TWN Info Service on WTO Issues (Nov03/10)

23 November 2003

Third World Network

Dear friends and colleagues


General Council Chair reports on his consultations, some key developing countries say many serious issues are still unresolved

On 18 November, an “informal”  heads of delegation (HOD) meeting (to which all delegations are invited) was held in the WTO.

The General Council chairman briefed the meeting on the results of the “first round” of consultations he has been holding since Cancun, on what he considers to be four key outstanding issues—agriculture, non-agricultureal market access (NAMA), cotton and the Singapore issues.

Although he presented a generally positive picture, some key developing-country delegations such as India pointed out that the most serious issues have been unresolved.

The General Council chairman announced he would now start a second round of consultations and he will convene the next HOD meeting on 5 December.  By this date, the situation would be clearer as to what could or could not be achieved by 15 Deecmber, when the formal General Council meeting (manadted by the Ministers in Cancun to take up what they could not finish) will start.

Below is a report by Kanaga Raja of the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) on the HOD meeting of 18 November.  This report is an expanded version of the original article published in SUNS 5466 of 20 November.  At the end of the report is additional material from a IPS article relating to the same subject.

We thank the SUNS for permission to reproduce the original article.

Please go to the TWN website at for previous issues of TWN Info Service on WTO Issues.

With best wishes

Martin Khor

Third World Network



Report on the WTO Heads of Delegation meeting of 18 November

by Kanaga Raja, South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) Geneva

The Chairman of the WTO General Council, Uruguayan Ambassador Carlos Perez del Castillo, announced on 18 November at an informal  heads of delegation (HOD) meeting at the WTO that he would  undertake a second round  of “intensive consultations” on the key outstanding issues, and will have another informal  HOD meeting around 5 December.

In line with the final statement at the Cancun Ministerial, the GC chairman is working towards a deadline of 15 December when he will convene a formal meeting of the General Council at Senior Officials level which is supposed to complete what the Ministers were unable nto do at Cancun.

Though Perez del Castillo put on a positive front that there would be progress before the 15 December meeting, many other key trade diplomats do not believe that a solution for resumption of the Doha round of talks could be found by that date.

Symptomatic of this last has been the studied silence in these consultations on the part of the major trading powers, in particular the US and the EU, whose agricultural support policies and their efforts to gain market access abroad, while protecting with heavy subsidies their domestic markets, was the real cause of the Cancun failure.

Perez del Castillo told the informal 18 November HOD meeting of the results of his first round of consultations on what he had chosen as the four key outstanding issues— agriculture, non-agricultural market access (NAMA), cotton, and the Singapore issues.

However, the GC chair was reminded that these were not the only four issues, but that there were other issues too for many developing countries, including the Implementation Issues and the question of Special and Differential Treatment (SDT).

The Indian ambassador, Mr.K.M. Chandrasekhar, said that in agriculture serious problems in all three pillars were not resolved, and in NAMA there are also unresolved issues like the formula and sectoral approach. There was also a lack of clarity on the Singapore  issues. Chandrasekhar also drew pointed attention to the views of Mauritius on behalf of the African group, namely, that while the four issues listed by the GC Chair could be the starting point for the consultations, there were other important issues too, including the  Implementation Issues and the question of Special and Differential Treatment.  Egypt also briefed the meeting of the results of a Cairo meeting of 12 African Ministers.

The GC chair said he found in his consultations “a sense of engagement on all sides” and he would hold another round of consultations to “deepen the substantive negotiations.”  He would start on agriculture that week, and then move on to cotton, NAMA and the Singapore issues the following week.

He plans to convene another HOD meeting around 5 December, “by which time we should have an idea of the level of specificity we should be able to count on for the General Council meeting 10 days later,” he said.

Perez del Castillo gave this assessment of the state of play in his consultations with members on the four outstanding issues:

·        On Agriculture, he said positive results in this area will have positive implications in other areas. In the first round of consultations, members had a preliminary discussion on the positive features and elements that emerged in Cancun and reflected in the Derbez text (put out in Cancun on 13 September by Mexican Foreign Minister Luiz Ernesto Derbez) and “which many Members feel we should try to preserve and build upon in future negotiations.” They were able in the consultations to identify issues and aspects that create difficulties for other Members.

There had been ‘positive’ discussions, with all members showing a ‘constructive spirit’, on a negotiating package for the framework in agriculture: seeking greater reductions in domestic support than levels envisaged in the original EC/US proposal; commitments on elimination of all forms of export competition; and commitments for opening of markets from all Members taking into account,  SDT and development and special needs of developing countries.

