US NO to improving PSH peace clause, MC11 inching to collapse
Published in SUNS #8595 dated 13 December 2017

Buenos Aires, 12 Dec (D. Ravi Kanth) - The World Trade Organization's Buenos Aires ministerial meeting (MC11) is inching towards collapse after the United States refused to concede any improvements in the existing peace clause for public stockholding programs for food security that was agreed in November 2014, according to people familiar with the development.

During the green room meeting on Tuesday (12 December) of six countries - the United States, the European Union, China, India, Brazil, and Australia - the US made it clear that it cannot agree to any improvements for a permanent solution as mandated first in the 2013 Bali ministerial declaration and later reinforced in the 2015 Nairobi ministerial declaration.

India and China had demanded that the permanent solution for public stockholding programs has to be an improvement over the so-called interim peace clause with legal certainty as well as reasonable transparency and notification provisions, and safeguard parameters.

The European Union and Brazil had insisted that the permanent solution must be linked to outcomes in domestic support.

The EU said that it wants a global package that includes the permanent solution, a partial outcome on fisheries subsidies, and a new mandate for electronic commerce.

India and China did not accept any linkages with the mandated permanent solution.

Meanwhile, the chairperson for the World Trade Organization's eleventh ministerial meeting (MC11), Ms Susana Malcorra, continued her authoritarian style of running the conference and announced on Monday (11 December) that three conference vice-chairs will facilitate meetings on new issues - investment facilitation, disciplines for micro, small, and medium enterprises, and trade and gender.

She made the announcements at a plenary meeting, but without giving the floor to any of the assembled ministers to express their views, several participants told SUNS.

In the same style, she also made announcements about intentions on "plurilateral initiatives" of some members over e-commerce, and said she would take decisions.

During the heads of delegations (HoD) meeting at the end of the second day of the conference, Ms Malcorra announced that the three vice-chairs - Dr Okechukwu Enelamah, Nigeria's Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment; Mr David Parker, New Zealand's Minister of Trade; and Mr Edward Yau, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development of Hong Kong (China) - will preside over meetings on the three issues.

She informed the participants that she will convene another meeting on Tuesday (around 1400 hours Buenos Aires time) to finalize the process that the three vice-chairs will adopt for the new issues.

The chairperson also announced that trade ministers from a group of countries had approached her to indicate that they will embark on a plurilateral initiative on electronic commerce.

Ms Malcorra did not indicate which ministers or the numbers of ministers who had approached her for pursuing the plurilateral initiative.

Ms Malcorra said that she will complete her consultations tomorrow on e-commerce following which she will indicate her decision about the plurilateral initiative.

But a large majority of developing countries said categorically that they want to continue with the 1998 work program without any change while many industrialized and several developing countries called for a new mandate on e-commerce.

However, Ms Malcorra did not give the floor to members to express their views and abruptly concluded the meeting, said several participants, who asked not to be quoted.

The participants said they wanted to object to Ms Malcorra's decision but were unable to do so because of the manner in which she concluded the HoD meeting.

When asked whether there were any objections from the participants to Ms Malcorra's decision to nominate the three vice-chairs for the new issues, Keith Rockwell, the WTO spokesperson, said there were no objections.

When asked whether it was true that Ms Malcorra did not open the floor to participants to express their views, Rockwell said it is correct.

When questioned again about his initial statement that there were no objections from the trade ministers when the floor was not even opened for comments, Rockwell said he was merely asked in the first instance whether there were objections to Ms Malcorra's announcement but not whether the floor was open to participants.

Clearly, the WTO spokesperson's answers revealed the disquiet about the announcement made by the chair-person Ms Malcorra to facilitate work on three issues - investment facilitation, disciplines for micro, small, and medium enterprises, and trade and gender - in the face of unbridgeable differences among members.

The director-general Roberto Azevedo issued a bleak report suggesting that members have a long way to close gaps in all areas.

Azevedo, Rockwell told journalists,  said he is not a magician as he does not have a magic wand that can produce a rabbit (out of air) if members fail to make progress in the next 48 hours.

The facilitator for agriculture negotiations Ambassador Amina Mohamed held a meeting with the trade ministers of six countries - the United States, the European Union, China, India, Brazil, and Australia - but the participants stuck to their traditional positions.

The EU sought a linkage between the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security and electronic commerce and a partial solution on IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing) subsidies.

Ms Mohamed was supposed to issue a draft text late Monday evening but it was deferred till Wednesday afternoon before the departure of the United States Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer.

Differences continued to persist on the proposed outcomes in agriculture, electronic commerce, a partial deliverable on fisheries subsidies and development, at the end of the second day of the World Trade Organization's Buenos Aires meeting.

During the open-ended meetings conducted by the respective facilitators, the United States stuck to its hardline positions, opposing the outcomes as demanded by proponents for the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, and improvements in special and differential flexibilities as demanded by the African countries, a trade minister told SUNS.

On a partial outcome for prohibiting subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, positions remained sharply divergent among key members.

The US pressed for addressing the transparency and notification requirements while India said it is not willing to accept any outcome other than continuing negotiations after the Buenos Aires meeting.

New Zealand, Norway, and several other countries demanded that overfished stocks must be included in the outcome.

As regards the electronic commerce, the European Union, Japan, Canada, Korea, Australia, and many South American countries pressed for accelerating the negotiations with a new mandate.

But many developing countries, including India, South Africa, and many African countries said they will not accept any change in the work program of 1998.

On the issue of permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, which is being demanded by the G33 group of countries, including China and India, the US apparently suggested the existing perpetual peace clause is adequate without needing a permanent solution.

A US trade official who asked not to be quoted said that there will be no outcome in agriculture except a likely plurilateral meeting with a group of countries on Tuesday on transparency in SPS measures.

The official suggested that the USTR has made it clear that the US is seeking only an improvement in transparency and notification requirements at the Buenos Aires meeting.