ICs want "payment" anew for unresolved Doha agri issues
Published in SUNS #8386 dated 24 January 2017

Geneva, 23 Jan (D. Ravi Kanth) - Major developed and some developing countries appear to be pushing for "payment" for addressing the unresolved Doha issues in agriculture in the run-up to the World Trade Organization's eleventh ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires later this year, sources told SUNS on Saturday.

As a price for addressing these unresolved Doha agricultural issues, the major developed countries, the developing countries and the least developed are to agree to negotiate new issues: disciplines for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and electronic commerce.

[Developing countries have already "paid" at least twice a price for bringing agricultural trade, and ending heavy subsidisation and protection in developed countries under trade disciplines. They paid a price at Marrakesh (in concluding the Uruguay Round) in agreeing to undertake obligations and commitments on TRIPS and Services trade in return for commitment by the developed countries to undertake a long-term program of reforms to end subsidies and distortions on their agricultural trade and markets. They again paid a price for continuing with the agricultural trade reform programs at Doha in the Single Undertaking, and in agreeing to several concessions to the developed countries at Bali and Nairobi, including the Trade Facilitation Agreement. SUNS]

An early indication of the game plan being pursued by the major developed countries and their allies in the developing world came at the informal ministerial meeting in Davos on Friday (January 20) on the margins of the annual World Economic Forum meeting.

Trade ministers from China, India, South Africa, Indonesia which represents the G-33 farm coalition, the Philippines, Morocco which is the coordinator for the African Group, Benin which coordinates the least- developed countries, and Nigeria among others demanded outcomes on the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security and the special safeguard mechanism (SSM) at the WTO's eleventh ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires, said participants familiar with the meeting.

The developing and least-developed country trade ministers along with Argentina, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada made a strong case for addressing the trade-distorting domestic support.

Without acknowledging the demands made by many developing countries on public stockholding programs for food security and SSM, trade ministers of the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong among others said they want to see an outcome on new issues - disciplines for MSMEs and outcomes in e-commerce - at the WTO's eleventh ministerial meeting, participants said.

After the meeting, one participant from a developed country told SUNS that for any movement on Doha issues in agriculture, particularly public stockholding (PSH) and SSM, there has to be reciprocal commitment to address new issues, implying that they would need a payment to address issues in agriculture.

The Davos ministerial meeting was convened to address two issues - the state of the global trading system and the threat posed by an enveloping anti-trade and protectionist sentiment, and what needs to be done in the run-up to the eleventh ministerial meeting.

During the three-hour meeting, trade ministers did not enter into any substantive discussions.

They merely reiterated their priorities in the face of the worsening anti-trade and protectionist sentiment as well as the "America first" stance of the US led by President Donald Trump.

Despite the new administration in the United States and a raging fire storm against globalization, trade ministers and officials from over two dozen countries reaffirmed their commitment to accelerate negotiations in agriculture domestic support, fishery subsidies, domestic regulation in services, non-tariff barriers, new issues such as disciplines for e-commerce and small and medium enterprises, and trade facilitation in services.

Trade ministers from Argentina, Australia, Benin which coordinates the least-developed countries, Brazil, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, European Union, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco which represented African countries, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, and Thailand vowed not to give up negotiations because of the new administration in Washington, said several participants familiar with the meeting.

The US was represented by Charge d'affaires Christopher Wilson who did not speak during the meeting. Mexico and Turkey were also represented by their senior trade and economy officials.

The WTO's director-general Roberto Azevedo, who is the sole candidate to head the organization for the next four years, merely spoke about supporting the system and the conclusions arrived at the last informal ministerial meeting in Oslo last year, said a participant from a developing country.

Without directly referring to the new administration in the US led by Donald Trump, trade ministers discussed the enveloping threat posed by protectionist and anti-trade sentiment to the dispute settlement system and the challenges posed to the Appellate Body if countries refuse to abide by its rulings, the participant said.

Many ministers emphasized about "preserving" the multilateral trading system and what is being negotiated at the WTO.

"Ministers highlighted the key role of the rules-based multilateral trading system in ensuring a stable and predictable framework for world trade ... they stressed the importance of safeguarding the integrity and the benefits of this system and of further strengthening the WTO," the Swiss trade chief Schneider-Ammann said in the concluding remarks.

"Ministers noted that protectionism was not the right answer to anti-trade sentiments and to concerns about technological change... Instead, trade should be made more inclusive and its benefits spread more widely," Schneider-Ammann said.

Trade ministers of many developing countries - China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco, Egypt and Benin among others - emphasized the importance of concluding the permanent solution for public stockholding programs and special safeguard mechanism (SSM) at the Buenos Aires meeting, said a developing country trade minister who asked not to be quoted.

"Everybody agreed there has to be an outcome on permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security but it has to be along with other results in the agriculture," the minister said.

In sharp contrast, trade ministers from Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, Thailand, Pakistan, Malaysia, Canada, Brazil, the Philippines, and Indonesia called for outcomes in domestic support.

India also emphasized the need for tackling the distortions caused by trade-distorting domestic support.

On new issues - disciplines for SMEs and e-commerce - there was a broad divide among the participants.

Many minsters - Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, the EU, Costa Rica, China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Switzerland, and Norway among others - called for an outcome on new issues, particularly e-commerce.

However, South Africa said new issues must await an outcome on agriculture while India along with other developing countries in Africa, except Nigeria, said work on e-commerce must proceed in accordance with the existing mandate of 1998.

"On a scale of one to ten, the support for e-commerce at this juncture is 5, while agriculture-related issues is between 8 to 9, fish subsidies is 9, services domestic regulation is between 6 and seven, non-tariff barriers is between 5 to six, and trade facilitation in services is between 4 and 5," said one participant who asked not to be quoted.