TNC meeting takes stock of WTO negotiations
The WTO's Trade Negotiations Committee met on 13 October to take stock of the state of the Doha negotiations, with members giving views on recent developments and some members presenting a few new proposals.
The TNC met in the aftermath of an intense series of meetings involving small groups of Ministers, senior officials and diplomats that started on Monday with a mini-Ministerial in Zurich, and continued on Tuesday and Wednesday in Geneva.
The meetings had involved only a few members, while the majority had to keep track through media reports and contacts with the few diplomats that were involved.
Most of the week's meetings had focused on agriculture, starting with the Zurich mini-Ministerial during which the US and EU had presented new proposals covering domestic support and market access.
The placing of concrete numbers on reductions in tariffs and domestic support gave a catalyst to the agriculture talks, although it soon became clear that major countries were far apart in their understanding of what was desirable or possible, in both market access and domestic support.
The agriculture talks continued in Geneva, with Ministerial meetings of the Five Interested Parties or FIPs (US, EU, Brazil, India and Australia) on Tuesday and of the so-called "FIPs-plus" (i. e. the FIPs with Japan, Switzerland, Canada, China, and New Zealand) on Wednesday.
However, there were no significant new developments at the FIPs or FIPs-plus meetings, according to trade diplomats. The most significant development in agriculture in Geneva in the past two days was thus the meeting of the Group of 20 developing countries, whose Ministers and officials reached agreement on concrete figures in new G20 proposals on market access and domestic support.
The presentation of these new G20 proposals was probably the highlight of the TNC meeting Thursday, as the proposals had not yet been ready during the Zurich, FIPs and FIPs-plus meetings.
Though agriculture took the centre stage, there had also been meetings on other issues. On Wednesday, there was a meeting of some Ministers of the newly formed "core group on services" (co-chaired by the US and India).
According to diplomatic sources, some of the members led by the EU again advocated the "multilateral complementary approach", but several other countries (led by Brazil) cautioned against this, stating that it contradicted the existing GATS structure and flexibilities.
And on Tuesday, there was an informal open-ended meeting on NAMA (non agricultural market access), involving only diplomats (and not Ministers) during which the same differences among members persisted, according to trade diplomats.
At the TNC meeting Thursday, the Chair Pascal Lamy gave a rather optimistic picture, saying that the developments this week had "switched on" the engines of negotiations again, but cautioning that there is no guarantee that the engines could lift the plane to reach the altitude needed to reach the Hong Kong Ministerial. (See separate article).
After he briefly reviewed the situation on the various issues, the chairs of several negotiating groups presented brief updates.
Chair of the agriculture negotiations, Ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand, said as a result of the recent meetings, there was some progress on export competition and on domestic support, there was forward movement since last week and he expected the shape to be more clear soon.
On market access, he said there are now several proposals with numbers on them, so there had been progress, but the positions are far apart. Momentum and political decisions are now needed.
He laid out a tight schedule for the next 10 days, starting with an open-ended information sharing meeting on Friday afternoon, and continuing with a full Agriculture Week starting on 17 October with informal consultations in small groups, an open ended informal meeting on 18 October morning and another one on 21 October afternoon. The focus would be on market access, the area identified as having the most divisions.
Lamy also announced that some Ministers would be in Geneva on 19-20 October for Ministerial-level meetings on agriculture. It is expected that the meetings will be of the FIPs and possibly FIPs-plus members.
The chair of the NAMA negotiations, Ambassador Stefan Johanneson of Iceland, reported on last Tuesday's NAMA informal meeting, which showed that views of members were still far apart on the tariff reduction formula and flexibilities for developing countries.
The previous chair of the services negotiations, Alejandro Jara (who is now deputy director-general of WTO) reported that the number of offers is still unsatisfactory. He said there had been various ideas on the proposed "complementary approach" and acknowledged that some countries had concerns that the new proposed methods are contradictory to the GATS agreement. The next services negotiating week is from October 30 to November 3.
Brazil presented the new G20 proposals, in doing so indicating that its figures on market access represented the group's maximum compromise, and that it would not be able to make more concessions there.
The EC and the US gave brief summaries of their recent agriculture proposals, and Switzerland said it supported the G10 agriculture proposals.
India reiterated that the G20 proposals occupied the middle ground, implying they were the basis in seeking consensus. Referring to comments (for instance, by Lamy) that there seemed to be a convergence on the Swiss formula in NAMA, India stressed that it believed the ABI (Argentina, Brazil,
India) formula was better. It added that flexibility for developing countries is important in NAMA and this should not be considered as a trade-off against other issues. On services, it was looking for a balanced package.
Zambia, which coordinates the LDC Group, reminded that this is a Development Round and more attention should be paid to capacity building for LDCs.
China also stressed the need to take up development issues, including SDT for developing countries in agriculture, cotton, TRIPS, and the situation of newly acceded members.
Mauritius speaking for the ACP Group was concerned about the sudden rise in level of ambition in market access in agriculture. Such high ambition would have devastating effects on ACP countries and for many ACP countries the agriculture sector would simply disappear.
On NAMA, the ACP Group stressed the need for policy space and flexibility regarding the principle of less than full reciprocity, commitment towards LDCs and small and vulnerable economies, and the problem of preference erosion.
On services, the ACP Group expressed concern with the proposed complementary approaches which threatens GATS flexibilities and the services negotiating guidelines. "We wish to register our clear objection to these proposals."