TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec17/15)
12 December 2017
Third World Network

DG promised open-ended meets, but "Green Rooms" galore at MC11
Published in SUNS #8594 dated 12 December 2017

Buenos Aires, 11 Dec (D. Ravi Kanth) - Contrary to repeated promises of open-ended meetings and no closed-door green room sessions with select countries at the Buenos Aires ministerial conference (MC11), the facilitator for agriculture, Ms Amina Mohamed, has convened a green room meeting to discuss domestic support and the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, a source told SUNS.

Ms Mohamed, currently the cabinet secretary in charge of foreign affairs in Kenya, has called in trade ministers from six countries (the United States, the European Union, China, India, Brazil, and Australia) to meet at the Hilton hotel, the venue for the WTO's eleventh ministerial conference.

The green room meeting, according to the source who preferred not to be identified, was convened because of Brazil's demand for linking an outcome on domestic support with the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security.

Meanwhile, the Argentinean chair of MC11 is proposing to nominate a facilitator for investment facilitation today but many developing countries are expected to shoot it down.

Brazil wants a payment for the permanent solution for public stockholding programs under the dubious slogan of parity between three issues - the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, outcome on overall trade-distorting support, and cotton - in agriculture.

The European Union and Australia are supporting Brazil's demand, said a South American trade official who asked not to be identified.

"Out of six members, three - Brazil, Australia, and the European Union - support the linkage between domestic support and the permanent solution," the source added.

While the United States is expected to remain silent during the meeting, China and India are expected to reject any linkage between the domestic support and the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security.

China and India have called for the elimination of the aggregate measurement of support (AMS), the most trade- distorting domestic support in industrialized countries, as a prerequisite for starting work on the domestic support.

The EU, Brazil, and Australia had rejected the China-India demand for eliminating the AMS in the industrialized countries, saying it is not practicable.


Meanwhile, ahead of the meeting with trade ministers on fisheries subsidies today (December 11), the facilitator for overseeing the discussions, Ms Kamina Johnson Smith (of Jamaica), circulated questions on subsidies for vessels contributing to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

In a questionnaire sent to ministers on Sunday, she asked whether they can agree on a "forward work programme" based on draft textual positions of members contained in two documents.

Minister Smith sought to know how should "a possible interim outcome on IUU-related subsidies" reflect "the standard that should be applied with respect to IUU activities - the existing international standard, or national law implementing that standard?"

She asked whether ministers can respond to "the concerns of developing and LDC Members that lack reporting and regulatory capacity in their own waters, and thus consider themselves to be at risk of violating a prohibition in respect of unreported and unregulated fishing when they provide subsidies to fishers in those waters".

"By limiting the geographic scope of the interim outcome for all Members to waters outside their own jurisdictions?", Minister Smith asked.

Ministers must also address whether they can respond "by allowing for Members to defer application of a prohibition in respect of waters within their jurisdictions until the acquisition of the necessary regulatory and reporting capacity", Minister Smith said.

She sought to know what "additional" transparency can be "envisaged for the interim period before definitive outcomes are reached?"

According to the process agreed for the Buenos Aires meeting at the Trade Negotiations Committee and the last General Council meeting in Geneva, the director-general said there will be only open-ended meetings without any green room sessions.

[In a comment emailed and tweeted to global media and civil society groups, Deborah James, coordinator of the OWINFS (Our World Is Not For Sale) network, said: "So in MC11, there are (to be) 5 facilitated sessions (on e-commerce, development, fishing subsidies, services and agriculture) from tomorrow (11 December), consecutively for one hour each on particular questions. But they will be formalistic with ministers making 3-minute remarks each, but not negotiations. These will be in "green-room" formats in the evening until mid-night each night, breaking Mr. Azevedo's promise at Geneva Trade Negotiations Committee (before MC11), when he said: "... clearly openness, transparency and inclusiveness will be important... and always be a bottom-up process." Azevedo had added that at Buenos Aires while he will "hold consultations where needed... I will not convene closed-door negotiating meetings... we will do everything we can to ensure that the meeting is open, transparent, inclusive - and orderly." SUNS]

Meanwhile, the informal group of developing countries as well as a group of Latin American and Caribbean countries have ensured the erasing of the Doha work program from their respective ministerial decisions.

There is no mention of either the Doha work program or the Doha Development Agenda in both these ministerial decisions.

Trade ministers from the group of Latin American and Caribbean countries have called for working towards "a multilateral trading system that is fair and equitable, based on rules and on the principles of non-discrimination, transparency, inclusiveness, and the centrality of development as a fundamental objective".

In a move to oppose the United States which refused to accord primacy to the WTO in the multilateral trading system, the group of Latin American and Caribbean countries, in a joint communique on Friday (December 8), stressed "the importance of the WTO as the organization of the multilateral system that serves as a forum for agreeing on disciplines and commitments aimed at reducing obstacles to international trade and ensuring a level playing field for all, thereby contributing to the economic growth and development of nations."

