TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec18/09)
13 December 2018
Third World Network

Rise in trade restrictions, no breakthrough on AB impasse
Published in SUNS #8815 dated 12 December 2018

Geneva, 11 Dec (Kanaga Raja) - There has been a dramatic rise in trade-restrictive measures, and WTO members must all respond to this situation, the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Roberto Azevedo , said on Monday.

In some remarks at an informal Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC)/Heads of Delegation meeting, the DG also provided an update on the ongoing impasse over Appellate Body (AB) appointments, saying that there has been no breakthrough, and that no solution is immediately evident.

According to trade officials, Azevedo said that 2019 is going to be a very important year, not least because of the deadline on (an outcome) on fisheries subsidies but also for the work in agriculture, specifically on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes. It is also important to move on development and services.

Referring to a series of recent meetings that he had attended, in particular the recent G20 leaders' meeting in Buenos Aires, Azevedo said that it was a productive meeting. The G20 statement stressed the vital importance of trade and called for improvements and necessary reform to the functioning of the WTO.

Azevedo also pointed to bilateral meetings that he had held in the United Kingdom, Japan, the US and Lithuania.

Referring to the upcoming report on overview of developments in the international trading environment at the Trade Policy Review Body on 11 December, the DG said that there has been a dramatic rise in trade-restrictive measures.

We must all respond to this situation, he said, adding that bilateral efforts are an important part of this, but so too is pursuing resolution at the global level through the WTO.

In this context, Azevedo urged more dialogue at all levels.

On the question of WTO reform, the DG maintained that there is real momentum here but it is in the very early stages. Ideas and proposals have been put forward but it is not clear the precise direction the discussion will take.

It is vital that the discussion reflects the full range of members, and that it be inclusive and transparent. It was very important that this be a broad and inclusive process, the DG added.

We are not talking about an effort to launch a new round or displacing any of the vital issues on the negotiating agenda but the focus should be on pragmatically fixing this invaluable system so that it works better for everybody, the DG said.

On the ongoing impasse in the Appellate Body, the Director-General said that we do not have any breakthrough. There is no solution that is immediately evident.

2019 is shaping up to be a busy year. We will be stepping up our preparations for MC12 in Astana, Kazakhstan, he said.

In this context, the DG pointed to the deadline on fisheries subsidies, as well as the expiry of the moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce, as well as an agreement on a moratorium on TRIPS non-violation and situation complaints.

The informal TNC/HOD meeting also heard reports from the Chairs of several of the Doha negotiating bodies.

According to trade officials, the Chair of the agriculture negotiations, Ambassador John Deep Ford of Guyana, said that in the sessions held since the last HOD meeting (in October), a number of submissions had been made including on agriculture market access from Paraguay, the US and Russia, on domestic support, and on export competition.

There have also been presentations made by the G33 on the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) and on public stockholding for food security purposes.

The chair said that he was very satisfied with the high level of engagement and the commitment that has been expressed by members as they seek to try and find ways  to agree on rules that would improve the agricultural trading system.

However, he said there has been no discernable shift in fundamental positions of members but the fact that so many submissions - many of them of a highly technical nature - and presentations were made underlines the importance of these technical exchanges in terms of helping members better understand the various positions.

He said that a work programme had been agreed last week for the period of January through April 2019 and will focus on 7 topics - domestic support, public stockholding, cotton, market access in agriculture, the SSM, export competition and export restrictions.

Deputy Director-General Yi Xiaozhun, speaking on behalf of the chair of the services negotiations, reported that there has been a proposal for having exploratory discussions on market access in services.

A number of members said that they have an appetite for this type of discussion, and that this could take place incrementally across a broad number of sectors, and across the various modes of supply.

But other members, for different reasons, have expressed reservations on this.

According to the chair of the services negotiations, any member can make a proposal under Article 19.

No outcome is prejudiced and delegates should be encouraged to come forward with proposals and presentations that might help to make the issue move forward.

The Working Party on Domestic Regulation had its first meeting of this year on 5 December where it discussed a proposal from India vis-a-vis mode 4 and how domestic regulations can help or hurt the process of mode 4.

There will be a follow-up on this next year, said the chair.

The chair of the Committee on Trade and Development in Special Session, Ambassador Tan Yee Woan from Singapore, said that the G90 group is looking to try and tailor its proposals on S&DT. They are going to look at ways to put these proposals forward in hopes of gaining consensus.

The chair urged members to redouble their efforts in moving ahead.

The chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules, Ambassador Roberto Zapata of Mexico, said that there are four incubator groups that are looking at specific technical issues. They have had three cluster meetings during the autumn.

There have also been text-based discussion on documents that have been submitted prior to the Buenos Aires Ministerial meeting.

The discussions have been positive and each group has produced a report. A lot of useful ideas have been reflected, he said.

Going forward, the chair said that in the early part of next year, the negotiating group needs to shift to a full negotiating mode. A more fluid and member-driven process is needed.

The negotiating group has agreed on seven areas of focus - subsidies to IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing, subsidies linked to over-fished stocks, subsidies linked to over-capacity and over-fishing, S&DT, dispute settlement, notification and transparency, and institutional issues.

Deputy Director-General Karl Brauner, reporting on behalf of the chair of the DSB in special session, said that at a meeting on 20 November, members referred to two proposals to remand from the Appellate Body back to the panel specific instances where the AB is not able to complete its analysis. The proposals pertain to how this can be done.

A number of delegations made statements following the remarks by the DG and the reports by the Chairs (see separate stories).