work programme on special and differential treatment should continue, in spite of the current stalemate. They hoped that this would have a positive trickle-down effect in other areas.

There was, therefore, no consensus amongst Members on how to proceed with the work in the Special Session of the CTD given the impasse. There appeared to be somewhat greater convergence, but still no consensus, on the possibility of carrying on the work on LDC specific issues.

This concludes my report.

 

ANNEX V

REPORT BY THE CHAIRMAN OF THE COUNCIL FOR TRIPS IN SPECIAL SESSION
AMBASSADOR DACIO CASTILLO (HONDURAS)

Thank you, Chair.

Responding to your call for negotiating group chairs to restart their process of consulting with Members, I have held informal consultations with the most active Members on 2 October to see whether there had been any new thinking on how to advance the work of the TRIPS Special Session, and on how to reflect it in a post-Bali work programme.

It is my sense from these consultations that the situation in the TRIPS Special Session has not improved since the last time I reported to this body in June this year. The substantive positions of Members have not changed and the appetite of delegations to engage in constructive work on the GI Register negotiations remains limited within the current overall negotiation framework, although several highlighted the continuing importance of this issue for them substantively. Indeed, the majority of delegations in my consultations emphasized that they saw no possibility of engaging in work on any aspect of the post-Bali work programme as long as the implementation of the Bali decisions remains stalled. Those few delegations that did signal readiness to continue working on the post-Bali agenda offered no novel ideas on how to advance the process or the substance of the TRIPS Special Session negotiations.

In light of this, it seems clear that any resumption of substantive work in this negotiating group remains dependent on resolving concerns of Members that lie squarely outside the mandate of the TRIPS Special Session. As Members work through these issues, I continue to keep myself available for delegations to share with me any new ideas they may have on how to advance the process or the substance of the GI Register negotiations in the TRIPS Special Session.

I thank you.

 

ANNEX VI

REPORT BY THE CHAIRPERSON OF THE COMMITTEE ON TRADE AND ENVIRONMENT IN SPECIAL SESSION
AMBASSADOR WIBOONLASANA RUAMRAKSA (THAILAND)

Mr Chairman,

As indicated in my previous report to you in June, I held a series of bilateral consultations with about 25 delegations to discuss ways to contribute to the post-Bali work. Following the summer break, I renewed my invitation to delegations to discuss bilaterally, or in small groups, how they envisage the contribution of the CTESS to the collective efforts to define the post-Bali work programme.

Since then, I have met with a few delegations and all of them reiterated their interest in environment issues. At the same time, the attention of delegations is now focused on obtaining greater clarity on the overall Bali implementation. In the current situation, I stand ready to continue any informal exchange and to discuss, as Members see fit, ways to move forward the CTESS agenda.

Thank you for giving me the floor.

 

ANNEX VII

REPORT by THE CHAIRMAN OF THE NEGOTIATING GROUP ON RULES
AMBASSADOR WAYNE McCOOK (JAMAICA)

Regarding Rules, in my consultations last spring the prevailing view was that the general approach and level of ambition on the so-called “core” issues of Agriculture, NAMA and Services need to be defined before a serious discussion on the role of Rules can be engaged.

To date, I see no indication that this has changed, nor has any delegation advised me otherwise. Thus, apart from a continuing active discussion of anti-dumping practices in the Technical Group, there has been no new Rules activity to report.

 

ANNEX VIII

REPORT BY THE CHAIRMAN OF THE DISPUTE SETTLEMENT BODY IN SPECIAL SESSION
AMBASSADOR SABORÍO SOTO (COSTA RICA)

Since my last report in June, meetings were held at the end of July, including an informal open-ended meeting. Since then, I have also consulted informally with a number of participants on the state-of-play arising from the discussions of “proposed elements” on all 12 issues over the past year with the goal of building convergence around approaches that would have the broadest possible base of support, in all areas. In particular, these meetings and consultations took stock of the elements of a possible outcome.

I intend to consult further with participants as to the next steps towards obtaining elements of a possible outcome on all issues, with the aim that these elements can be a basis of future work.

 

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