TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct19/13)
17 October 2019
Third World Network

WTO DG voices sharp concern over impasse on new Rules chair

Published in SUNS #8998 dated 16 October 2019

Geneva, 15 Oct (Kanaga Raja) – WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo, at an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on Monday, urged members to quickly reach consensus on a new chair for the Doha Negotiating Group on Rules that is currently overseeing the negotiations on fisheries subsidies disciplines.

He said that failure to do so would endanger the prospects for meeting the end-of-year deadline for a fisheries subsidies agreement.

The DG also reported that there was no positive news to share on the ongoing impasse over the appointment of members to fill six vacancies on the Appellate Body, and that the current process undertaken by the facilitator, Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand, on resolving this crisis continues.

Azevedo’s statement was preceded by reports from the chair of the agriculture negotiations; the chair of the Council for Trade in Services in Special Session; and the chair of the Dispute Settlement Body in Special Session.

According to trade officials, speaking at the informal TNC/HOD meeting, the DG pointed to the record level of interest and attendance at the WTO Public Forum, held on 8-11 October 2019, as a sign that ongoing efforts by members on WTO reform were gaining recognition.

He however said that hard work would be needed in the months ahead to translate positive momentum into concrete outcomes.

“Despite the good work taking place across so many issues, we are a long way from where we should be. Time is not our friend,” the DG said.

“The world is counting on us to deliver a stronger rules-based trading system – with more predictability and less uncertainty. A system that unlocks opportunities for trade, development, and inclusiveness,” he added.

On the lack of consensus among members on the appointment of a new Doha Rules chair, Azevedo told members that he does not have to explain the need for urgency (in appointing a new chair).

He said that Deputy Director-General Karl Braunner’s intervention at the cluster of meetings of the Rules Group on fisheries subsidies last week was a stop-gap measure and does not imply that there is any less concern about the fact that members have not filled the vacancy of the chair.

[Open-ended facilitator-led sessions on fisheries subsidies were held on 10-11 October, with DDG Braunner opening and closing the cluster of meetings on behalf of the DG.

[Braunner said that the week had been productive as indicated by nearly a hundred bilateral, small group, and open-ended meetings and three new submissions. He however urged members to continue working towards building consensus on appointing a new Rules chair.]

According to trade officials, at the informal TNC/HOD meeting on Monday, Azevedo urged members to swiftly reach consensus on a new chair for the Rules negotiating body, cautioning that failing to do so would endanger the prospects for meeting the end-of-year deadline for a fisheries subsidies agreement.

In reference to the reports of the Chairs of the various Doha negotiating bodies, Azevedo noted that there was no report from the Chair of the Rules Negotiating Group, as there was no chair.

The DG welcomed the further submissions made by members on agriculture and paid tribute to the Cotton-4 countries for the work that they had done at the WTO on World Cotton Day (held on 7 October).

Azevedo said that the forecasts for merchandise trade that the WTO issued recently are not encouraging, and the WTO Trade in Services Barometer has shown that trade in services is also weakening.

“While discouraging, this darkening outlook for trade should not surprise anyone,” said the DG.

“Trade conflicts have not abated. Indeed, they have continued to increase. The current uncertainty is not conducive for business confidence and investment,” he added.

“This is not good for trade and growth in the immediate term. Worse, it is denting future prospects for growth, development, and job creation.”

“We must therefore work together to resolve the prevailing trade tensions and rebuild confidence in the global trading system,” said the DG.

On the ongoing impasse in the appointment of members to vacancies on the AB, Azevedo said that there is no positive news to share, and that the process undertaken by the facilitator Ambassador Walker continues.

On the current moratorium (on customs duties on electronic transmissions), Azevedo said that members need to think about the signals that they will be sending when decisions are made on this issue.

He also reported that work is ongoing on strengthening the various Committees and Councils.

A number of delegations took the floor following the reports by the chairs of the various Doha negotiating groups and that of the Director-General (see separate story).