Day 4: Ministers start preparing revised draft ministerial text

WTO members ended the fourth day of the Ministerial Conference, 16 December 2005 working on texts that are to be inputs for a revised draft ministerial text and circulated in the middle of the next day.

> See also: The Secretariats of the WTO and UNIDO hold side-event

See also:
> Hong Kong Ministerial main page
> Hong Kong briefing notes


Meeting summaries:
> 13 December
> 14 December
> 15 December
> 17 December
> 18 December

Other WTO Ministerials:
> Cancún 10–14 Sept. 2003
> Doha 9–14 Nov. 2001
> Seattle 30 Nov.–3 Dec. 1999
> Geneva 18-20 May 1998
> Singapore 9–13 Dec. 1996

Chairperson John Tsang, the host government’s Commerce, Industry and Technology Secretary, announced the schedule at a late afternoon informal meeting of heads of delegations. This followed more consultations that started the previous evening, lasted into the early hours of the morning and resumed a few hours later.

The core consultations are being held jointly by Minister Tsang and WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy. They have focused on agriculture, including cotton, and non-agricultural market access, specific development issues and the question of duty-free, quota-free market access for least-developed countries.

About 30 to 40 delegations have participated in the Chairman’s Consultative Group, representing all the alliances and other key players in the negotiations. Participants are in turn responsible for coordinating positions with the members of their groups.

At the same time the ministers asked to “facilitate” consultations in specific topics have also been active, meeting delegations in various formats. In the past day, the facilitators’ tasks have changed slightly, Chairperson Tsang told the heads of delegations. Minister Ignacio Walker’s extensive duties in dealing with implementation and trade and environment mean that the issue of bananas, which has been raised by Honduras, would now be covered by another floating facilitator, Minister Jonas Støre. The full list is now:

  • Non-agricultural market access — Commerce Minister Humayun Khan of Pakistan

  • Agriculture — Trade and Industry Minister Mukhisa Kituyi of Kenya

  • Development issues — Foreign Trade and International Cooperation Minister Clement Rohee of Guyana

Three more are facilitators-at-large, who could assist as necessary on services, rules and other issues:

  • Trade Minister Hyun Chong Kim of Korea (now working on services);

  • Foreign Minister Jonas Støre of Norway (now working on bananas); and

  • Foreign Minister Ignacio Walker of Chile (now working on implementation and other issues).


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Heads of delegations 
Informal meeting 5 pm

Minister Tsang outlined the state of play in the consultations he has been holding together with Director-General Lamy.

In agriculture the focus as been largely on export competition, and specifically the link between establishing an end-date for phasing out these subsidies and the concept of parallelism, he explained. Together with Director-General Lamy, the chairperson is also working to advance “positive linkages” between the negotiations on agriculture and those on non-agricultural market access, he said.

Because of the broad range of membership involved — including chairs of important groups — the consultations have provided a good sense of the key questions and areas where compromise may be possible. But Chairperson Tsang stressed that these consultations are no substitute for the views of the whole membership; he stressed that any decisions taken at this conference can only be taken by the membership as a whole.

Ministers had shown strong commitment to narrow differences even on the most sensitive issues, he went on, but significant gaps in positions remain, particularly in agriculture and non-agricultural market access.

“There have been no breakthroughs. But on the other hand, there have been no breakdowns either,” he said.

On cotton, the level of understanding and dialogue has increased in a way that may bring a solution closer to hand, he reported.

On the proposed duty-free, quota-free market access for least-developed countries, the debate has been constructive but more work is clearly needed, he said.

Given the immense time pressures, it is now time to change gears he concluded. All the insights gained through various consultations should be consolidated into an overall package that can find broad backing.

He said that in the middle of the next day, the he intends to circulate a revised draft Ministerial Text so that everyone will be aware of the state of progress on the issues. The process will remain “bottom-up” (originating from the members and not imposed from above), he said, and in keeping with the preparations in Geneva for this Ministerial Conference, there will be no surprises.

