TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct17/26)
31 October 2017
Third World Network

A new vice-chair, consultations to intensify on organisation of MC11
Published in SUNS #8563 dated 30 October 2017

Geneva, 27 Oct (Kanaga Raja) - With less than seven weeks to go for the eleventh Ministerial Conference of the WTO, the Chair of the General Council, Ambassador Xavier Carim of South Africa, is holding intensified consultations and meetings on the organization of MC11 and the kind of outcome document members would like to see coming out of MC11.

A formal meeting of the General Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Thursday (26 October) also agreed to elect Mr David Parker, the new trade minister of New Zealand, to replace Mr Todd McClay also of New Zealand as one of the three vice-chairs of the upcoming WTO's eleventh WTO ministerial conference (MC11).

According to trade officials, at the rather short one-hour meeting, the Chair of the General Council, Ambassador Xavier Carim of South Africa, gave an account of his various consultations and meetings on the forthcoming MC11, and announced that he will be holding increased consultations and intensification of meetings on the question of the organisation of MC11 and what kind of outcome that members would like to see coming out of MC11.

(At the Heads of Delegations (HoD) meeting on 24 October, the US had stated its position that there cannot be any negotiated outcomes at Buenos Aires. It also reportedly is opposed to finalising a ministerial declaration at Buenos Aires. See below.)

On the organisation of MC11, according to trade officials, the issues relate to whether there will be Heads of Delegations (HoD) discussions, apart from the opening and closing ceremonies, which will be thematic in nature on specific topics, for example, or will there be other topics that members wish to discuss or will it be a general discussion, and how these will be organised.

On the issue of the vice-chairs for MC11, the General Council had elected three vice-chairs at its meeting on 26 July (see SUNS #8512 dated 28 July 2017).

The three are Dr Oke-chukwu Ene-lamah, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment of Nigeria; Mr Todd McClay, the Minister of Trade of New Zealand; and Mr Edward Yau, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development of Hong Kong-China.

With a change in government in New Zealand after elections, a new trade minister, Mr David Parker, has been appointed, trade officials said.

The General Council Chair asked if the members can accept Mr Parker as the new vice chair instead of Mr McClay and this was agreed.

On the agenda item of report by the Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), and report by the Director-General Roberto Azevedo, the DG did not take the floor. But his remarks at the HoD meeting on 24 October and that of some 40 delegations that spoke were put into the record of the General Council meeting.

At that HoD meeting, a large majority of developing and least developed countries demanded that the Buenos Aires meeting deliver a credible outcome on the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, without any linkage to an outcome on the domestic support commitments.

They also strongly opposed the new issues such as investment facilitation, disciplines for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), and a new mandate for electronic commerce (see SUNS #8561 dated 26 October 2017).

Speaking at the General Council under this agenda item, Dominica, on behalf of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), spoke of the horrendous damage that was inflicted by the devastating storms that swept through the region recently.

On the current negotiations in the run-up to the Buenos Aires ministerial conference this December, Dominica said that the development dimension lies at the centre of all of our work and that special and differential treatment is very important. Not sufficient progress has been made on this front.

On the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes, Dominica said that it had some ideas including the extension of the peace clause, which it is in the process of thinking through and that it might put something forward later on.

It expressed support for the statements of the G33, the CARICOM (the Caribbean Community) and the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries made at the informal HoD meeting on 24 October.

Cameroon said that the devastation in the Caribbean is an issue that is important to Cameroon. It noted that its minister had spoken about this at the ministerial meeting in Marrakesh in October, as well as at the ACP ministerial meeting in Brussels.

On the agenda item of the implementation of the Bali and Nairobi outcomes - Statement by the Chairman - it was reported that no recommendation has come out as yet from the TRIPS Council pertaining to the question of TRIPS non-violation and situation complaints.

On the issue of export competition, the European Union has changed its schedule to reflect the elimination of export subsidies.

On public stockholding for food security purposes, no one has asked as yet to use the mechanism that was agreed through the interim decision at Bali in 2013.

On the LDC issues, in particular with respect to the services waiver for the LDCs, there was a meeting held on 10 October where the LDCs have asked for help from other members to boost the supply capacity of services enterprises of the LDCs.

Some 51 members have notified their commitments in terms of the LDC services waiver.

On the monitoring mechanism with respect to special and differential treatment, there have been no written submissions and the mechanism has not yet been tested. Discussions are going to be held in 2018 on how to make the monitoring mechanism more effective.

Some 122 members have ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).

The Philippines took the floor and said that the issue of the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) should be included in this report by the Chairman.

Cambodia, on behalf of the LDCs, said that the implementation of the TRIPS Agreement should be looked at in this context as well, including the implementation of the provisions on TRIPS and public health.