·        On NAMA, the GC Chair said, that there was a positive and constructive attitude taken by the participants in the consultations. He sensed that Members could build on the Rev.2 text in this area.

(The Rev.2 text presumably refers to “Framework for establishing modalities in NAMA” which is attached as Annex B in the Draft Cancun Ministerial Text second revision dated 13 September, now commonly referred to as the Derbez Text).

He referred to paragraphs 3 and 6 in the Rev.2 text referring to the formula and sectorial approaches as the most important and sensitive, and said there is recognition of the linkage between the two, whee a forward movement in one may entail a backward movemjent in the other. 

He also said that “a large number (of Members) also recognized that the real issues in these paragraphs would have to be solved after the ‘framework’ phase.”    He added a number of delegations emphasised that the specificity in the “flexibility” paragraphs (especially paras 5 and 7) remained a source of concern as they found it difficult to acept precise language on the exceptions without knowing the rules (paras 3 and 6) at this point.  This view is countered by those who seek further precision on the same issues. 

“A general feeling is that we should preserve what has been achieved so far and not unravelling the situation and having to start again from scratch at a future date,” he added.

·        On the Singapore issues, Perez del Castillo said that he took a different approach than on agriculture and NAMA. Here, he undertook a step-by-step approach, multiplying the ‘confessional-style’ consultations with small groups to test the flexibility and willingness of Members to consider possible compromises.

At Cancun, he said, the four Singapore issues were unbundled and his consultations have confirmed that members in general accept that there is no possible return to their consideration as a package, and each issue has to be treated on its own merits.

During his consultations, Perez del Castillo had asked members about a possible 2+2 outcome—launching negotiations on trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement with the first phase devoted to agreeing on modalities, and referring investment and competition back to the working groups for further clarification and excluding them from the Single Undertaking.

The GC chair thought in his consultations there was a large number of constructive interventions and positive responses, as well as suggestions for other types of outcomes - a 1+3 approach (negotiations on trade facilitation and reference of the other issues to working groups); another proposal for negotiations on trade facilitation and government procurement, and completely dropping the other two issues from the Doha agenda; as well as another proposal to proceed on the basis of the Derbez text.

However, he noted that some Members have not moved at all on these issues from their pre-Cancun positions and there were also differing views on how to tackle the question of modalities. “There is clearly a lot of work to do before we can really start moving towards common ground,” he added.

On cotton, the GC Chair pointed to the procedural question of whether to treat this as a “stand-alone” issue, or as an issue within the broader agricultural negotiations. The other question refers to the trade-related aspects and development-related aspects of the cotton initiative.

Perez del Castillo said that the “majority” of Members would like this issue to be integrated in the overall agricultural negotiations while the proponents of the initiative continue to favour the autonomous/stand-alone route.

While this first round of consultations has been “useful”, Perez del Castillo said that whether we would be able to achieve the goals by December 15 would depend on the progress or lack of progress during this new phase of negotiations.

He added that “it has been often suggested in the consultations that our meeting in December should not be seen as a deadline, but rather a stepping stone to more substantive and wide-ranging work after that.”

In a statement to the informal HOD, Ambassador K.M. Chandrasekhar of India said that on agriculture, Members have yet to resolve the serious issues relating to all the three pillars of the agriculture talks and the key issue of SDT. In NAMA, the issues relating to the formula and the sectoral approach have also not been resolved.

On the Singapore issues, “there is considerable lack of clarity regarding the present situation.”   Above all, many developing countries were strongly of the view that development issues need to be brought in a more focused manner to the center stage of the Work Programme.

He reminded that in Doha, the Ministers gave pride of place to the concerns of developing countries, and to “place their needs and intersts at the heart of the work programme.”  He reiterated the point made by Mauritius on behalf of the African Group in that while the Group accepts the four issues chosen by the GC chair (agriculture, NAMA, cotton, Singapore issues) as a starting point of focused discussion, there cannot be an outcome that does not also provide satisfactory answers in respect of implementation issues and SDT issues.

Chadrasekhar said an effective work programme for 2003 involves restarting the work of various negotiating and other bodies.  “We have to work out a programme that both facilitates discussion and negotiation and meets the concerns of smaller delegations regarding the workload,” he said.  He noted one suggestion where the number of WTO bodies should be reduced so that more time could be devoted to the Doha Work Programme. He suggested that the work of different committees and other WTO bodies could be merged so that the overall workload is reduced in 2004. Moreover, if we are able to bring down the number of regular bodies of the WTO, it would be easier to find Chairs for all the remaining bodies, the Indian Ambassador added.

