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WTO: Ministers Agree On Declaration

Ministers Agree On Declaration That ‘Puts Round Back On Track’

Despite the long hours and hard work, “it was worth it,” WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy told a press conference late in the evening of the final day. “We have managed to put the Round back on track after a period of hibernation.

Hong Kong’s Commerce, Industry and Technology Secretary John Tsang, who chaired the conference, outlined the achievements in the declaration:

“We have secured an end date for all export subsidies in agriculture, even if it is not in a form to everybody’s liking.

“We have an agreement on cotton.

“We have a very solid duty-free, quota-free access for the 32 least-developed country members.

“In agriculture and NAMA (non-agricultural market access), we have fleshed out a significant framework for full modalities.

“And in services, we now have an agreed text that points positively to the way forward.”

The declaration was agreed after several days of meetings late into the night, the last two continuing to the morning. “It’s been a hard day’s night. And I’ve been working like a dog,” Secretary Tsang said, quoting John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

With the 44-page document now agreed, members face intense pressure in the new year to complete “full modalities” in agriculture and non-agricultural market access by the new deadline they have set themselves, 30 April 2006.

Compared to the draft forwarded to Hong Kong from Geneva, a number of issues have been settled or partly settled. The most straightforward is the agreement to end export subsidies in agriculture by 2013, but this was only agreed at the last minute, and members paid tribute to the European Union which had the greatest difficulty on this issue.

The declaration makes clear that the agreed date is conditional. Loopholes have to be plugged to avoid hidden export subsidies in credit, food aid and the sales of exporting state enterprises.

For cotton the elimination is accelerated to the end of 2006. In addition, cotton exports from least-developed countries will be allowed into developed countries without duty or quotas from the start of the period for implementing the new agriculture agreement. Ministers have also agreed to aim to cut trade-distorting domestic subsidies on cotton by more than would normally apply under the new agreement, and to do so more quickly.

The two sides negotiating this difficult subject paid tribute to each other for what they described as the spirit of compromise: United States and the four countries pushing for an agreement on cotton (Bali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali).

A number of other details have been agreed in agriculture, non-agricultural market access and services.

Closing session
Formal plenary 10.15 pm

The Ministerial Conference adopted the declaration with amendments proposed by the chairperson on behalf of the United States and the “Cotton Four”.

Cuba and Venezuela formally expressed their reservations on the texts on non-agricultural market access and services and the meeting noted these.

The meeting also noted statements made by ministers in the preceding informal heads of delegations meeting. Almost all of them described the agreement as not fully meeting their expectations but most urged fellow-members to accept it as a good basis for making progress in the negotiations.

Many delegations thanked Hong Kong for providing excellent facilities, good organization and a secure environment for the negotiations. They said future Ministerial Conferences would find it difficult to top Hong Kong’s record.

Most delegations praised the “bottom-up” approach (inputs coming directly from members rather than from above) as contributing to the success of the conference.

Many delegations welcomed the agreement on 2013 as deadline for eliminating of agriculture export subsidies although most of them said they would have preferred an earlier date. Some delegations commended the “statemanship” of the EU and the US in achieving agreement.

A number of delegations underlined the positive results in the development issues — particularly in cotton and the package for least-developed countries — and the importance of capturing these by adopting the draft declaration. The new draft was a step in the right direction, and a good basis for continuing work in Geneva next year.

Some delegations expressed disappointment with what they said was lack of ambition in non-agricultural market access and services, while others said the level in these areas were too high.

Delegations emphasized the importance of future WTO work in products of export interest to them, in particular bananas and cotton.

A touch of colour: director-general’s summing up

Speaking to journalists afterwards, WTO Direct-General Pascal Lamy said that in the last night alone, negotiators consumed 350 cups of coffee. During the week, 450 meetings were organized, six major gatherings and over 200 consultations by facilitators. The result:

“There has been a rebalancing in favour of developing countries, whose interests have now been placed at the heart of our negotiations as we provided for in 2001 when we launched this round.

“And more importantly, we have built the political energy necessary to advance technically during 2006, and believe me, there will be plenty to do next year. We now have enough fuel in the tank to cruise at the right negotiating altitude new.

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