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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (May17/13)
16 May 2017
Third World Network


Positions unchanged on public stockholding, SSM, HOD told
Published in SUNS #8459 dated 10 May 2017


Geneva, 9 May (Kanaga Raja) -- An informal Heads of Delegation meeting at the World Trade Organization on Monday showed that members remain sharply divided on the key issues and possible deliverables at MC11 in Buenos Aires, with a large majority of developing countries insisting that the focus should be based on the Doha Work Programme and Nairobi Ministerial decisions, and not on any new issues like E-commerce or investment facilitation.

The United States cautioned against raising undue expectations.

Reports at the Heads of Delegation (HOD) meeting by the Chairs of the various WTO negotiating groups on their recent consultations have revealed continued differences among the Membership on the key issues, in particular on public stockholding for food security purposes and on the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM), which are of crucial importance to developing countries.

The Chairs of the various Doha Work Programme negotiating bodies were reporting at the HOD on their recent consultations on key issues in the run-up to the eleventh ministerial conference in Buenos Aires this December.

On the issue of public stockholding, the Chair of the agriculture negotiations reported that while members are cognizant of the mandate to find a permanent solution by MC11, positions on this issue have not evolved, while on the SSM, divergent opinions remain on what an outcome would be in this area.

The HOD meeting also heard the Director-General, Roberto Azevedo, offering his assessment of the state of play in the negotiations to date.

A number of delegations intervened following the reports by the DG and the various Chairs, highlighting their priorities for possible outcomes at MC11.

In their interventions, the developing countries including the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the African Group highlighted the importance of outcomes on public stockholding for food security purposes and the SSM at MC11.

The African Group stressed that special and differential treatment (S&DT) is an integral part of all multilateral agreements.

On the issue of domestic regulation in services (dealing with issues such as transparency, technical standards etc), the African Group pointed out that this seems to be an attempt to narrow developing countries' policy space, and impinged on the right to regulate.

The developing countries also called on members to stick to the 1998 mandate on E-commerce.

(An article on the interventions of various delegations at the informal HOD will appear in a forthcoming issue of SUNS).

REPORTS BY DG AND CHAIRS OF NEGOTIATING GROUPS

According to trade officials, in his assessment of the state of play in the negotiations, the Director-General said that time was running short with respect to the preparations for MC11. It is important for members to avoid staying in their comfort zones and repeating old positions, he said.

The Director-General (in his comments as posted on the WTO website) said: "Members have been very active in recent weeks. They have been exploring different areas and in some of them they are beginning to move towards higher levels of specificity. The Doha negotiating groups have been continuing their work, and some have been particularly active."

"We have seen a number of new papers and ideas being put forward covering issues such as domestic regulation, trade remedies, services facilitation and investment facilitation. I am informed that other papers and ideas are in the pipeline in areas such as special and differential treatment and SMEs."

Azevedo said that by the summer break, preparations for Buenos Aires should be moving much more crisply.

"My hope is that we can sustain this prevailing momentum and positive engagement," he said. "Of course this should include steps on development and in support of LDCs - as well as steps in those areas where action is mandated at MC11, such as public stockholding. The forthcoming Aid for Trade Global Review will help to put a very welcome spotlight on some of these issues. Time is passing very quickly. By the summer our preparations for Buenos Aires should be advancing with a much greater sense of clarity and purpose."

"As I have said before, proponents have a particular responsibility here to build momentum behind their ideas. The Chairs and I will do our part to keep the entire membership on board for any progress that you can collectively achieve," said Azevedo.

The Chairs of the various Doha negotiating groups then reported on their recent consultations.

According to trade officials, the new Chair of the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session, Ambassador Stephen Karau of Kenya, reported that he has held 20 consultations including with group coordinators.

The Chair pointed to priorities, process and prospects. He had asked the delegations that he met with on their priorities for MC11 and what process would lead to an outcome that they would like to see.

On the prospects, the Chair had asked members what are the main difficulties that might make it difficult for an agreed outcome.

He voiced encouragement at the level of engagement of most delegations. The discussions on process are more advanced than on the others.

On the question of priorities, while there are diverging views on what can be achieved on domestic support by MC11, a large number of delegations said that this is one of their priority issues.

There are some contextual differences and several countries did put forward what they said were red-lines on this issue.

