Global Policy Forum

Doha Talks to go into Intensive Mode

WTO members propose to expedite Doha negotiations hoping to complete the Development Round by mid 2011. The least developed countries have expressed concern about the scheduling of meetings and their ability to fund their experts' prolonged stay in Geneva.  No solutions were suggested by rich countries. If a conclusion cannot be reached at the multilateral level, it may lead to collapse of the negotiations.

By Third World Network

Third World Network
December 11, 2010

Following up on the political signal emanating from the recent Seoul G20 Summit on the need to complete the end-game in the nearly-ten-year-long Doha Round of trade negotiations, negotiators here at the World Trade Organization (WTO) are set to translate this political guidance by engaging in an intensive programme of work on all fronts of the negotiations from now through the beginning of next year.

The work programme proposed envisages revised texts in all the areas of the negotiations to emerge towards the end of the first quarter of 2011, and for a greater involvement of senior officials from capitals as the work intensifies in the coming months.

This emerged at an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on Tuesday, where TNC Chair Pascal Lamy, who is also the Director-General, proposed the work programme to the full membership.

In the declaration at their Seoul summit (11-12 November), the G20 leaders stated their strong commitment to direct their negotiators "to engage in across-the-board negotiations to promptly bring the Doha Development Round to a successful, ambitious, comprehensive, and balanced conclusion consistent with the mandate of the Doha Development Round and built on the progress already achieved."

The G20 leaders added: "We recognize that 2011 is a critical window of opportunity, albeit narrow, and that engagement among our representatives must intensify and expand. We now need to complete the end game..."

According to trade officials, there was broad support at the informal TNC meeting for moving in a different direction. What will happen now is that negotiating groups will be revved up. As to when the horizontal process takes place (where tradeoffs can take place across the sectors of the negotiations), trade officials said that while there were no objections from delegations to having this horizontal process, it has not yet been decided when or how this would happen.

Speaking at the informal TNC, after the statement by the TNC Chair, Bolivia stressed that setting artificial deadlines would make the negotiations more difficult for developing countries. It also questioned the need for new texts by April.

Brazil, on behalf of the G20, pointed out that agriculture remains the engine of the Doha Round and the key determinant of the level of ambition in all other areas of the negotiations. It said that any marginal adjustments in the level of ambition of the December 2008 draft modalities may only be assessed in the context of the overall balance of trade-offs, and should marginal adjustments take place, it is the G20's expectation that developed members would show leadership in improving the level of ambition of the Agriculture package.

Also speaking at the informal TNC meeting, the Least Developed Countries pointed to the challenges facing small delegations over the scheduling of meetings, and asked for this to be taken into account.

A developing country trade diplomat told SUNS that a conclusion to the Doha Round next year would require the United States to scale down considerably its ambitions as well as to ensure that Capitol Hill can assure any Doha deal that is reached. In this context, there should not be further demands made in non-agricultural market access (NAMA) particularly in the sectoral initiative.

Asked as to whether it is a good idea to try to get a Doha package by mid-2011, Ambassador Sun Zhenyu of China told SUNS after the informal TNC meeting: "I think we have to make our efforts to put the [G20] leaders' instructions into practice. Of course, we have to see that the overall political situation, whether it's ripe or not..."

"We know that the window of opportunity could be very narrow," the Chinese envoy added, stressing the need to be vigilant and not let it "slip through our fingers."

Pointing to Members taking very seriously the guidance that came out of the G20 summit, Ambassador Michael Punke of the United States told journalists that the key thing now is to test that and find out whether people in practice are ready to negotiate. And that is what the United States will be looking to do very much over the course of the weeks to come.

Asked if it is helpful to say that there should be a Doha package by mid-2011, Ambassador Punke said that the substance (of the negotiations) has to lead the process and not the other way around.

Asked about engagement from partners such as China, India and Brazil, he said: "We've seen some useful signs on that front," but declined to get into details.

In his statement at the informal TNC meeting, Pascal Lamy said that the G20 in Seoul and APEC Leaders and Ministers in Yokohama both sent strong signals of political resolve to conclude the Doha Development Round. They recognised the 2011 window of opportunity to achieve this goal. They called for intensified engagement and for negotiations across the board to conclude the end game. They also committed to seeking domestic ratification once an outcome is reached. In short, they provided a clear signal that they expect the Doha Development Round to be a deliverable next year.

"Our task now is to translate this political will into negotiations here in Geneva," he said, adding that in practical terms, "if we are to deliver on this recent momentum we need a clear sense of urgency in the work programme in Geneva."

In order to ensure full participation, though, the Negotiating Groups need to be at the heart of the intensified efforts over the coming months, with the Chairs taking a more pro-active role in accelerating the work, he said.

