More manipulations ahead on road to, and at Cancun?

Geneva, 16 July (Chakravarthi Raghavan) - A two-day meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), the last before the Cancun Ministerial meeting and which ended Tuesday evening, suggests that the WTO head, Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi and the Chair of the General Council, Amb. Carlos Perez del Castillo of Uruguay, are planning to adopt a process that will make the preparatory process worse than under Mike Moore in the run-up to Doha, and for an even more manipulated ministerial meeting at Cancun, to secure an outcome sought by majors.

The General Council itself is set to meet on 24-25 July in formal sessions, and no more meetings seem to be planned.

At the end of the TNC, Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, who chairs the TNC, advised that a draft declaration for the Cancun Ministerial meeting would be distributed to delegations at the end of this week, and after the General Council meeting, where delegations would have an opportunity to comment, both Supachai and Perez del Castillo will hold informal consultations (presumably in small groups or with groups of delegations) over the declaration for Cancun and the outcome there.

There will also be informal Heads of Delegations meeting, as a transparency exercise, which really means delegations will be ‘informed’, but not be able to participate in the decision-making.

It also means there will be no formal records of the positions of countries at the TNC or the General Council, and that even capitals would in fact be ignorant of anything that might have been done or failed to be done by their representatives.

While at the TNC, Supachai had asked delegates to speak and comment on substance, rather than process, a number of delegations, in their interventions, had asked for an open process and for any draft declaration or documents from chairs to clearly indicate the points of difference so that ministers could have an informed view and decide.

On Tuesday, a large part of the meeting was again taken up with reactions of delegates to the reports presented, on their own authority, on the first day of the TNC, by the chairs of various negotiating bodies and processes, as well as to Supachai’s own opening statement.

At Tuesday’s meeting, many developing countries spoke on the issue of process towards Cancun, and said they would prefer an open process in which delegates will be able to consider the draft operational text. Botswana, Kenya, India, Nigeria, Uganda and a Latin American representatives (who could not be immediately identified) spoke on the issue.

However, Dr. Supachai in effect would appear to have turned down the demands (made by Nigeria and several others) for a joint formal meeting before Cancun, of the General Council and the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) to look at the draft declaration and other documents and for deciding on what should be sent to Ministers and how.

Nigeria specifically asked for a joint formal meeting of the TNC and General Council before Cancun, and this was supported by Botswana.

The US reportedly said that the Nigerian proposal, supported by Botswana and a few others, was not practicable - and that was the end of that, at least as far as Supachai was concerned. He did not ask the views of others or offer to consult further or ask Nigeria and others to reconsider their proposal.

In some comments at the TNC earlier, Supachai would also appear to have indicated that he wants the reports of the chairs of negotiating bodies, made by the chairs on their own authority, to be annexed to any draft declaration or document to be sent to Ministers, with those who negotiated having any say or deciding whether the reports of the chair were for a fair reflection of various viewpoints and options.

On the implementation questions and issues, which was discussed at the TNC Tuesday, Supachai reportedly said that he would hold consultations on these questions, and consult with WTO and negotiating bodies dealing with them - a suggestion that did not find favour with those who have been pushing these issues, and find themselves frustrated that there has been no movement after 3-1/2 years.

Some trade observers, who did not want to be identified, but had gathered their information by talking to some delegations, said at the end of the TNC, this question took a heated tone, with India asking for these questions to be considered at a special TNC meeting (a view also put forward earlier by Kenyaand China).

On the implementation issues, Kenya, India and China had asked for dedicated sessions of the TNC, and not for sending the issues back to WTO bodies, with China adding it was also open to informal TNC consultations if that would produce results. However, the US and Japan would not agree.

And Supachai declared there was no consensus!

Trade observers said that many developing countries were exasperated, but not speaking out. The majors, and Dr. Supachai want to complete the entire Doha negotiations in a 3-1/2 year time-span from the time it was launched, but in the period of 3-1/2 years before and after Doha, they have been unable to make any progress or reach any decision on issues of concern to developing countries.

