TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Nov17/15)
16 November 2017
Third World Network

South countries insist MC11 outcome must be finalised in Geneva
Published in SUNS #8574 dated 14 November 2017

Geneva, 13 Nov (D. Ravi Kanth) - Uganda along with many countries said on Friday (10 November) that the outcome document for the World Trade Organization's eleventh ministerial conference in Buenos Aires must be finalized in Geneva so as to avert the opaque process that was adopted in the run-up to the last ministerial meeting in Nairobi, in 2015, trade envoys told SUNS.

During a meeting convened by the General Council (GC) chair Ambassador Xavier Carim of South Africa on 10 November, many developing and poorest countries, particularly Uganda, issued several markers as to how the process must remain transparent and bottom-up to ensure that it is consistent with the existing WTO mandates, particularly the Doha work program.

A large majority of developing and poorest countries indicated their preference for a ministerial declaration that would clearly set out the work program, according to trade envoys present at the meeting.

The United States has already conveyed that it doesn't want a ministerial declaration with a clearly delineated work program.

The US had also indicated that members must come to terms with the fractured Doha negotiations that no longer exist, according to one trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

The GC chair sought to know how members intend to proceed i.e. open-ended meetings or a drafting group to finalize the outcome document in the next three weeks before the final General Council meeting.

Several developing countries who had indicated their preference for open-ended meetings earlier suggested that they are willing to consider the chair's suggestion for a drafting group provided it is well-represented and balanced, said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

Uganda's trade envoy Ambassador Christopher Onyanga Aparr delivered a credible blueprint as to what the outcome document must contain as well as the post-Buenos Aires work program.

The outcome document in Part I, he said, should "reiterate the importance of the WTO as a Multilateral Trading System."

"It should also highlight not only the achievements of the WTO, but also what it has not been able to achieve," he said, according to a participant present at the meeting.

Ambassador Aparr said that "members should then commit themselves to ensure that developing countries and especially LDCs not only integrate but generate benefit from the system through inter alia supporting structural transformation and industrialization in line with Agenda 2063: The Africa we want," according to the participant.

The outcome document must emphasize the "development component of the Organization as being at the heart of the work program," Uganda said.

The ministerial declaration based on the outcome document "should stress the IMPORTANCE and SANCTITY of all Ministerial Decisions," Ambassador Aparr maintained, according to another participant.

More important, the ministerial declaration "should RECALL and REAFFIRM all Ministerial Decisions, Mandates and especially the DDA [Doha Development Agenda] as an unfinished business of the WTO," the Ugandan trade envoy maintained, the other participant said.

Ambassador Aparr said the ministerial declaration "should recall and reaffirm the role and critical importance of the Organization" that works for all, particularly the major members that are developing countries by, inter alia, responding to their specific development needs and concerns.

It must stress that the WTO needs to respond to the current trends in the international landscape within the parameters of the Marrakech Agreement, he said, while rejecting calls "to abandon the legislative history" of the organization and the premature calls for reform.

The work program in the Buenos Aires ministerial declaration should only "reflect negotiated outcomes, if any, under the DDA" as well as any outcomes arising from regular work of the WTO, Uganda said.

Crucially, the post-Buenos Aires work program must give a clarion call for "concluding the remaining elements of the DDA," Uganda said.

Ambassador Aparr maintained that "any discussions on a work program should, to the greatest extent, be undertaken in Geneva."

"Any attempts to develop a detailed modalities-like WP, will lead us to failure," he warned, suggesting that members tried it in 2015 and even failed to develop a Post Bali Work Program.

He called for commencing discussions immediately on the work program, "including on the outcome document."

In the event the outcome document is taken to Buenos Aires, then, it must be finalized "in the open-ended format," Ambassador Aparr said, suggesting that Uganda is open to the GC chair's suggestion for a well-represented drafting group that is based on the diversity of membership in the organization.

Ambassador Aparr said "issues for further consideration in post MC11 work program should be listed, such as all three pillars of Agriculture, Services, Special and Differential Treatment, and LDC issues, etc."

He said "any documents to be presented for decision-making shall be shared with the members 48 hours before the session so as to enable sufficient consultations."

"A Committee of the whole should then be called to allow members to express themselves on the text," said Ambassador Aparr, maintaining that "the committee of the whole should not meet in the presence of the media which was the case in Nairobi."

The GC chair must have the sole responsibility of "transmitting documents to the ministerial conference as agreed and adopted by members at the last council meeting" scheduled to take place on November 30, said Ambassador Aparr.

He urged the WTO's director-general Roberto Azevedo to convene a meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) in his capacity as the TNC chair before "the meeting of the General Council to formally consider these matters."

Further, appointment of Ministers as Facilitators at Buenos Aires shall not involve Ministers who are coordinators of regional groups or focal points on specific subject files, Uganda said, arguing that "a Minister Facilitator should also not come from a proponent delegation."

He said questionable practices involving the appointment of ministers as facilitators in the last minute on a take-it -or-leave-it basis must stop.

Finally, the "ministerial conference should proceed on the basis of the dates and times communicated" as there is a tendency for the Secretariat to run meetings beyond the stipulated time in order to take advantage of "troublesome" delegations that would have travelled out of the country, he said.

Ambassador Aparr warned that "outcomes should not be engineered, otherwise the credibility of the outcomes shall be called into question."

Given the strong cautions issued by Uganda and other countries, the chair will hold another meeting to inform members about the drafting group.

Ambassador Carim cautioned about the limited time to prepare the outcome document. He said members do not have an open time-frame, pointing out that they have to decide the outcome document before the last General Council meeting on November 30, the envoy said.