TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar17/20)
31 March 2017
Third World Network

EU, Canada campaign against Asian nominee for Chair of Agri talks
Published in SUNS #8429 dated 24 March 2017

Geneva, 23 Mar (D. Ravi Kanth) - Ahead of the informal heads of delegations meeting on Friday (24 March), the European Union and Canada along with other developed countries have intensified their campaign to block the nominee of the Asian Group of developing countries, Ms Irene B. K. Young of Hong Kong-China, from becoming the chair of the Doha agriculture negotiating body on grounds of affiliation, according to trade envoys familiar with the development.

As a counter to the Asian Group's choice, the EU, Canada, and other developed countries have proposed Mexico's new trade envoy Ambassador Roberto Zapata Barradas, promoting his candidature as a "neutral" candidate - knowing full well that Mexico has all along been a staunch promoter of trade interests/priorities of industrialized countries, in the region and outside at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the rich country club, the envoy said, asking not to be quoted.

[At the 2003 Cancun Ministerial meeting of the WTO, Mexico as Chair, sided with the US and EU (who on eve of Cancun had joined hands against developing countries to derail the programme to pursue agriculture reform by eliminating heavy agri-subsidies of the US, EU and other industrialised countries), resulting in the spectacular failure of that Ministerial. SUNS]

The face-off between the two sides - the Asian Group of developing countries on the one side, and the EU-led developed countries on the other - has led to an impasse in finalizing the chair for the Doha agriculture negotiations as well as the slate of other chairs for the WTO's regular bodies.

The WTO General Council chair, Ambassador Xavier Carim of South Africa, and the Director-General Roberto Azevedo will convene an informal meeting of heads of delegations on Friday ostensibly to inform about the festering impasse.

But behind the scenes, Argentina and Brazil have mounted a campaign at the behest of the EU and other developed countries that they could accept any candidate other than the Asian nominee for the agriculture chair, said a South American trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

Last month, the Asian Group of developing countries nominated the permanent representative of Hong Kong (China) Ms Irene B. K. Young as their choice to fill the vacancy of the Doha negotiating body for agriculture after the previous chair Ambassador Vangelis Vitalis returned to his capital to become New Zealand's chief trade negotiator.

Subsequently, the Asian Group of developing countries made it clear that the chair for the Doha agriculture negotiations ought to be from a developing country and not from New Zealand, which held the post since the failed Cancun ministerial meeting in 2003.

New Zealand's two successive trade envoys Ambassador Tim Grosser (2003-2005) and Ambassador Crawford Falconer (2005 to 2009) were credited with bringing rapid progress in the Doha agriculture negotiations.

While Ambassador Grosser was responsible for overseeing the negotiations that produced the 2004 July Framework Agreement on Agriculture, Ambassador Falconer led members in arriving at the 2008 revised draft modalities that almost decided the final landing zones in the Doha agriculture dossier.

The 2008 revised draft modalities, which were blocked by the US because of the underlying commitments in agriculture, provided clear landing zones in a balanced and equitable framework.

The former Brazilian trade envoy and now the WTO's second-term Director-General Roberto Azevedo said in 2011: "The December 2008 draft modalities are the basis for negotiations and represent the endgame in terms of the landing zones of ambition. Any marginal adjustments in the level of ambition of those texts may be assessed only in the context of the overall balance of trade-offs, bearing in mind that agriculture is the engine of the Round.

"The draft modalities embody a delicate balance achieved after ten years of negotiations. This equilibrium cannot be ignored or upset, or we will need readjustments of the entire package with horizontal repercussions. Such adjustments cannot entail additional unilateral concessions from developing countries."

After becoming the Director-General in September 2013, Azevedo quietly turned his back on the revised draft modalities in an attempt to ensure that the US interests in agriculture ruled the roost at the WTO, according to several trade envoys.

Among subsequent New Zealand's trade envoys who chaired the Doha negotiating body for agriculture, the work done by Ambassador Vangelis Vitalis is credited for bringing about a serious engagement among members to wrap-up the negotiations on the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security despite intense opposition from the US, the EU, and other major developed countries, said an African trade envoy.

Nevertheless, the developing countries decided that they will not support New Zealand's new trade envoy David Walker on grounds that he was slowing down the progress made by his predecessor Falconer through his revised draft modalities.

Against this backdrop, the Asian Group of developing countries proposed Ms Young of Hong Kong (China), who is now currently the chair for the Trade Policy Review Body, as a proper choice for addressing outstanding Doha agriculture issues on a balanced footing.

With nine months left for the WTO's eleventh ministerial meeting, the Asian Group repeatedly pointed out that she will be able to oversee the negotiations for addressing issues such as the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, the special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, and domestic support, said an Asian trade envoy.

In an attempt to block her selection, the EU, Canada, and other developed countries said Ms Young has an affiliation to China, according to trade envoys familiar with the deliberations.

Subsequently, the industrialized countries proposed Uruguay's trade envoy Ambassador Gustavo Miguel Vanerio Balbela as the choice of the CAIRNS group and GRULAC countries.

But, for some inexplicable reasons, Ambassador Balbela chose to withdraw from the contest.

In place of Ambassador Balbela, the industrialized countries have now nominated Ambassador Roberto Zapata Barradas of Mexico as a compromise candidate, knowing full well that Mexico's affiliations to the industrialized countries is as clear as sunlight, said an envoy from the Asian Group of developing countries.

The Asian Group rejected the compromise candidate on grounds that Ms Young is being opposed on political considerations without any credible reasons. The Asian Group has made it clear that it is not going to change its position, the envoy suggested.

Meanwhile, to scuttle Ms Young's nomination as the chair, Argentina and Brazil have apparently suggested that they are willing to accept any candidate other than Ms Young, the envoy suggested.

In short, the developed countries are leaving no stone unturned to have their candidate as the chair for the Doha agriculture negotiating body, given its importance for finalizing the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security before Buenos Aires.

The EU, Canada, and their supporters who raised numerous hurdles in finalizing the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security want a chair who can whittle down the developmental elements in the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security at the eleventh ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires later this year, according to trade envoys.