The WTO head had asked the various deputy directors-general to hold consultations on various issues, but some trade diplomats said that they found this very frustrating, and with the DDGs not having a clue on what is the issue and how to make progress, developing countries were getting a run-around. The USTR Robert Zoellick, the EC Commissioner Pascal Lamy want to complete the round in their watch, and so does Dr. Supachai.

When these views of developing countries surface in informal consultations on implementation questions, it is ignored, and at the end of the TNC, the WTO head could only come up with things being left to him to consult consultations and may be come with cosmetic suggestions and say this is also that is possible at Cancun.

When Supachai repeated his stand in his summing up, India reportedly raised its concerns, with the Indian delegate, making clear that its stand was based on clear and specific instructions from the capital, and that New Delhi attached great importance to this issue. Howeverm said some participants, he was in effect brushed aside by Supachai who tried to isolate him, by suggesting that only India had difficulties with his proposal.

When India however noted that its concerns were also shared by Kenya and China in their interventions, Supachai turned to the Kenya seat. But the Kenya delegate who had made the point was not in the seat, having gone to some other meeting. China said that it was willing to consider an informal TNC consultation process, if that would produce results.

However, India would appear not to have changed its stand, insisting that it was on instructions from the capital which laid stress on the importance of the issues of implementation being dealt with at the level of the TNC. The Indian delegation would inform the capital and would await instructions.

At the end of the meeting, journalists who had heard of the heated and tense exchanges between Supachai and India at the end, asked Supachai for his comments, whereupon the WTO head asked them to go and ask India.

Approached by one or two media persons around, the Indian delegate would not comment and asked the journalists to ask Dr.Supachai.

Earlier, at the TNC on the implementation issues, much of the discussions were over what was described as ‘passionate exchanges’ on the issue of Geographical Indications of Origin, and the proposals of many developed and European countries for extending the protection available for wines and spirits to other products.

A number of countries submitted a communication asking for the extension of the GI protection for wines and spirits to other products. These countries included Kenya, India, Jamaica, along with the EC, Switzerland, Bulgaria and several others.

Switzerland presented the paper before the TNC, and the European Union supported and defended it.

However, Chile came out in opposition, and said the best solution was to remove geographical indications from TRIPS altogether so that all products will be on an equal footing.

Bulgaria would appear to have then retorted that such a logic would lead to a position which supported the arguments in some quarters, but which Bulgaria did not share, that TRIPS be taken altogether out of the WTO.

Some observers at the TNC were surprised, more so after President Lula’s comments at the Third Way meeting in London and his article in the Guardian, that Brazil which has given high profile to its own implementation proposals under TRIMS (ability of developing countries to insist on performance requirements) and TRIPS and Public Health, made no comment on the somewhat anodyne summing up on them by the TNC chair.

In his summing up, according to trade officials, Supachai said that although, there will be no further scheduled meetings of the TNC, both the GC chair and he would have “all sorts” of consultations, though they may have different fora for the meetings. Not the least, the consultations would also be at the level of Heads of Delegation, which would be open-ended, so that there would be the full transparency that members had been asking for. He urged members to undertake more communication among themselves, in order to advance the work.

In terms of expectations from Cancun, he asked members to be “guided by our hopes and not our fears.” They (it was not clear whether he meant the members or the DG and GC chair, and those of negotiating bodies) were still full of hopes.  He saw “enough encouraging signs in key areas and not least in the two market access areas (agricultural and non-agricultural market access).

Although at the moment they might not yet see the full picture, Supachai thought that “the pieces are beginning to be developed and are going to be put into the right place quite soon.” The only thing they should all be concerned was the need of urgency of putting all these pieces together in the area of agriculture.

On Special and Differential Treatment, Supachai suggested that this was one of the areas in which, they could expect “some early harvest.” He was also still full of “belief, trust and confidence” that the membership would be able to achieve a full multilateral agreement on (implementing para six of the TRIPS and Public Health declaration) before Cancun. In spite of some set-backs time and again, there has been some progress and as far as he could see progress will outpace the set-back. With full trust and confidence on the part of all the members, there could be agreement before Cancun, which he said would be neither a success nor a failure, but a work programme and for progress to be achieved there.

Several trade diplomats afterwards seemed bemused, and could not say what they understood from this pep talk. – SUNS5386

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