Global Trends by
Monday 20 October
TALKS RESUME AT WTO
Blurb: After the dramatic
collapse of the Cancun Ministerial Conference on 14 September, the World
Trade Organisation is trying to get talks moving again in Geneva with
the aim of meeting a new deadline of 15 December. Last week saw the WTO
convening its first post-Cancun meeting -- but only five countries spoke
up. The wounds of Cancun are evidently taking time to heal. MARTIN KHOR
reports from Geneva.
One month after its Cancun
Ministerial Conference broke down without agreement, the World Trade Organisation
convened again for the first time last week at a meeting in its Geneva
It was almost a non-event.
Only five delegations spoke up, after the General Council chairman and
the WTO Director General gave brief speeches on how they intend to get
talks moving again, following the trauma and confusion surrounding the
closure of the Cancun meeting.
The five were Mauritius, Botswana,
Benin, Morocco and Bolivia. They all reaffirmed how important the multilateral
trade system is, and how vital it was to get the negotiations moving on
But there was a deafening silence
from the developed countries. The European Commission’s Ambassador explained
to journalists that the European Union was still in a period of “reflection”
and thus was not willing to proclaim its intentions. And major developing
countries like India, Brazil, China, and Malaysia also kept their quiet.
The meeting lasted just an hour.
After the talks collapsed in
Cancun, the Ministers in a brief statement directed the Ambassadors to
continue the work in Geneva and set a deadline of 15 December to convene
a General Council meeting of senior officials to take decisions.
Officials in Geneva are now
working towards that target date to make meaningful decisions on at least
some issues possible. So far there is not much optimism even this will
The atmosphere at the WTO headquarters
is tense, with delegations trying to figure out what attitudes and approaches
others are having, whilst themselves also trying to evolve their own positions.
The developed countries, especially
the EU and the US, are perceived as being in a “sulky” mood, still smarting
from the collapse of the Cancun talks. They blame the collapse on developing
countries, for not going along with their proposals.
Many developing countries,
meanwhile, are indignant at any notion that they caused the Cancun failure.
They believe their own positions were very reasonable, and that it was
the developed countries that were not willing to open their agriculture
markets but on the other hand were insisting that the poorer countries
open up their markets.
The developing countries are
however cautious not to engage in a “blame game”. Indeed, in its statement
at the WTO meeting last week, the Botswana Ambassador took pains to say
that both developed and developing countries should share the blame.
They keep stressing the importance
of the multilateral trading system, and would like the talks to resume
in Geneva. But more significantly they also want the agreements and process
to be fair.
The talks will start in the
WTO in earnest this week. But they will not be in the open.
The talks will go “underground”
in a series of “consultations” led by the Chairman of the General Council,
the Uruguay Ambassador, Carlos Perez del Castillo, and the WTO Director-General,
The consultations will be a
combination of meetings between one or both of these officials with individual
delegations (now known as “confessionals”) and with small groups of countries.
Occasionally above-ground meetings of all members will be called (though
still in an “informal mode” where minutes are not kept or circulated)
to keep everyone abreast of what has been happening underground.
This was basically the same
process followed in the Geneva preparatory phase before Cancun. For much
of the time, delegations did not come face-to-face with one another to
openly debate their positions, and so the differences could be papered
over, since much of the negotiations was between delegations and the Chairpersons
conducting the consultations.
But when the delegations did
get together, at meetings dedicated to specific topics, the divergences
came out in the open. Attempts to narrow the divergences through a clean
text issued “under his own responsibility” by the Chairpersons of particular
issues, eventually did not succeed in producing consensus.
Thus, the differences remained
on the boil at Cancun. And when the same process of bilaterals, confessionals
and small-group meetings continued under “Facilitators” of key issues
at Cancun, the divergences remained as wide or even wider; this despite
(or more accurately because) of a “clean” new revised Ministerial text
on 13 September, the eve of the Conference’s end.
Since the “informal consultations”
will now resume in Geneva, the stage is set for continuing the non-transparent
processes that have so characterized the pre-Cancun phase. Whether this
way of doing business succeeds this time, when it failed recently, remains
to be seen.
The consultations will focus
on four key issues:
** Agriculture liberalization.
Developing countries want the rich nations to significantly reduce and
eventually eliminate their high export and domestic subsidies, but the
latter are resisting. Developing countries in turn want to ensure their
farmers are not overwhelmed by cheap imports, but the rich countries want
them to open their markets.
** Cotton. Some African cotton-producing
countries want the WTO to take a special initiative to end the cotton
subsidies, especially of the US, which are harming their farmers. The
US is most reluctant to do so, being intent on protecting their own few
** Industrial products. WTO
members are wrangling over a formula to cut tariffs on industrial goods,
and over a scheme to accelerate the elimination of tariffs in seven selected
sectors. The rich countries want the poor ones to drastically reduce
their tariffs, but the latter are worried that too drastic a rate of liberalization
would damage or even destroy their local industries.
** Singapore Issues. These
refer to four new issues (investment, competition, transparency in government
procurement, trade facilitation) which the developed countries want to
develop into new WTO agreements. Most developing countries refuse to
do so, arguing that the proposed new rules would go against their developmenjt
interests and their sovereign right to formulate national policies.
At the WTO meeting last week,
Dr. Supachai said that from his discussions with delegations and capitals,
he had an overwhelming impression everyone is still very committed to
the multilateral trading system. The aim is to arrive at a sufficient
degree of consensus in all areas by December to enable the negotiations
to resume their full momentum. He warned however that “Time is not on
Only five delegations---Mauritius,
Botswana, Benin, Morocco and Bolivia---spoke. They reiterated their support
for the multilateral trading system and agreed to pick up the positive
elements from the Cancun conference to try to unlock the negotiations
The Botswana Ambassador, Charles
Ntwaagae, on behalf of the African, Carribean and Pacific Group, said
the Group actively participated in the Cancun conference but were disappointed
by the lack of balance in its deliberations. However all is not lost
and important lessons have been learnt, particularly as regards balance
The ACP Group also reiterated
the critical need to ensure transparency in consultations and decision-making
process. It is our hope this matter will continue to receive attention
in all the post Cancun consultations and meetings.
The Benin Ambassador stressed
the importance of focusing on the cotton initiative, as it is urgent that
a solution be found to the cotton problem.
The European Commission’s Ambassador,
Carlo Trojan, told journalists outside the meeting that the EU is having
its own internal reflection exercise. The EU requires some more weeks
to reflect on these issues, he said, replying to questions on why the
EC did not make any statement at the HOD meeting.
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