TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Nov17/17)
17 November 2017
Third World Network

US doubts WTO's pre-eminence for multilateral trade liberalization
Published in SUNS #8576 dated 16 November 2017

Geneva, 15 Nov (D. Ravi Kanth) - The United States has cast doubts on the pre-eminence of the World Trade Organization for accelerating multilateral trade liberalization. The US did so on Tuesday (14 November) during a discussion at a small group meeting on the outcome document for the ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires, trade envoys familiar with the development told SUNS.

At an informal information session on Tuesday with a small group of around 30 countries, the General Council (GC) chair, Ambassador Xavier Carim of South Africa, explained how the drafting committee will proceed for preparing the outcome document.

This small group included trade envoys of the United States, the European Union, China, India, Brazil, Japan, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand, Korea, Hong Kong (China), Singapore, Mexico, Argentina, and the coordinators of the ACP (Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific) group, the African Group, the least-developed countries among others.

Ahead of the meeting, the GC chair had circulated a five-page restricted document - Job/GC/151- based on his consultations with members until now.

Ambassador Carim said his first general observation "is that all delegations acknowledged the rather difficult circumstances surrounding the preparations for this conference and the limited time we have from now until MC11."

"The vast majority nevertheless stressed that a consensual outcome document - a Ministerial Declaration - would be their preferred option," he said.

Without naming delegations, he said that "other delegations underlined that the significance of a Ministerial Declaration should not be overemphasized."

"For these delegations, while a Chair's statement was not their preferred option, such an outcome could be accepted," he said.

"In their view, the substantive results in individual areas and a clear indication on future work were more important than an agreed Ministerial Declaration," the chair said.

However, the danger with the Chair's statement is that it lacks the ministerial approval and can become a terrain for conflicting interpretations, said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

The chair said he "did hear a concern about any process aimed at producing a consensual Declaration, given the precarious situation facing Members. In this view, a Chair's statement would be a prudent course to keep in mind."

Ambassador Carim suggested that members could work on a two-part document for a possible Ministerial Declaration.

Part I will deal with "a few introductory/opening paragraphs", while Part II will deal with "any decision that Ministers could agree on either as outcomes for MC11 [11th ministerial conference in Buenos Aires beginning on 10 December] or for post-MC11 [post-Buenos Aires] work program."

He said he will focus on "the first part - that is, the introductory paragraphs." He urged members to agree "on a concise and factual opening few paragraphs."

Ambassador Carim said the second part on the outcomes at the Buenos Aires meeting as well as the post-Buenos Aires work program would "remain the responsibility of the TNC [Trade Negotiations Committee] and its negotiating bodies as well as of the other WTO bodies currently working on possible Ministerial outcomes."

Ambassador Carim suggested four elements in Part I of the outcome document. The elements include:

i. Recall and reaffirm the Principles and Objectives of the Marrakesh Agreement.

ii. Take note of progress since the last Ministerial Conference - MC10. It would include points such as "the entry into force of Trade Facilitation Agreement and the TRIPS (trade-related intellectual properties) amendment", the recent General Council decision on the amendment of the Trade Policy Review mechanism, the ongoing effort to implement the Nairobi Decision on Export Competition, and other implementation matters concerning issues of the least-developed countries.

iii. The third element would involve a statistical and factual update of recent trends in global trade.

iv. The last element would be reference to the importance of Development and, in particular, the need to further integrate developing countries and LDCs into the trading system.

Surprisingly, the chair's note did not refer to the ongoing Doha Development Agenda trade negotiations that are carried in accordance with the Marrakesh Agreement.

The chair could have mentioned the importance of affirming the Doha negotiations along with the Marrakesh Agreement, said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

The GC chair appointed the trade envoys of Norway, Egypt, Moldova, and Honduras as friends of the chair to convene meetings on each issue.

Norway's trade envoy Ambassador H. Neple held the first meeting on Tuesday to hear members' views on "Recall and Reaffirm the Principles and Objectives of the Marrakesh Agreement."

During the meeting, the participants largely argued the importance of the Marrakesh Agreement and its general principles for furthering multilateral trade liberalization.

They also emphasized the importance of the WTO as a pre-eminent body for carrying out multilateral trade liberalization.

The United States, however, cast doubts about the pre-eminence of the WTO for furthering trade liberalization, said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

The US position is consistent with various pronouncements that the Trump administration made as recently as the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) business leaders in Da Nang in Vietnam last Friday.

President Trump said the US has "not been treated fairly" in Geneva, according to a news report in Inside US Trade on 13 November.

Even at the G20 leaders' meeting in Hamburg more than four months ago, the US negotiators succeeded in introducing their language on "reciprocal and mutually advantageous trade and investment frameworks" as opposed to the "developmental" priorities of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA).

The Hamburg communique did not even mention the Doha Development Agenda or the unresolved Doha issues.

The communique implicitly endorsed the Trump administration's "America First" and "Buy America and Hire America" policies when it acknowledged the "importance of reciprocal and mutually advantageous trade" framework.

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