On the work programme on small economies and the report by the chair of the dedicated session of Committee on Trade and Development, Guatemala, on behalf of the small and vulnerable economies, asked that the work continue and that the upcoming ministerial conference in Buenos Aires renew the mandate for the Committee to begin exploring these issues.

On the agenda item of the eleventh ministerial conference, the General Council Chair, Ambassador Xavier Carim of South Africa, mentioned a number of important issues.

On the question of the participation of intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) as observers at MC11, the Chair said that this is a longstanding issue and that he has held consultations, but there has not been a change in positions. He does not expect this to change.

At a media briefing on 26 October, Keith Rockwell, the WTO spokesman, said there is a longstanding political problem over the desire of some members to have the League of Arab States to participate as an observer, with some members opposing this move (previous media reports had cited the US and Israel as being opposed).

As a result, there has not been a consensus on allowing other IGOs to participate as observers.

On the issue of e-commerce, the General Council Chair said that he had held two open-ended sessions and held bilateral discussions with 39 members, with four issues being taken up including the extension of the moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce transactions and the 1998 Work Programme on E-commerce.

The Chair said that there seems to be a convergence on the temporary extension of the moratorium. A couple of members have expressed concerns over the revenue implications. There are also concerns about moving beyond the existing work programme.

According to Rockwell, on the question of the organisation of MC11 and what kind of outcome that members want to see coming out of the conference, the Chair said that he will be having increased consultations and an intensification of the meetings to try and find out what it is that members would like to see.

[At the HoD meeting on 24 October, the US had maintained that there cannot be any negotiated outcomes at Buenos Aires. It said that MC11 will be reckoned as a success if it results in an agreed blueprint for starting a dialogue to strengthen the WTO by rejuvenating its institutional structures in the near future (see SUNS #8561 dated 26 October 2017). The US reportedly also remains opposed to finalizing a ministerial declaration at Buenos Aires (see SUNS #8553 dated 16 October 2017).]

Asked by SUNS at the media briefing on 26 October if it is true that the US is opposed to any ministerial declaration coming out of MC11, Rockwell, the WTO spokesman, said that at the HoD meeting on 24 October, the US had said that they did not expect any negotiated outcomes coming from Buenos Aires.

When pressed on this issue about US opposition to the ministerial declaration (in reference to Rockwell's mention of negotiated outcomes), Rockwell said: "Don't you think a document is an outcome?"

He said that what the US said at the HOD meeting on Tuesday is that they do not foresee a negotiated outcome.

"What that means in terms of future work etc, what that means about the actual shape of the document, I don't know. They did not get into that on Tuesday (at the HoD meeting). And it did not come up today. But that's a question that you should put to them, and it is an interesting question."

Rockwell explained that with respect to the negotiated text, there could be three segments to it. There could be the chapeau - the part on principles, the decisions and the way forward. Those three are the traditional way in which a ministerial declaration is shaped.

"Every ministerial is different. We had a slightly different outcome product at all of these things. What it will be this time around, I don't know. That is going to be an interesting question to follow in the remaining five or six weeks."

Rockwell earlier on in the briefing had recalled that at Nairobi (in 2015), it was a negotiated text. There were a lot of "big room" negotiations on certain parts of the text - on the chapeau, for example, which is normally less contentious as it involves things like the centrality of the multilateral trading system, the importance of development and dispute settlement.

"Frankly, it's not clear whether that would be smooth sailing this time round or not," he said.

[Civil society groups closely following WTO affairs and MC11 preparations, wondered how much of the USTR positions and postures, and US media reports that "nothing will be agreed" at MC11 message is real, and how much is deliberate misinformation intended to mask the intensive negotiations that were taking place. Argentina as host country and Azevedo as WTO Director-General, they said, seem determined to have an agreed outcome. Argentina and Azevedo are determined to have an agreed outcome, though such an outcome may remain inconclusive and intentionally ambiguous - SUNS]

Meanwhile, under other business, Chile mentioned that it would be holding a workshop on micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) on 31 October and 1 November.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo reported that a number of developing countries had been concerned that they are not represented in the Secretariat.

As a means to address this a Young Professional Programme has been put in place, whereby young people working in ministries around the world would come to work at the WTO for one year.

The programme started in January 2017 with five young professionals and a vacancy notice was issued in April this year for 15 positions. There have been 1,502 applications of which 740 were from women and 762 from men. Fifteen have been hired for the year - 10 women and five men who work across 13 divisions.

The General Council Chair also said that at the next General Council meeting (30 November-1 December), there will be an announcement of the beginning of the process for choosing the roster of WTO chairs for 2018.