TWN Info Service on WTO Issues (Nov03/7)

14 November 2003

Third World Network

Dear friends and colleagues


On 12 November the General Council chairman convened a “Green Room” meeting of slightly more than 30 delegations at the WTO to discuss the Singapore Issues, attended by major developed countries and several developing countries.

The Chairman proposed a two-plus-two approach, in which negotiations could be launched for two issues (trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement), whilst on two others (investment and competition) the issues could be further clarified, and lead on to some options including plurilateral agreements.

Many developing countries did not agree to the two plus two proposal, with some reiterating their position that there should not be negotiatons launched on any of the issues, and many opposing the plurilateral option.

Below is a report by Goh Chien Yen of TWN on the meeting.

With best wishes

Martin Khor




TWN Report by Goh Chien Yen, Geneva, 13 November 2003


An informal meeting on the Singapore issues was held at the WTO on 12 November 2003  from 3.00pm to 6.30pm.  It was convened by the Chairman of the WTO General Council, Ambassador Carlos Perez del Castillo, and attended by slightly more than 30 WTO members.  It is not known on what criteria or basis the 30 delegations were chosen to take part in the “Green Room” meeting.

The Chairman reportedly expressed his doubts and mixed feelings whether sufficient progress will be made before the 15 December General Council Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) for an agreed outcome. He remarked that some delegations have not shown any flexibility before and at Cancun, and have continued to insist on maintaining their positions.

To move the Singapore issues forward, he suggested that the members could perhaps agree to launch negotiations for transparency in government procure and trade facilitation at the SOM on 15 December and then subsequently discuss their respective modalities. On the issue of investment and competition rules, he proposed that members could perhaps agree to re-start the clarification process on the modalities. This could then lead to several options, including adoption of a plurilateral agreements, which give the opportunity of opting in or out of such an agreement.

This suggestion is referred to by some delegations as the 2 plus 2 proposal.

The Chairman’s suggestion seems to be at odds with the position taken by over 70 developing countries at Cancun, that there should not be the start of negotiations on any of the Singapore Issues.  It appears to be close to the position of the EU.  The suggestion for plurilateral agreements appears to originate from thinking within the European Commission which in its recent post-Cancun internal papers has suggested that an option for the investment and competition issues would be to have plurilateral agreements.  This is in recognition of the opposition from many developing countries to starting negotiations on multilateral treaties on these two subjects, which became evidenjt before and at Cancun.  At Cancun, the European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy had offered to drop at least two (investment, competition) and probably also another (government procurement) of the Singapore issues from the Doha work programme altogether.  However Lamy has recently said the EC is reconsidering its position and that the offer is no loinger valid;  a final position by the European Union awaits a meeting of its Ministers.

At the WTO informal meeting of 12 November, many developing countries including Argentina, Brazil, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh on behalf of the Least Developed Countries, and Mauritius representing the group of African countries, objected strenuously and made it clear that the plurilateral route is not an option. In their view, this would be detrimental to the WTO and would constitute a regressive step for the multilateral trading system, going back to the pre Uruguay Round period. These countries also reiterated that they are not ready to launch any negotiations until there is agreement on the modalities and the objectives to be achieved with these new agreements. 

Canada also made it clear that it could not support the plurilateral approach.

The European Commission said the EU currently has not yet adopted a formal position on the Singapore issues. However, its representative defended and expressed their support for the plurilateral approach.    Costa Rica also voiced support for this approach.

On the so-called 2 plus 2 proposal of the General Council Chairman, Japan articulated its willingness to take this into consideration. Singapore said that it could also agree to the Chairman’s proposal of taking the investment and competition issues to the working groups for further clarification. Similarly, the US expressed that it would consider the Chairman’s proposal.

South Korea said it preferred the approach on the Singapore issues contained in the Deberz text (i.e. the Cancun Ministerial draft of 13 Sepetmber);  however it was willing to consider the Chairman’s proposal

Indonesia, in effect rejecting the Chairman’s proposal, wanted three (investment, competition and government procurement) of the Singapore issues dropped from the Doha agenda and taken out of the WTO. They were supported by Malaysia and Bangladesh.

Mexico, on the hand, while ready to accept the Chairman’s recommendation of commencing negotiations on trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement, wanted the investment and competition issues dropped completely.

Mauritius on behalf of the African Group said that they would consider the Chairman’s proposal.  However they have no mandate to change their clear position since the ministerial meeting in Cancun, which is to continue with the clarification process on all the 4 Singapore issues.  Mauritius added that if they were to accept the proposal, their concerns must be fully addressed.

Brazil said that it is open to all four issues, however it is crucial that the consideration of the Singapore issues must adhere to the Doha mandate of requiring explicit consensus on the modalities before negotiations could be launched. In this respect, the Chairman’s proposal is inconsistent with the Doha mandate. Brazil also pointed out that movement in the Singapore issues will depend on progress made in other areas.

On this point, New Zealand suggested that since there is some degree of convergence on the issue of trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement, discussion on the modalities for these two issues could be presently undertaken so that consensus could be reached before the Senior Officials Meeting on 15th Dec in order to take the decision of launching negotiations at that meeting.

The Chairman ended the meeting stating his doubts on being able to make sufficient progress to achieve consensus by the senior officials meeting in December and urged the members to reflect on today’s discussion.