Appointment of Jamaican envoy as rules chair blocked

WTO member states have failed to agree on a new chairperson for the negotiating body handling the fisheries subsidies talks, which are currently hamstrung by divisions over, among other issues, differential treatment for developing countries.

by D. Ravi Kanth

GENEVA: The United States and several other countries are understood to have blocked the appointment of Ambassador Cheryl K. Spencer of Jamaica as the new chair for the Doha rules negotiating body that is currently overseeing the fisheries subsidies negotiations at the WTO, a trade envoy told the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS).

At an informal WTO General Council meeting on 30 September specifically convened to adopt Spencer as the chair of the rules negotiating body, the General Council chair, Ambassador Sunanta Kangvalkulkij of Thailand, informed members that there was no consensus among the membership on the appointment of the rules chair.

Kangvalkulkij, however, did not indicate which member or group had opposed Spencer's appointment, said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

Apparently, the US was angered that Brazil's Ambassador Alexandre Guido Lopes Parola had not been allowed to become the chair of the rules negotiating body, said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

In an email sent to members on 30 September evening, a WTO official informed them that “in the absence of a Chair for the Negotiating Group on Rules, and subject to the appointment of a new Chair”, he had been asked by the General Council chair and the chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee to communicate an outline of the organization of the next scheduled cluster of meetings, which were to be held during the week beginning 7 October.

The official informed members that bilateral meetings would be held for three days beginning on 7 October, followed by open-ended consultations by the facilitators on 10-11 October.

The facilitators overseeing the fisheries subsidies negotiations are Katherine Dellar of Australia (on the issue of overfishing and overcapacity), Gustavo Cunha Machala of Brazil (overfished stocks), Benedict Fleischer from Norway (illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing) and Faisal Saud Sulaiman Al-Nabhani from Oman (cross-cutting issues).

Candidates opposed

Earlier, the Group of Latin American and Caribbean (GRULAC) countries had informed the General Council chair about their decision to present Spencer’s candidature for the chair of the rules negotiating body.

The GRULAC countries had initially nominated Brazil's Lopes Parola as their candidate. However, this met with fierce opposition from the Asian Group of Developing Countries (AGDC) because of Brazil's evolving position on special and differential treatment (S&DT) for developing countries, said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has publicly announced in the presence of his US counterpart Donald Trump that Brasilia would forego S&DT flexibilities in the current and future trade negotiations at the WTO.

In light of this, several members of the AGDC expressed grave doubts over Lopes Parola chairing the rules negotiating body and whether he would be able to safeguard the interests of developing countries, the envoy said.

In the ongoing fisheries subsidies negotiations, the US has repeatedly said that it will not accept the extension of S&DT to all developing countries.

As part of the discussions on WTO reform, the US has demanded differentiation/graduation among developing countries in terms of S&DT, seeking to deny the likes of China, India, Indonesia and South Africa from availing of such treatment. The US stand is also shared by several other developed countries, said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

In opposition to Lopes Parola, the AGDC had nominated Ambassador Gothami Silva of Sri Lanka as their candidate to chair the rules negotiating body, the envoy said. However, Silva's candidature was not acceptable to the GRULAC countries, which insisted that the body must be chaired by a GRULAC representative as per the past practice, said a South American trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

Subsequently, the GRULAC countries had proposed Spencer as a compromise candidate, which was acceptable to the members of the AGDC, the South American envoy said.

But the US, according to a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted, informed the General Council chair that it could not agree to Spencer's appointment.

The US action, seen as a tit-for-tat response to the AGDC's opposition to appointing the Brazilian representative, has created an adverse situation in that there might not be an outcome in the fisheries subsidies negotiations by the end of the year, the envoy said. (SUNS8988)            

Third World Economics, Issue No. 687, 16-30 April 2019, p12