TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (May18/06)
14 May 2018
Third World Network

WTO secretariat slated by DCs over its work on pluris, ignoring DDA
Published in SUNS #8678 dated 9 May 2018

Geneva, 8 May (D. Ravi Kanth) - India, South Africa, and several other developing and least-developed countries on Monday (7 May) have raised a red flag at the World Trade Organization, over the Secretariat's controversial role in deliberately advancing work on the plurilateral initiatives while ignoring multilateral work on unresolved mandated issues of the Doha work program, trade envoys told SUNS.

Without naming the United States, a large majority of developing and developed countries also slammed a "major industrialized country" for paralysing the WTO through its unilateral trade actions and repeated attempts to block the selection process for filling the vacancies at the Appellate Body.

The developing countries voiced their criticism of the Secretariat and of t he US at an informal Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) meeting at the WTO on Monday.

The issues are expected to figure prominently at the formal meeting of the General Council on Tuesday (8 May).

India, South Africa, and other developing countries also categorically rejected attempts to alter the architecture for the special and differential flexibilities for developing countries, by introducing "differentiation" as demanded by the United States and a few other industrialized countries.

Indonesia, on behalf of the G33 farm coalition, India, China, and several other developing countries called for accelerating work on the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, special safeguard mechanism (SSM) and other unresolved issues in the Doha agricultural dossier for "substantial reform of Trade Distorting Domestic Support; notably Cotton; a permanent solution for Public Stockholding; and advancing the discussions on a Special Safeguard Mechanism."

The African Group, said Ambassador Xavier Carim of South Africa, will "underscore that special and differential treatment must be integral to any outcome on agriculture, and we would seek to ensure that LDCs and NFIDCs are exempted from further commitments."

At the informal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting, India and South Africa squarely brought up the role of the WTO Secretariat in promoting the inform al plurilateral initiatives while ignoring the mandated multilateral work as set out in the Doha work program which is the basis for the continuation of the Trade Negotiations Committee.

India's trade envoy Ambassador J S Deepak said "the primary role of the WTO Secretariat is to support and strengthen the multilateral track" as per "the Marrakesh Agreement," according to trade envoys familiar with India's stand .

"Therefore," he argued, "the limited resources of the Secretariat should remain focused on mandated issues and existing areas of work in the WTO."

"We urge the Secretariat to accord priority to the work of the regular bodies and negotiating groups over the Joint Statement Groups [that were informally launched on electronic commerce, domestic regulation for services, investment facilitation, disciplines for micro, small, and medium enterprises, and economic empowerment of women] that were only informal groupings."

Despite repeated requests by India to update the Mode 4 [short-term movement of services providers under the movement of natural persons], the WTO Secretariat apparently refused to provide information on the ground that one or two members had blocked India's request.

Against this backdrop, India said it "reiterates its request to the Secretariat to update the Mode 4 submission before the CTS [Council for Trade in Services]."

Speaking on the Secretariat's role, South Africa's trade envoy Ambassador Xavier Carim made two points:

"First, we all know this work [on joint ministerial statements for plurilateral initiatives] is not part of our multilateral process," said Ambassador Carim. "They are informal processes and at this stage, it is not clear where they will end up," he added.

"Second, questions have indeed been raised about the role of the Secretariat in these processes," said Ambassador Carim.

"To be fully transparent and to ensure impartiality on what is a divisive issue, we would welcome a focused discussion on the extent of the Secretariat's support in these processes under the Joint Statements," Ambassador Carim maintained.

Several other countries such as Uganda, Zimbabwe, Cuba, and Bolivia among others also raised sharp concerns over the role played by the Secretariat in promoting the plurilateral initiatives.

The WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo said the Secretariat is ready to provide all assistance to the informal plurilateral initiatives.

Norway and several other countries praised the role of the Secretariat in i ts work, including the assistance provided for plurilateral initiatives.

On joint ministerial statements issued on the margins of the WTO's eleventh ministerial meeting, India said there is "a new trend in Geneva in the form of joint initiatives in some areas."

"Though proponents say these plurilateral discussions are a stepping stone to multilateral agreements, we do not see the logic of having such discussions outside the WTO for e-commerce and domestic regulation in services where a multilateral mandate exists," said Ambassador Deepak.

"India has also," said Ambassador Deepak, explained its "reservations on the introduction of new issues such as Investment Facilitation and MSMEs in the WTO till issues under the Doha Work Programme are addressed."

On behalf of the African Group of countries, South Africa said "previous Ministerial mandates and Members' submissions prior to MC11, including submissions by the Group, should continue to guide the negotiations."

The African Group also reiterated its "support for the development objectives embedded in the DDA, particularly in respect of placing the needs of developing countries at the heart of the work program."

Commenting on the "development file," South Africa, on behalf of the Africa n Group, raised three points. First, the African Group said that it remains committed to "advancing the G90 proposals on special and differential treatment in accordance with the mandate establishing the CTDSS (Committee on Trade and Development in Special Session).

Second, it is imperative to address the proposals of the Group of 90 countries on "special and differential treatment" on a war footing.

And third, the African Group will not support proposals for limiting the scope of S&DT (special and differential treatment flexibilities) or altering the architecture of development as set out in the Marrakesh Agreement.

He said the African Group needs developmental flexibilities to pursue economic development, particularly in the industrial sector.

India said that "special and differential treatment provisions for all developing countries and least-developed countries are an integral part of the WTO agreement and this principle would need to be protected in all future agreements as well."

Ambassador Deepak said India will not accept any approach based on selection for availing special and differential flexibilities.

China said that "the fundamental question for development is capacity divide" emphasizing that "special and differential treatment provisions are written in black and white in the WTO rulebook."

Beijing maintained that they are not so-called "perks or advantages", rather they are the limited tools to fill the capacity gap and necessary means for developing countries to exercise the right to develop their economy.

Several other developing counties said they will not accept any changes in the S&DT architecture.

The US launched a broadside against the existing architecture for special and differential flexibilities for developing countries at the informal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting.

"We have unfortunately allowed some clumsy and blunt structures - notably, self-designation of development status, and an apparent inability to distinguish among different kinds of developing countries - to get in the way of our collective progress," said Ambassador Dennis Shea, the new deputy US Trade Representative and Ambassador to the WTO.

He said that a meaningful discussion on this issue is currently underway. Ambassador Shea emphasized that members must "look for ways to break out of old patterns, as we [the US] see little likelihood of any future multilateral outcomes if the issue of development status is not fully addressed."

In sum, the informal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting brought into the open the dubious role of the WTO Secretariat in advancing plurilateral initiatives while turning its back on the mandated multilateral issues of the Doha work program, trade envoys said.