How the meeting was organized

The July meeting took place in Geneva under the stewardship of Mr Pascal Lamy, Director-General of the WTO. Building on discussions between senior officials in the run-up to the meeting, negotiations took place in a variety of formats, including ôGreen Roomö meetings and meetings of the Trade Negotiations Committee.

Structure of the July meetings

The process for the meetings follows a practice that dates back decades. The World Trade Organization — like the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade before it — deals with highly complex agreements and decides on the basis of consensus among its members.

To gain consensus among the WTO's diverse membership of 153 countries and territories requires flexibility both in the content of any final agreement and in the method in which these agreements are negotiated. The multilateral trading system is driven by several key principles: non-discrimination, transparency and consensus. But one size does not fit all at the WTO. Agreements, including tariff levels and other obligations, are tailored to take into account sensitivities of members and this is one of the reasons why WTO agreements are so complex.

The process too must be flexible. There are some guiding principles in all WTO processes and they include transparency, inclusiveness and an approach whereby all members can contribute their inputs to the negotiations. There is a recognition among members that the complex exercise of drafting final negotiating texts cannot be achieved with 153 members sitting around the table. The process of gaining consensus could perhaps best be characterised as one of concentric circles in which a small group of countries, which represent the different views of the wider membership, tries to iron out differences before bringing the product of their efforts to progressively larger groups of countries so that more and more views can reach convergence. Finally, the document is brought before the entire membership for approval.

Virtually all WTO members belong to groups established on the basis of geographic links, common positions in the negotiations or both. Each group selects a co-ordinator to represent them and the co-ordinator reports back to the group on what has happened in meetings and discusses how the group's positions may evolve. In the meetings themselves, the co-ordinator reflects the views of the members and indicates where and how the common position may evolve during the course of the negotiations. Co-ordinators of all major groupings take part in key smaller group consultations including the “Green Room”, where the full spectrum of members' views and interests are represented.


Role of the Director-General

In the Doha Declaration of 2001, the Director-General was charged with the responsibility of chairing the Trade Negotiations Committee. The TNC is the central body charged with oversight of the nine negotiating groups that are part of the Doha round of negotiations. Director-General Pascal Lamy, in his capacity as chair of the TNC, has chaired the preparatory process for the July package meeting through the TNC, informal heads of delegation meetings and consultations in smaller groups, including the Green Room. He chaired the TNC and Green Room consultations which ran from 21 to 30 July. On particularly difficult issues, the role of the Director-General is to help specific parties find compromise. In the Doha round, members have asked the Director-General to facilitate accord among them on a variety of issues include trade in bananas and several measures related to trade-related intellectual property.


The Green Room

The Green Room refers to a process, rather than a specific location, in which heads of delegation seek consensus informally under the chairmanship of the Director-General. From 21 to 29 July, roughly 40 Ministers met in a Ministerial Green Room in a bid to help find consensus on agriculture and industrial goods trade, while discussing the best way forward in future negotiations on services, rules and intellectual property. Ministers, or ambassadors or senior officials who meet in the Green Room include the co-ordinators of all major groups in the WTO. This representation ensures that all positions, countries and regions, are represented in the negotiations.

The term “Green Room” has its origins in British theatre and refers to the room where performers would wait when they were not needed on stage. Green Room meetings serve a useful purpose in that their informal nature allows negotiators to explore new approaches to settling difficult issues. Ministerial Green Room consultations deal with the most sensitive political issues — including tariff or subsidy cuts, or the degree of flexibility regarding those cuts. Green Room meetings often run until the early hours of the morning and can stretch out for days. They can also be tense and dramatic settings in which nerves are taut and tempers evident.

When convergence is reached in the Green Room, co-ordinators report back to their groups to relay their accounts of the meeting. Group members react to these reports and may approve or reject proposals. They could also ask the co-ordinator to go back to the Green Room to seek clarification or more concessions from trading partners. Sometimes a small number of countries may have specific concerns about what is being proposed. In such cases, the Director-General, or negotiating group chairs or facilitators, consult such members in an effort to accommodate their concerns and thereby enable them to join the consensus.


Trade Negotiations Committee

Meetings of the Trade Negotiations Committee were held from 21 to 30 July. The TNC comprises representatives of all 153 members of the WTO. It is chaired by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy and has oversight of the whole Doha round. The TNC Chair reports to the General Council on the Committee's activity, and will do so at the next General Council on 31 July.

Prior to formal TNC meetings, there are usually informal meetings, known as Informal Heads of Delegation, at which discussions and negotiations in smaller groups are aired before the entire membership. Often, these meetings are preceded by a series of consultations held in smaller groups or one-on-one in which members express their views on what has emerged from the Green Room.

The TNC co-ordinates the efforts undertaken in the nine Doha negotiating groups. The chairs of these groups report to the Chair of the TNC Lamy. In three cases — Non-Agricultural Market Access, Rules and Trade Facilitation — new negotiating groups were established. In five others — Agriculture, Services, Trade and Development, Trade-Related Intellectual Property and Trade and Environment — negotiations are conducted in existing committees and councils meeting in Special Session. These Special Sessions are dedicated entirely to the Doha negotiations and have separate chairs from the regular committees and councils, which deal with other WTO work. Negotiations concerning the Dispute Settlement Understanding are conducted in the Special Session of the Dispute Settlement Body and are linked to the Doha round, but are technically not part of it.


Single Undertaking

In Doha, Ministers agreed that final decisions on any element of the Doha Development round could not be made until the results had been “established” in all areas of the round. This principle, known as the Single Undertaking, means that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. This means that agreement on modalities in agriculture and industrial goods trade, while providing a significant boost to the Doha negotiations, would not be secured until all elements of the round have been approved by a consensus of WTO members. The idea behind the Single Undertaking is that it helps to engender a consensus by creating a more balanced package of agreements in which there will be something for everyone.

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November 2001, Doha
At the WTO Fourth Ministerial Conference, ministers agree to launch a new round of trade talks, placing development needs at the core.

September 2003, Cancún
The Fifth Ministerial Conference ends without consensus on how to move the negotiations forward.

July 2004, Geneva
Members adopt a framework for the negotiations on agriculture, NAMA & Services (the “July Package”), which has served as a basis for the work since then on these topics.

January 2005
Original deadline to conclude the round is missed.

December 2005, Hong Kong
At the Sixth Ministerial Conference, ministers advance negotiations to conclude the round by the end of 2006. The Hong Kong package enhances commitment in agriculture and NAMA, while mapping out all other areas in the Negotiations. Governments agreed to commit billions of dollars to an Aid for Trade package which would complement the Doha Round.

July 2006
Talks suspended

January 2007
Talks resumed

July 2008, Geneva
Members to discuss “July 2008 package”: establishment of Agriculture and NAMA modalities. Roadmap of all topics toward conclusion end 2008.