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WTO Ministerial Hong Kong - Summary Of 17/12/05


Day 5: Revised draft circulated, ministers comment

Ministers headed for another long night of negotiations after a revised draft ministerial declaration was circulated in the early afternoon of 17 December. At an evening informal meeting of the heads of delegations, they said the draft reflects further achievements since the original was forwarded from meetings in Geneva in November. They then got down to resolving remaining differences in the text.

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 Ministerial Conference.

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 the 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.

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