by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 7 Feb 2000 -- The General Council of the World Trade Organization agreed Monday that the mandated negotiations in agriculture and services, which technically began on 1 January 2000 according to the Marrakesh agreement, should take place in the respective bodies of the WTO dealing with these questions.

The Council agreed that the negotiations on agriculture will take place in the Committee on Agriculture, but with the stipulation that the chairperson of this committee would run the negotiations, while a vice-chair person would deal with the routine work of the committee. The Committee sessions for negotiations and normal work would be held "back-to-back". In relation to the negotiations, the Committee on Agriculture would report directly to the General Council, rather than through the Council for Trade in Goods.

The services negotiations too would be run in a similar way with a chairman and vice-chairman - excepting that the Services Council even now reports directly to the General Council.

But it is clear that these negotiations and reviews will be in a low-key. Apart from the mandated negotiations, the General Council also agreed that in respect of the mandated reviews of various agreements (TRIPs, TRIMs etc), these reviews "will take into account", the trade and development interests and needs of the developing countries.

The Council which began a formal meeting Monday morning (after last week's two extended informal discussions) is continuing in the afternoon to decide on the next chairperson of the General Council and the Chairs of the Agriculture Committee and the Services Council.

Though some of the ground on these issues were covered in the informal consultations, a number of countries made interventions in the formal meetings to put on record their views and positions.

Consultations are to be continued at the Council over the questions relating to the implementation issues, as also the issues of plan of action for Least Development Countries and Technical Assistance issues, and a report is to be given to the next meeting of the General Council.

The WTO Director-General, Mike Moore, had in a report to the informal meeting last week had outlined some views of his and the outcome of his consultations, but the comments of members suggested that Moore's views (for e.g. in laying emphasis on 'transition periods' that expired on 1 January as the implementation issue) are his own, and the wider issues raised by many other members on the implementation questions and need to redress the inequities and lack of benefits are very much alive.

Some of the comments by Pakistan, India and others suggested that though at this point they are not explicitly making satisfaction on implementation an explicit condition for the services and agriculture negotiations, this is very much in the picture and this situation is bound to be reflected in the actual agriculture and services talks.

Several of the comments of developing countries also showed that they are not agreeable to the view that implementation issues can be tackled only when a comprehensive round with new issues is agreed to be by the developing countries and launched so that the EC could in return for its concessions in agriculture, and in setting right the past inequities, can gain more in new areas including investment.

The Agriculture Committee is due to meet around 23 March, while the Services Council is due to meet in the week of  21 February or so (after many of the developing country ambassadors and negotiators return from Bangkok). (SUNS4601)

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

[c] 2000, SUNS - All rights reserved. May not be reproduced, reprinted or posted to any system or service without specific permission from SUNS. This limitation includes incorporation into a database, distribution via Usenet News, bulletin board systems, mailing lists, print media or broadcast. For information about reproduction or multi-user subscriptions please contact < >