After the text is released, another heads of delegation meeting will be held and he and the director-general will hold further consultations to iron out differences that remain.

The meeting then heard reports from the facilitators.

Agriculture: Minister Kituyi told the heads of delegations he had met with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) and the G-90 groups, meaning that he had now held consultations with all groups. He continued to urge them to work together to narrow differences, particularly on cotton.

He reported that differences remain on the difficult issue of tariff preference erosion.

Considerable effort was expended on the question of an end date for all forms of export subsidies, but members recognize that progress is needed on treating all forms of export competition in parallel. He did not see progress in this area so far, he said.

In his meeting with the G-90 and ACP, he said the groups stressed the need to emphasise special products and special safeguards for rural populations.

He said he was concerned that without substantial effort on all sides the modest progress that has been achieved to date may be eroded.

Non-agricultural market access: Minister Khan spoke briefly and said he had nothing new to report. He urged members to continue engaging on their differences with a view to narrowing them. We are at the point in the negotiations he said where members really needed to start moving.

Specific development issues: Minister Rohee reiterated that he had been given priority so far to the question of duty-free, quota-free market access for least-developed countries but now that some progress had been made in this area he was turning his attention to other specific development issues.

He pointed out that the duty-free, quota free question had been discussed in the Chairman’s Consultative Group meetings the previous night. Minister Rohee had drafted a compromise text on this subject, which was circulated the previous night and discussed in the morning. It would continue to be discussed in the evening, he said.

Canada, Kenya, Pakistan, Malawi, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago on behalf of Caricom, and Zamiba on behalf of the least-developed countries have provided suggested wording for the text, he said. He urged any others wanting to follow suit to do so promptly.

As he shifted to new issues, he stressed that it was not his role to negotiate texts with members. Rather, he urged them to come to him with any amendments to the text that they may have — by 10 pm later in the evening at the latest because the facilitators were required to submit their own inputs to the chairperson by 6 am the following morning.

He stressed too that while members had the right to open paragraphs that had already been agreed in Geneva, there was a downside risk in so doing.


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Group meeting 1.30 pm

Minister Kim reported that his consultations had shown differing views on the draft text in general, and on certain specific elements. Those who favoured it said it was a sound way forward and contained a careful balance that should not be disturbed. Others felt it needed strengthening both in its objectives and in sections dealing with its operation, in order to secure a satisfactory outcome.

A third group felt that the text was too prescriptive and demanding. In this respect, the G-90 group had transmitted to the conference chairperson its written input to the facilitator’s efforts. The submission was a proposed alternative text to the current Annex C (the annex dealing with services), with more emphasis on development concerns in general, and also deleting the possibility of plurilateral negotiations.

Minister Kim reported that the concerns that members had expressed related principally to certain provisions in Annex C, namely: on qualitative objectives, on sectoral and modal objectives, on government procurement, and on plurilateral request/offer negotiations.

More than 40 delegations spoke. Some 15 supported changes to the text along the lines of the G-90 submission; and about 26 wanted to preserve the text as a basis for further work.

The meeting ended without clear direction. Minister Kim said he would conduct consultations. In the heads of delegations meeting that followed soon after (see above), Minister Kim was not present, hence there was no report to that meeting.


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Development issues   
Group meeting, 3 pm.

Minister Rohee reported on progress on duty-free, quota-free market access for least-developed countries. He provided a similar report to the one he gave at the heads of delegations meeting (see above).

The key components of the text are: making the commitments binding or “on a lasting basis”, stability and predictability. Minister Rohee assured delegates that the coverage would be for all products and all least-developed countries. Other aspects would be transparency, flexibility in coverage, different phasing in over the time, voluntary self-declaration for developing countries and a review mechanism.

Minister Rohee then invited members to discuss other specific development issues. He urged members not to reopen parts of the text that had already been agreed in Geneva, unless the issues are ones that members “cannot live without”. One group of countries called for negotiations on the relationship between the intellectual property (TRIPS) agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Another group made proposals on the text on “Aid for trade”.