TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec17/25)
14 December 2017
Third World Network

MC11 ending amidst endless frustration of large majority of South
Published in SUNS #8596 dated 14 December 2017

Buenos Aires, 13 Dec (D. Ravi Kanth) - The World Trade Organization's eleventh ministerial conference (MC 11) in Buenos Aires concluded on Wednesday amidst endless frustration and disappointment for a large majority of developing countries who have been denied a mandated outcome on the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security after an intransigent United States pulled the plug, trade ministers told SUNS.

During a high-voltage green room meeting of a small group of countries, the US retracted its assurances to agree to a modest increase in the upper limit of total procurement not exceeding 12% of the domestic production quantity of the crop in question.

The US wanted the facilitator Ms Amina Mohamed, Kenya's cabinet secretary for foreign affairs, and the WTO Secretariat to do the hatchet job in terminating the negotiations, said a source, who asked not to be quoted.

However, the facilitator grilled the US as to why it is retracting its earlier assurances for modest improvement to which a US official simply said "it cannot agree to any permanent solution on the public stockholding issues at MC 11."

"This has posed a severe threat to a successful conclusion of the Conference as there was a Ministerial mandate for a permanent solution by the eleventh ministerial conference," India said.

"India is surprised and deeply disappointed that despite an overwhelming majority of Members reiterating it, a major member country reneged on a commitment made two years ago to deliver a solution of critical importance for addressing hunger in some of the poorest countries of the world," India maintained.

Moreover, "this has the potential to irreversibly damage the credibility of the WTO" that does not deliver on outcomes for developing and poorest countries, said an Indian official, who asked not to be quoted.

Earlier, the chairperson of the conference, Ms Susana Malcorra, convened a face-to-face meeting between the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and his Indian counterpart Suresh Prabhu.

Ambassador Lighthizer explained that the US decision to reject the permanent solution for public stockholding programs at the Buenos Aires ministerial has got nothing to do with India but the World Trade Organization which, he said, urgently needs institutional reform, according to an Indian official who asked not to be identified.

The African Group of countries remained frustrated over the concerted stonewalling and diversionary approaches adopted by major industrialized countries - the US, the European Union, Japan, Australia, and Canada among others - to deny credible outcomes on ten agreement specific proposals.

After the US pulled the plug on the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security on Tuesday morning, it became abundantly clear that results in other areas - a partial outcome on fish subsidies, and even modest results in other areas - are difficult to come by, said a trade minister who asked not to be identified.

In the absence of concrete outcomes, members will now pursue a "forward-looking work program" in fish subsidies, agriculture, and other areas.

But the work program in electronic commerce based on the 1998 work program is unlikely to change barring increased involvement of the General Council.

Other new issues - such as investment facilitation and disciplines for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) - are unlikely to get any traction in the post-Buenos Aires work program as India and a majority of developing countries continued to maintain that there is no mandate for the issues.

At the heads of delegations (HoD) meeting, the facilitators presented their reports which revealed sharp divergences among members in all areas.

The facilitator for agriculture Ms Amina Mohamed suggested that her draft text was finely balanced, including a future work program on domestic support. There was also a good basis for finalizing an outcome on the permanent solution but one member rejected any outcome at this juncture.

She said there were sharp differences on export restrictions.

On fish subsidies, the facilitator Ms Kamina Johnson Smith said there could not be any convergence on a partial decision for vessels that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

But members agreed to pursue the negotiations on a draft text that includes proposals on all issues in the fisheries draft text.

The facilitator for e-commerce from Senegal said he is still working on a landing zone but he reckons that many members would like to continue with the 1998 work program with an enhanced oversight of the General Council.

On services, the facilitator said there is no consensus on any outcome on the domestic regulation in services.

The new issues - investment facilitation and disciplines for MSMEs - remain unresolved because of continued divergences among members.

There is life after Buenos Aires with a forward-looking work program, said Ms. Malcorra. She is still working on a ministerial declaration but it is unlikely that it will emerge Wednesday.

There are still issues of the moratorium on e-commerce and moratorium on the TRIPS non-violation and situation complaints that are yet to be finalized.