He suggested a checklist of issues be prepared in respect of each segment of the Doha programme on which work could be focussed in 2004.  The 2004 work timetable can be broken into quarterly stages with some issues taken up in each quarter, followed by a thorough  review by the General Council at the end of each quarter in special sessions.

Egypt referred to the recent Cairo meeting of a number of 12 African trade ministers on 13-14 November.

A Ministers’ statement from that meeting had reaffirmed the trade ministers’ commitment to the multilateral trading system and to all aspects of the Doha Development Agenda and had expressed determination to ensure that the DDA negotiations regain momentum at the earliest possible time.

The ministers had also reaffirmed that the issues of interest to LDCs must be addressed in a spirit of realism to find a solution. The African countries agreed that while the Derbez text still needed substantial work, it would be a good starting point for future discussions so as to preserve the progress made in Cancun.

Agriculture, the trade ministers had said, remains the core market access issue for Africa in the Round. The ministers added that the G20 and the African Group had many positions in common and that the G20 could be effective advocates for the cause of African countries in agriculture.

On cotton, the ministers had agreed that this issue took on a particular socio-economic significance for Africa and that the issue needed to be treated realistically within a discourse that emphasizes the willingness of all members to find a solution that addresses the concerns of African countries.

In comments at the informal HOD, Benin said that cotton was a priority issue and that it should be handled on a stand-alone basis.

Cuba also stressed that the cotton issue should be dealt with separately and asked when the development issues on the Doha agenda will be taken up. Indonesia, meanwhile, supported the ndia statement with regards to the Singapore issues.

The following are additional points from a Inter-Press Service report by Gustavo Capdevila:

The revival of the WTO negotiations will depend on the attitude taken in the consultations this week with the world’s trade powers, which have so far maintained a telling silence, say diplomatic sources.

The GC chairman described as “useful” the first round of consultations, held last month in the wake of the failed Cancun ministerial, and felt encouraged by October’s results, and he plans to wrap up his second phase of consultations by Dec.5.  Perez del Castillo told IPS that he remains focused on reaching Dec.15 with the results “that the ministers were unable to obtain” in Cancun. 

However, the optimism of the WTO General Council chairman is not shared by everyone.

Argentina’s chief negotiator at the WTO, Alfredo Chiaradia, points to the relative silence maintained by the leading trade powers: the US, the European Union, Japan and other industrialised nations. These countries that traditionally play an important role in WTO negotiations have not spoken up, the diplomat said in a conversation with IPS.

Argentina, as well as Brazil, China, India, South Africa and other developing countries comprise the Group of 20 (G20), which emerged in the weeks leading up to the WTO ministerial conference in Cancun. The G20 came about as a coordinated response to the US-EU proposal for negotiating an agreement on agricultural trade, presented Aug. 13, a month before the Cancun meet.

The differences between the G20 and the two trade powers on the matter of farm subsidies has created a division in the WTO, and played a key role in the unfolding of events that led to the debacle in Mexico.

A bloc of African nations at Cancun declared their outright refusal to negotiate the four Singapore issues. Amidst the uncertainty following the ministerial meet, the African countries and the G20 have been more active and unified in recent weeks.

The meeting of trade ministers from 12 African countries last week in Cairo declared that the main trade issue for the continent is market access for its agricultural commodities - the same demand against the industrialised North that brought the G20 countries together in the first place.

The 12 African ministers acknowledged that the two blocs hold many positions in common, “and that the G20 could be effective advocates for the cause of African countries in agriculture.”

India’s chief negotiator at the WTO, KM Chandrasekhar told IPS that the Cairo statement showed that the African group and the G20 are closer to working together.  The areas of agreement are likely the three pillars of farm trade negotiations, “domestic support, export subsidies and market access,” he said. “Basically, as developing countries, we have the same concerns, so we could work together on all these issues,” Chandrasekhar said.

Perez del Castillo admitted the possibility that Dec. 15 could arrive and there will be no agreement. “But if we don’t reach one, it will not be a total failure,” he argued. In February, negotiators can put together what they are unable to do in December, he said.

By February, all WTO  bodies would have new chairs, including for the General Council, which next year will be from an industrialised country. Two candidates, Tim Groser, of New Zealand, and Shotaro Oshima, of Japan, are vying for the job.

Latin American diplomatic sources said that Perez del Castillo will return to Uruguay in late February to take over the post of foreign minister.