Members are more positively ready to identify potential deliverables before the summer break, said the Chair.

On domestic support on cotton, the overwhelming majority of members support meaningful outcomes on this issue.

On the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes, the Chair said all members are cognizant of the mandate to find a permanent solution by MC11 but positions have not evolved, most notably on the point of who should suggest ways to address the concerns of the non-proponents.

The Chair reported that there has been very little action on the issue of agricultural market access.

Some members would like to see an outcome in this area, but others have said that it is very difficult to see an outcome by MC11.

On the Special Safeguard Mechanism, the Chair said that there is recognition on the need to pursue negotiations, but there are divergent opinions on what the outcome would be.

The Chair also highlighted the issue of export restrictions.

On the way forward, the Chair said that he would hold an open-ended meeting on 1 June, with dedicated sessions on public stockholding and the SSM.

The Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules, Ambassador Wayne McCook of Jamaica, said that there has been a lot of action on fisheries subsidies, with five proposals being tabled to date. All of them refer to SDG target 14.6.

Members have begun to talk about specific topics and the idea is to deepen technical discussions on these issues.

The Chair also noted that China has put forward a new proposal on trade remedies and this will be taken up on 11 May.

The Chair of the Council for Trade in Services in Special Session, Ambassador
Hector Marcelo Cima of Argentina, reported that the areas of discussion have been domestic regulation, trade facilitation in services, market access and E-commerce.

He maintained that a good number of members have shown an interest in market access and E-commerce but concrete proposals were needed in order to take these issues up.

Members are reflecting on what to do but we do not currently have proposals on the table, which are needed very soon.

On the issue of domestic regulation, the Chair said that there are proposals to deal with the administration of measures, transparency, development issues and technical standards.

According to the Chair, there is a wide level of acceptance that these issues can go forward. He said that the next steps will be a complete set of proposals on the table before the summer break.

The Chair said that there has been a good level of discussion on India's proposal on trade facilitation in services (at the Working Party on Domestic Regulation, the Council for Trade in Services and at the Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services.)

According to trade officials, the Chair maintained that Members' views differ on this, but there is strong support and there has been much positive statements in terms of members' reactions to India's proposal.

The Chair said he stands ready to hold a special session in June, if that is what's required.

The Chair of the NAMA negotiating group, Ambassador Didier Chambovey of Switzerland, said that nothing has changed since the HOD in December 2016. There has been no movement at all on the issue of tariff cutting.

There are those who do not want to cut tariffs in any way, shape or form, those who link the issue to agriculture, those who believe a multilateral approach to tariff cutting is not going to work and prefer a plurilateral approach, and those who say that a tariff cut is not feasible and the focus should instead be on increasing tariff bindings and reducing "water" in members' tariff schedules.

Some members have said that they are keen to cut tariffs but no new proposals
have been forthcoming, said the Chair.

On non-tariff barriers (NTBs), the Chair said the situation is a little bit more encouraging but no new proposals have come forward.

The Chair of the Committee on Trade and Environment in Special Session, Ambassador Syed Tauqir Shah of Pakistan, said that he has held a series of bilaterals. There is support among the membership but he has not detected any change in positions. No one has come forward with any concrete proposal.

Some delegations say that fisheries subsidies should be considered as an environmental contribution as it has a very strong trade and environment dimension. Others would like to see the negotiations restarted on the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA).

Deputy DG David Shark of the United States, on behalf of the Chair of Committee on Trade and Development in Special Session, said that with respect to the proposals on special and differential treatment (SDT), the LDC group and the African Group are looking to shorten the list of proposals and will put forward something very soon.

Deputy DG Yi Xiaozhun of China, on behalf of the Chair of the TRIPS Council in Special Session, said that the situation has not advanced since 8 December 2016. There are differences in substance and scope.

Delegations that support moving forward consider that there will be little likelihood of any kind of an agreement on the GI register for wines and spirits, as well as an extension of the GI register beyond wines and spirits, he said.

Deputy DG Shark, on behalf of the new Chair of the DSB in Special Session, said that the new Chair will follow the approach set out by his predecessor. He will be looking at 12 issues that have been identified and will try to find convergence among them. The idea is to do a stocktaking just before or just after the summer break. +

 


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