Final revised text on 28 July, says GC chair

Geneva, 24 July (Kanaga Raja) - The Chairman of the General Council, Amb.  Shotaro Oshima of Japan announced Friday, at an informal Heads of Delegation meeting, that the revised draft text of the July package would most likely come out no later than 28 July and suggested that opportunities for major changes had become limited as time was running out.

The General Council is meeting on 27 July, and Oshima had said last week that July 30 was the ‘drop-dead deadline’.

He indicated at the informal HOD Friday evening that most of the negotiations next week would take place in informal sessions. The General Council meeting on 27 July would take up agenda items on non-Doha work programme related issues such as the accession of Libya and Iran, reports of various budget committees and waivers under Article 9. The Council sessions would then be suspended to allow consultations on the revised draft text after its release either on 28 or 29 July.

The 28-29 July text would be a final revised version, and opportunities for major changes “become limited as time runs out,” he added. It was important that the revised text reflect as far as possible the sense of shared ownership by the members.

As for the presence in Geneva of several trade ministers to attend the General Council meetings, the General Council sessions from July 27 were regular meetings, and not ministerial level meetings. Neither Oshima nor Supachai had issued any invitations to ministers.

At the HOD meeting, Malaysia on behalf of a group of countries presented some amendments to Annex D of the draft text relating to Trade Facilitation. Another group of countries presented a statement pointing out that the concerns of the group of countries led by Malaysia had been already addressed in Annex D.

At the HOD meeting, Oshima pointed out that there had been work going on in four principle areas including agriculture, NAMA, development and the Singapore Issues.

Rather than having a lengthy discussion over positions that people already knew, the delegations should come forward if they have anything new to say, he said.

The Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said that the process is now moving in the right direction but that members still have some way to go in a very short time.

On NAMA, the Director-General said that on the consultations that had been held, there seems to be a way emerging to go forward which would be the possibility of using the Annex B of the Derbez text that would be accompanied by an appropriate ‘vehicle’ which could be a cover letter, a statement or some other format that would set out certain considerations of the kind that NAMA Group Chair Ambassador Johannesson described in his letter of 9 July.

On ‘development’, and the key issue of Special and Differential Treatment (SDT), the Director-General pointed to paragraph 2 of the draft text.

This paragraph says that in addition to the fact that all developing countries shall benefit from all the general provisions of SDT, the contribution of developing countries to market access reduction commitments in NAMA and agriculture negotiations should take account of their levels of development in particular sectors, as well as their food security, rural development and livelihood concerns and recognize their prior unilateral liberalization, in terms of criteria to be agreed in the ongoing negotiations.

The WTO head said that now was the time for not only a sense of urgency but also a sense of realism. The delegations should not continue with tactical points or multiply alternative texts with little or no chance of attracting consensus.  Their inputs should contribute to convergence and not the reverse, he added.

Oshima said that he and the Director-general have charged the facilitators to pick up on these four issues over the weekend.

In interventions, Benin noted that the G90 had asked for cotton to be a stand-alone issue. However, the four West African countries - Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali - who had raised the issue, were now prepared to take the cotton issue into the negotiations on agriculture provided their concerns were met. They have now put together a proposal in writing for circulation. They called on their trading partners to respond with written proposals. They have also advised the G90, the African Group, the ACP and the LDCs of this position.

In a press release, Benin said that the (Oshima-Supachai) draft text failed West African cotton farmers and that WTO members need to commit themselves to eliminate harmful cotton subsidies that threaten the livelihoods of millions of farmers in West and Central Africa.

“We are here in good faith to negotiate a solution. We hope WTO members will commit to eliminate trade-distorting support on cotton this week. This is crucial to the survival of our economies, which are highly dependent on cotton exports and to the future of millions of farming families,” said Amb. Samuel Amehou of Benin.

The current draft, he said, did not include any commitment to address the issue of cotton subsidies and though a WTO dispute panel had recently made most US cotton subsidies illegal, there is very strong resistance on the part of that country to accept any meaningful text on cotton.

Malaysia, on behalf of India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group), the Philippines, Tanzania (on behalf of the LDCs) and Kenya, Zambia, and Trinidad and Tobago, put forward a proposal on trade facilitation.

The proposal calls for:

·        identification, in the initial phase of negotiations, the needs and priorities, particularly of developing countries and the LDCs;

·        new rules and disciplines shall not oblige members to undertake investments in major infrastructure projects beyond their means;

·        the negotiations, and any results, shall take fully S&D treatment, and this principle shall extend beyond the traditional transition periods for implementing commitments;

·        provision of financial and technical assistance and capacity building, including for infrastructure development, shall be an a priori condition for developing and least developed countries implementing the results of the negotiations;

Members to commit to ensure adequate financial and technical assistance and support for capacity building, including for infrastructure development, before and during negotiations and in implementation of results. A surveillance and review mechanism is to be established and to develop benchmarks.

·        LDCs will only be required to undertake commitments to the extent consistent with their individual development, financial and trade needs or their administrative and institutional capacities;

·        due account is to be taken of relevant work undertaken by the World Customs Organization;

·        The negotiations shall address the applicability or non-applicability of the DSU;

·        the results of the negotiations would not come into effect earlier than the date of the harmonised non-preferential rules of origin under the Agreement on Rules of Origin.

While the proposal was universally welcomed by everyone, there was disagreement on the content, specifically on all the new paragraphs that was proposed by Malaysia.

Costa Rica in a statement on behalf of about 20 countries (including the US, the EU, Switzerland, China, Japan, South Korea, Romania and Croatia), saying that there were elements in Annex D on trade facilitation that were problematic for these countries and that the text had moved beyond Annex E of the Derbez text.  The draft text however specifically addressed the concerns that have been identified related to scope and process, cost, infrastructure and implementation of commitments, Costa Rica said.

Costa Rica also referred to the proposals by Malaysia and others and said that while it welcomed this development as a commitment to launching negotiations, the Annex D already adequately addressed the concerns raised in Malaysia’s paper.

Tanzania asked for a paragraph in the development section of the draft text on the LDCs.

Cuba asked about the legal status of the side-letter or a Chairman’s statement would have (in relation to the NAMA issue). However, Oshima said it was for members to decide.

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