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THIS BRIEFING NOTE IS DESIGNED TO HELP JOURNALISTS AND THE PUBLIC
UNDERSTAND DEVELOPMENTS IN THE HONG KONG MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE. WHILE EVERY
EFFORT HAS BEEN MADE TO ENSURE THE CONTENTS ARE ACCURATE, IT DOES NOT
PREJUDICE MEMBER GOVERNMENTS' POSITIONS.
> 13 December
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Other WTO Ministerials:
10–14 Sept. 2003
Doha 9–14 Nov. 2001
Seattle 30 Nov.–3 Dec. 1999
18-20 May 1998
9–13 Dec. 1996
The text reflects developments in the talks over the past few days in three
key subjects: agriculture, non-agricultural market access, and specific
development issues, including duty-free, quota-free access for
least-developed countries’ exports.
It emerged after ministers had spent most of the previous night drafting and
re-drafting, principally in the Chairman’s Consultative Group, comprising
about 30 to 40 delegations representing all the alliances and other key
players in the negotiations. Members were given five hours to study the
draft before commenting on it in the heads of delegations meeting.
Ministers praised the process as being “bottom-up” (inputs coming from the
membership rather than proposed from the top, i.e. the chairs). The
revisions were based on texts received by the “facilitators” in each subject
(see Day 4 report for list of facilitators) and discussed by members
particularly in the Chairman’s Consultative Group. Participants in this
group are responsible for coordinating positions with their allies among the
rest of the membership.
Heads of delegations
back to top
Informal meeting 6.30 pm
The revised draft was circulated jointly by Hong
Kong’s Commerce, Industry and Technology Secretary John Tsang, who chairs
the conference, and WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy. Introducing the
draft in the meeting, Secretary Tsang stressed that it is very much still
a draft. Nevertheless, it represents significant progress from where the
meeting began on Tuesday, he said.
The main revisions in the text are in three subjects that have been the
principal focus of negotiations over the past few days — agriculture,
non-agricultural market access and specific development issues, he said.
On agriculture, the text contains a
number of changes while maintaining the basic objective: to turn the broad
agreements currently achieved in the negotiations into something more
specific, he went on. This would guide the work in the coming months on
developing the detailed “modalities” that members will need to negotiate.
He said the time had come for delegations to match rhetoric with
commitment in a bid to move the text forward still. He said the outside
world would not be forgiving if members fail to deliver at this
In non-agricultural market access,
the wording is now clearer on the tariff reduction formula, particularly
on preferences that are given with nothing required in return
(“non-reciprocal preferences”), and on small and vulnerable economies,
Secretary Tsang said. The text also recognizes the need to ensure
“commensurably” high levels of ambition in agriculture and
non-agricultural market access — wording designed to reassure countries
that are reluctant to open their markets by a large amount in one area
without gaining much market access in the other.
On development specific issues, the
text reflects significantly further progress on proposals for
least-developed countries to do with special treatment for least-developed
countries, contained in Annex F of the text.
On services, the suggested changes
to the text reflect concerns that some members have expressed about the
draft that came from Geneva, Secretary Tsang said. The changes are
principally to do with reaffirming and underscoring that Annex C (the
annex dealing with services) is not a prescription for action in the
negotiations, at the same time aligning the text even more closely with
the General Agreement on Trade in Services agreement and the Doha mandate
for services negotiations.
Overall: The chairman pointed out
that all members had the responsibility to use this Ministerial Conference
to provide a “launching pad”, or clear workable basis, for finishing the
round by the end of next year. The text to be agreed here in Hong Kong
would not be the end of the process but a catalyst for further work in
2006 which will finalise the Doha negotiations.
“There would be a heavy responsibility on anyone who lets this chance slip
away,” he said. He urged all members to reflect on this point and the
shared responsibility for success or failure.
Together with the Director-General and the facilitators, Chairman Tsang
said he intended to work with delegations in an effort to resolve the
differences that remain.
The discussion: Over 60 members
spoke, directly or indirectly representing almost the entire membership.
Many delegations welcomed the new draft text for maintaining the “bottom
up” approach. They said that while it marks a modest step forward,
substantial work remains ahead in the new year. It was also necessary to
capture the progress made so far, and produce results for the credibility
of the WTO, members said.
Delegations expressed disappointment with various sections of the draft.
As one delegation put it, the text fell short of many of its aspirations
but it was minimally acceptable.
In services, for example, some were disappointed with the lack of ambition
in the text while others were concerned that the level was too high. This
was repeated in other sections, like agriculture and non-agricultural
market access. Among the issues raised were: the end date for agricultural
export subsidies, other forms of export competition including food aid,
cotton, market access in agriculture, including flexibilities for
developing countries, the link between agriculture and non-agricultural
market access, a number of issues in non-agricultural market access,
including the level of ambition and flexibilities, plurilateral
negotiations in services, least-developed country issues, geographical
indications, the relationship between the intellectual property agreement
and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Many delegations, however, expressed their desire to work with others in
the remaining few hours to make the Hong Kong Ministerial a success. They
resumed consultations on their remaining differences in the Chairman’s
Consultative Group at close to midnight.