"The relevance of the WTO dispute settlement system, which provides all Members, whatever the size of their economy, with access to a mechanism for settling situations that affect trade on the basis of the WTO Agreements," the Latin American and Caribbean countries maintained, emphasising that "it is in the interest of all WTO Members, and in particular the developing and least-developed economies, to guarantee that the mechanism remains effective."

Without naming the US, the trade ministers of Latin American and Caribbean countries urged "members to ensure that the dispute settlement system continues to function smoothly and to fill the vacancies in the Appellate Body as quickly as possible, without linking them to other procedural issues."

They urged the US and other countries "to contribute, through their decisions, to the success of the Eleventh Ministerial Conference, maintaining the principles that gave birth to the Organization, preserving the common interest and cooperation, and helping to overcome obstacles, protectionism and the distortions prevalent in international trade in order to ensure equity in the system and social justice at the global level."

In their communique, the informal group of 120 developing countries in which India, China, and South Africa are members, merely "reaffirm[ed] the principles and objectives set out in the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, and commit to strengthen the rule-based multilateral trading system."

"We firmly believe that a strong, rule-based multilateral trading system is a cornerstone of the global economy and provides stability for international trade," the informal group of developing countries maintained.

The IGDCs (the informal group of developing countries) said they "recognize the need for all to benefit from the increased opportunities and welfare gains that the multilateral trading system generates."

They vowed to "safeguard and strengthen the core values and basic principles - rules-based, open, equitable, transparent, non-discriminatory and inclusive - of the WTO, and commit to enhance the relevance of the organization."

They pledged "to strengthen the multilateral trading system to provide a strong impetus to inclusive prosperity and to respond to the specific development needs of developing country Members, in particular the least- developed country Members", emphasizing "development as a core objective in the WTO, and reaffirm that the principle of special and differential treatment shall remain integral to the organization, recognising that the majority of WTO Members are developing country Members."

"We reaffirm our commitment to fully implement the Decision on Measures Concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least-Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries, including differential treatment in line with the Marrakesh Decision in the context of the agriculture negotiations, in recognition of the challenges that these Members continue to face," the IGDCs said.

In another development at the inaugural press conference, Argentina's minister Susana Malcorra, who is chairing the ministerial meeting, defended her government's decision to block the participation of non-governmental organizations on security grounds. She said the decision was taken according to procedures announced by her foreign minister months ago.

According to a source in Buenos Aires, the Argentinean government denied the visas to non-governmental organizations based on the advice it had received from the WTO about several non-governmental organizations.

[On Saturday, WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell had told at his press briefing that the WTO disagreed with Argentina's decision. "We didn't have the same perspective, but we're now moving on," he told journalists. However, despite his or Argentina's hopes of burying the controversy and "moving on," the issue continued to reverberate across global public opinion, raising questions about the legitimacy of the WTO and any decisions MC11 might reach.

[Reacting to Rockwell's remarks, Deborah James, coordinator of the OWINFS (Our World Is Not For Sale) network, said: "We have to address the banning of civil society from the Ministerial. We still have peaceful advocacy groups ... including two persons actually deported in the middle of the night. None of these organizations (and persons) have any history whatsoever of violence. Instead, they are CSOs with a long history of advocacy for a just global economic system. They were banned for their political views and beliefs. But we see the International Chamber of Commerce, DHL, UPS, the World Economic Forum, PHARMA, the European Services Forum, and other corporations and corporate lobby groups are permitted. Keith Rockwell said "Now we are moving on." But the banning of accredited participants to an international meeting of a multilateral organization de-legitimizes that meeting... DG Azevedo has unfortunately failed to display the required leadership to guarantee the integrity of the Ministerial. And we condemn this political repression by the Argentine government." SUNS]

At the Sunday pre-inaugural press conference, the WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo said the United States Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer must show "political flexibility" at the Buenos Aires ministerial meeting so as to ensure "the importance of the system for the world and for the global economy."

Azevedo said "what he would tell Lighthizer in Buenos Aires will not be different from what he tells other trade ministers."

He said he would tell Lighthizer "we have to recognize the importance of the system for the world and for the global economy and the importance of this ministerial organization and the importance of the future work program of the WTO."

"I will ask [him] for political flexibility," he said, suggesting that problems are encountered at the WTO from one country or other from time to time - which is not new. "I avoid finger-pointing," he said, suggesting that members have to overcome problems collectively.

As regards the US decision to block the appointment of new members at the Appellate Body, Azevedo said "the situation is an extreme concern" as there is a "paralysis" of the selection process to the AB. Members have to overcome this problem soon so as to ensure a quick solution to the issue.

Azevedo was shifting the blame for loss of jobs because of the rapid changes and developments in technology.

He said it is technology which is contributing to loss of jobs and not global trade, adding that this problem has to be countered not through protectionism but devising appropriate policies.

UNCTAD's Trade and Development Report has demolished the technology-led arguments, saying that the fundamental changes that are taking place are due to global trade liberalization which has created hundreds of millions of losers and very few winners. The problem of inequality is an offshoot of trade liberalization, UNCTAD's latest report had suggested.