TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct17/12)
19 October 2017
Third World Network
Consensus eludes trade ministers at Marrakesh
Published in SUNS #8553 dated 16 October 2017

Geneva, 13 Oct (D. Ravi Kanth) - The just-concluded informal trade ministerial summit in Marrakesh on 10 October brought into sharp focus the linkages between fisheries subsidies and improvements in the Doha trade remedy rules, and between the permanent solution for public stockholding programs and domestic support.

These issues are being targeted for outcomes at the World Trade Organization's eleventh ministerial meeting (MC11) in Buenos Aires in December, participants told SUNS.

China and Russia conveyed that they would need an outcome on improvements such as transparency and due process in the anti-dumping and countervailing measures, along with a possible outcome on fisheries subsidies, especially on the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The European Union insisted on a linkage between the permanent solution for public stockholding (PSH) programs for food security and an outcome on domestic support in agriculture.

However, India, China, South Africa, and Indonesia (on behalf of the G-33 group of countries) flatly rejected any linkage between the permanent solution for PSH programs and domestic support in agriculture, several participants told SUNS.

The two-day Marrakesh meeting attended by more than 35 countries failed to bring any consensus due to continued entrenched positions on agriculture, fisheries subsidies, rules, electronic commerce, domestic regulation, and investment facilitation among others.

The United States ploughed its own unilateral course by asking the participants at Marrakesh to settle for a program of action for "reinvigorating" the WTO by addressing five issues (see separate story).

The US also insisted that the Doha negotiations were over at Nairobi (MC10 in 2015). It urged the participants to come to terms with the fracture of the Doha negotiations once and for all.

The US also remained opposed to finalizing a ministerial declaration at Buenos Aires.

But trade ministers from India, China, South Africa, and the coordinators for the African Group, the ACP, and Cotton-four countries among others said the Doha Work Program will continue until all outstanding issues are resolved.

As regards tweaking the mandate for electronic commerce at Buenos Aires, South Africa, India, and several other trade ministers from developing countries stood their ground, insisting that they will not accept any departure from the existing e-commerce work program of 1998.

South Africa's trade minister Rob Davies issued a hard-hitting statement against e-commerce at the ministers- only dinner on 9 October, according to a trade minister who asked not to be quoted.

Morocco, on the advice of the WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo, convened a dinner for ministers only on Monday to drum up support for e-commerce. Rob Davies' strong opposition to e-commerce was voiced at this dinner.

South Africa and the coordinator for the African Group as well as India called for credible results for improving the special and differential flexibilities.

Without mentioning "differentiation" or "graduation", the US suggested that members must grapple with the interaction between trade and development.

The US statement was clearly aimed at introducing "differentiation"/"graduation" among countries for availing the special and differential flexibilities among developing countries.

At the end of the meeting, DG Azevedo issued a summary based on the deliberations.

Azevedo made the following points:

i. The permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security remains the top priority. But there are still issues concerning transparency, safeguards, and legal permanency to be addressed.

ii. An outcome on fisheries subsidies, especially on prohibiting IUU (illegal, unreported, and unregulated) fishing. Azevedo said there are still some issues like transparency that have to be addressed.

iii. He ruled out any outcome at Buenos Aires on the improvements relating to transparency and due process in the anti-dumping and subsidy investigations sought by China and Russia.

iv. On domestic support (DS) in agriculture, he said there are many proposals on the table but an outcome is difficult. He said an incremental outcome on DS is possible at Buenos Aires.

v. Azevedo said the Cotton-four countries - Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Chad - will issue a proposal setting out the reduction commitments in domestic support. But he did not say whether the issue will be clinched at Buenos Aires.

vi. As regards the special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, Azevedo said there is no chance of any outcome because it needs more engagement, and long hours of work which ambassadors and negotiators cannot undertake.

vii. He said no outcomes are possible on market access and other outstanding issues in the export competition (pillar of agriculture).

viii. On electronic commerce, Azevedo said there are too many wide gaps which are difficult to bridge at this juncture.

ix. Commenting on investment facilitation, which is an extremely divisive issue, the director-general said the level of engagement is picking up, but the subject is very far from any outcome at Buenos Aires.

x. On the improvements in domestic regulation for trade in services as demanded by the European Union, Australia, and other members, the director-general said while there are sharp differences there is considerable engagement and a lot of support.

xi. On the improvements sought by the African Group of countries in special and differential flexibilities, Azevedo ruled out any outcomes at Buenos Aires because many of the issues would require political engagement.

xii. The director-general remained "deafeningly" silent on the paralysis created by the US in the Dispute Settlement Body even though many trade ministers highlighted the issue in their statements.

In short, the director-general issued an ambiguous report that did not either adequately or fairly reflect the level of opposition against domestic regulation, investment facilitation, and other issues.