TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jun17/06)
14 June 2017
Third World Network

South nations demand credible, concrete outcomes on Doha at MC11
Published in SUNS #8479 dated 12 June 2017

Paris, 9 Jun (D. Ravi Kanth) -- Trade ministers from India, South Africa, Indonesia, and the ACP countries on Thursday called for credible and concrete outcomes based on the outstanding Doha issues at the World Trade Organization's eleventh ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires in December, according to people familiar with the development.

Meeting on the margins of the annual OECD ministerial meeting in Paris on 8 June, these South countries demanded outcomes on the permanent solution for public stockholding (PSH) programs for food security, and credible commitments by developed countries for reducing their trade-distorting domestic support.

Both India and South Africa maintained that the developing countries cannot be asked to make any payments in trade-distorting domestic support which was largely a problem created by major developed countries.

India's trade minister Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman and South Africa's trade minister Mr. Rob Davies also spoke against deliverables on e-commerce, investment facilitation, and other new issues which are not part of the mandate.

The Paris meeting failed to bring about any consensus on what needs to be accomplished at the Buenos Aires meeting as trade ministers from the over two dozen countries/groupings stuck each to their own core priorities which differed from one to the other, several trade ministers told SUNS.

Sitharaman said she cannot visualize any outcome at Buenos Aires without the permanent solution for public stockholding programs.

She insisted that the special safeguard mechanism (SSM) must be finalized for addressing the inequities of the Agreement on Agriculture.

On domestic support, she said the developed countries are required to undertake commitments. She insisted that New Delhi will not accept attempts to shift the burden on to developing countries.

India also demanded enhanced flexibilities for small and artisanal fishermen in India on grounds that they survive for their livelihood on artisanal fisheries. India said e-commerce is not part of the mandate.

Indonesia, South Africa and the ACP countries along with India insisted that the mandated issues in the Doha work program must be addressed before considering any non-mandated issues.

In an interview with the SUNS, South Africa's trade minister warned about the dangers of repeating the Nairobi ministerial meeting of December 2015 in Buenos Aires during the eleventh ministerial conference, saying opaque and non-credible practices could lead to a deadlock.

He said "Nairobi is not replicable even though members agreed on the agriculture export competition on which there was consensus."

Minister Davies said the proposed informal trade ministerial meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, in the second week of October is going to be the crucial "stock-taking meeting" that will decide whether members can finalize credible and balanced outcomes at Buenos Aires.

"Marrakesh has to be the moment of truth and even before that things must be clearly decided," the South African minister emphasized.

He said the informal ministerial meeting in Paris had failed to bring about any consensus yet on any issue for the eleventh ministerial meeting. "There are complications on almost all issues that people are talking at this juncture which is acknowledged by the director-general," he said.

Minister Davies said there are lots of proposals on the table at this moment but there is no detailed engagement among members.

He said there is sharp opposition against various proposals, including unresolved issues in the Doha work program which are very important to African countries.

"It is not at all clear that adequate consensus will lead to concrete outcomes on domestic support," he said.

Minister Davies maintained that those who had caused the historic distortions in global agriculture must pay for the proposed reduction commitments.

Minister Davies called for the speedy resolution of mandated issues such as the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security.

"I think there is more energy on some of the new issues which are un-mandated," he said, adding it is a "funny situation and a season for everybody for making proposals."

He acknowledged that some of the new issues such as e-commerce are the alternative gateway in a world which is changing.

Even though e-commerce is a part of the new world with huge advantages for many people, it could also "land up in a winner takes it all model as it is skewed towards the few while many others will be left behind," he cautioned.

"That is what is happening now and until that is changed, multilateral cooperation has a role to play in creating inclusivity," he said.

Minister Davies emphasized that "If members just have the traditional rules for trade (on e-commerce) that will freeze the status quo and enhances and strengthens the advantages of the early comers against the late entrants."

He said South Africa has no problem about a work program or conversations or discussions for creating greater inclusivity for addressing development challenges.

"But there is a huge gulf between that and saying that we are about to write international rules, legally-binding multilateral trade rules," Minister Davies argued.

The United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said outcomes in international trade must remain "free, fair, and reciprocal" while insisting that there is no convergence on the possible deliverables for the Buenos Aires meeting.

Ambassador Lighthizer severely criticized the workings of the WTO, particularly the rulings issued by Dispute Settlement Body and the Appellate Body.

Ambassador Lighthizer did not mince words, suggesting that the global trade body is not "perfect." He said there is a dynamic discussion currently underway in the US on the ongoing trade issues, emphasizing that international trade should be "free, fair, and reciprocal."

The USTR said Washington has lot of concerns with the WTO, especially on the rulings delivered by the Dispute Settlement Body and the Appellate Body.

Ambassador Lighthizer said there is lack of transparency in the WTO in terms of failure to comply with notifications, and some countries have not notified their subsidy and other measures - which is a major challenge to address at the WTO.

As regards the preparations for the WTO's eleventh ministerial meeting and the expected deliverables, Ambassador Lighthizer said he sees little convergence on any of the issues at this juncture.

Trade ministers from several countries - the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, and Korea among others - delivered an optimistic assessment of the possible deliverables at the Buenos Aires meeting.

They mentioned a list of deliverables on fisheries subsidies, domestic regulation in services, trade-distorting domestic support, digital trade, investment facilitation, and small and medium enterprises.

The three-hour meeting attended by trade ministers from more than two dozen countries revealed sharp differences over the deliverables for the eleventh ministerial meeting.

Effectively, there is no consensus on what must be accomplished at the Buenos Aires meeting in seven months.

WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo delivered a sombre assessment, saying that he cannot see any low- hanging fruits for harvesting in Buenos Aires. He encouraged members to accelerate work in Geneva.

Argentina said the Buenos Aires meeting must deliver concrete outcomes on issues that are currently being discussed in Geneva.

It suggested three informal ministerial meetings - two in Geneva before the summer break and one in Marrakesh in the second week of October.

The EU's trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom suggested that domestic regulation, trade-distorting domestic support, and e-commerce among others could be finalized at the Buenos Aires meeting.

Japan spoke about digital trade, and investment as the possible candidates. Japan also called for resuming the stalled negotiations on the plurilateral initiatives for environmental goods and Trade in Services Agreement.

In short, the Paris meeting failed to produce any consensus as major industrialized countries along with several developing countries attempted to pull the agenda hard in favour of new issues while leading developing countries stuck to their core Doha issues, trade ministers said. +