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Trade: Concerns over draft Ministerial text

Trade: Concerns over draft Ministerial text

(Goh Chien Yen) -- The draft Ministerial text put forward on 26 November by the WTO Director-General and the General Council chair received some pleasantries over the so-called 'bottom up' approach on how the text was put together, with several developing countries however highlighting the fact that many parts of the current draft did not enjoy the agreement of all members.

Source: Third World Network

Nepal, speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, said that they were "deeply concerned that some of these reports [appended to the draft ministerial text as annexes], that could be a guide for Ministers in Hong Kong, did not go through the agreed modalities and consultative process."

The LDCs pointed out that "it has been the general understanding of the Members that the reports of the Chairs would be made to the TNC (Trade Negotiating Committee) and that a separate text would be negotiated and agreed upon for inclusion in the draft Ministerial Text." This had not taken place.

As such, the LDCs wanted an "assurance that these reports, particularly on Agriculture and NAMA, that are prepared under the responsibility of the respective Chairs as they see the negotiations, will neither alter the Doha mandate" nor the July framework adopted last August. More specifically, "this assurance should be in paragraph 2 of the Draft Ministerial Declaration," the LDCs underscored. "Without such an assurance there has to be a reference to the effect that neither the Doha mandate nor the [July framework] would be affected by the chairs' reports, in each paragraph [in the Declaration] that refers to a Chair's report", the LDC added.

Several developing country members also objected to the services part of the draft ministerial declaration. Malaysia pointed out that there was "no consensus on Chair's text" on services, which now formed Annex C of the draft declaration, and that it was also imbalanced in relation to the parts of the draft declaration on agriculture and NAMA.

The services text is "too prescriptive" and "recalibration is needed" in line with the agriculture and NAMA annexes, Malaysia argued. Malaysia expressed its concern that Annex C on services went beyond the agreed modalities as contained in the Doha mandate.

This concern was shared by many other developing countries including Jamaica, Nigeria, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Indonesia, Venezuela and the Philippines.

Nigeria articulated its concern over the inclusion of what it regarded as new elements to the negotiations such as sectoral and modal objectives and the plurilateral approach and reiterated the need for the negotiations to be based on the GATS architecture. Nigeria proposed that "only issues which enjoy consensus are to be reflected in the Annex on services."

Jamaica, Indonesia, Thailand and others underscored the fact that the services text is not a consensus document, and has not been approved by members. They also pointed out that divergences between members have not been reflected in the text. They therefore proposed that the service annex be "recalibrated."

Kenya suggested that in so doing, elements could be taken from the Arusha Declaration of African Trade Ministers.

Delegates also raised concerns with other parts of the draft Declaration. Several developing country members such as India and Nigeria had difficulties with the current Annex on NAMA. They were of the view that important negotiating principles and precepts, in particular "less than full reciprocity" in tariff reduction commitments and special and differential treatment were not sufficiently defined and clarified in the Chair's report on NAMA.

In relation to the Chair's report on agriculture, appended as Annex A to the draft declaration, the G20 stated their disappointment with the substance of the report, as it shows that members "are still very far away from completing the modalities for agriculture negotiations." Brazil, speaking on behalf of the G20, wanted to see the ministerial Draft improved. One possibility of doing so "would be to try to highlight areas of convergence in the chair's report and introducing them in the main text of the Declaration."

The G20 also suggested that issues for negotiations by Ministers in Hong Kong should be identified. "They should cover the central elements in the three pillars, having in mind the need for proportionality of commitments. These issues would include formulae for cuts and adequate disciplines in domestic support, formula for tariff reduction, sensitive products, special products and SSM."

On export competition, in which there is an agreement for elimination, the definition of a date and how to treat parallelism could provide much need push for progress. Indonesia speaking on behalf of the G33 wanted to see their recent and detailed proposal on SSM to be acknowledged in the Chair's report. This was supported by other delegations including the LDC group.

Benin and the LDC group also wanted the Annex to the draft Declaration on agriculture (Annex A) to be amended so that the "modalities on Cotton be reflected in the main text of the Annex as opposed to keeping them as footnotes," as they currently are.

During the informal HOD, the EC was of the view that the text annexes are unambitious and imbalanced, such as between the annexes on agriculture and NAMA. It said that "there needs to be more homogeneity" and this should be taken up at the TNC.

The EC felt that there should be more "explicit progress in the Declaration language, and that members have to ensure that HK will produce a balanced outcome in each sector and across the sectors. Contrary to many developing country members' perspectives, it pointed out that "progress in services and rules are lagging behind agriculture."

On the way forward, Director-General Pascal Lamy suggested that members should focus on agriculture, NAMA and Special and Differential Treatment parts of the draft declaration, "from now until the end of this week, since there remain wide divergences on these issues." As for the other issues, they should be put aside for the moment, he advised, despite the serious disagreements over them.

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