"Together we plan an intensive work programme from now on, through the beginning of next year, advancing on all fronts of the negotiations at the same time. This is the only way to take advantage of our narrow window of opportunity... In order to finish the Round by the end of next year we will have to operate on a very tight timetable bearing in mind that, once the package is agreed, scheduling and legal polishing will take up a minimum of six to seven months."

"With this timing in mind, I believe there is now a collective sense emerging that revised texts in all areas of the negotiation will have to be developed so that they appear towards the end of the first quarter of 2011," said the TNC Chair.

According to the work programme proposed by Lamy, during December, Negotiating Groups will continue their scheduled activities, supplemented by informal contacts among participants. From 10 January, the Rules, Trade Facilitation, Trade and Environment, TRIPS and Development groups will begin intensive sessions, to be joined from 17 January by Agriculture, NAMA, Services and Dispute Settlement.

"In sum, we have the political signal, we have the technical expertise and we have the work programme. We now need to translate these into a comprehensive deal which you can all take back home. The final countdown starts now."

Several delegations spoke following the statement by the TNC Chair.

Brazil, on behalf of the G20, reiterated that agriculture remains the engine of the Doha Round and the key determinant of the level of ambition in all other areas of the negotiations.

"As we hope to move to the intensification of substantive discussions in the Agriculture multilateral negotiating group, the development dimension and the principle contained in the cover letter in the current Draft Modalities for Agriculture that everything is conditional in the deepest sense' should be kept in mind," it said.

The G20 believed that the December 2008 draft modalities remain the basis for negotiations and represent the end-game in terms of the landing zones of ambition.

"Any marginal adjustments in the level of ambition of those texts may only be assessed in the context of the overall balance of trade-offs, taking into consideration that Agriculture is the engine of the Round. Should marginal adjustments take place, it is our expectation that developed members would show leadership in improving the level of ambition of the Agriculture package."

The G20 said that it remains committed to work hard for achieving an ambitious and balanced outcome that delivers on the development objectives of the Round in accordance with its development Mandate.

The Philippines, on behalf of the G33, welcomed the new efforts to accelerate the pace of the Doha Development Round. It expressed hope that shifting gear from "brainstorming" mode into intensive negotiations would take advantage of the window of opportunity, albeit narrow, foreseen in 2011 for concluding the Round.

"As we embark on this new effort, we should not forget that this is [a] Development Round and Special and Differential Treatment [S&D] is an integral part of all the modalities. We wish to recall that our Ministers in Doha and Hong Kong agreed to specific S&D treatment to ensure food security, livelihood security and rural development of Developing Countries; hence SP [Special Products] and SSM [Special Safeguard Mechanism] flexibility must be assured and take precedence over Market Access considerations."

The G33 said that it continues to believe that collective effort to reach the end point of the Doha Development Agenda will very much depend on the degree of real engagement and flexibility of all Members. The political will of Leaders Members must be translated into concrete actions inGeneva. In conducting the negotiations, said the G33, Members should adhere to a truly multilateral, transparent, inclusive and bottom-up approach.

On agriculture, the G33 looked forward to a work-plan on the next steps to address the outstanding issues in the draft Modalities, as contained in the Draft Agriculture Modalities Text of December 2008. The work-plan should put substance above the process. The modalities should take precedence over templates. The work on templates should continue to be strictly technical in nature and should neither alter the level of ambition in Rev. 4 (draft modalities text) nor distract us from the main objective of concluding the Agriculture Modalities.

The G33 urged all Members to take up all of the outstanding issues and there should not be any singling out of just a few issues.

Zambia, on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), welcomed the political signals emanating from the G20 and APEC meetings, and believed this provides a clear political message to move the negotiating process forward. In doing so, however, the development dimension of this Round should not be lost.

As regards process, Zambia said that the scheduling of meetings should take into consideration the challenges faced by small delegations. Therefore, parallel meetings that exclude participation of small delegations should be avoided.

Regarding substance, it said that all issues under negotiation must be brought to some level of maturity in good time, "if we are to develop text in all negotiating groups by the end of the first quarter in order to realize the opportunity to conclude the Round in 2011. This will require members to come forward with proposals that will form the basis of truly negotiated text."

As regards issues of interest to LDCs, Zambia said that the Work Programme ahead should include as part of its priorities, outstanding work relating to the Annex F decision of Hong Kong(in 2005). "In particular, we would like to see progress on the discussions relating to preferential rules of origin and to begin working on defining an appropriate monitoring mechanism for the implementation of DFQF (duty-free quota-free market access for LDC products) as contained in the NAMA and Agriculture modalities."

On services, Zambia believed some considerable progress has been made with the draft waiver decision negotiations and "we can close the gaps". On Trade Facilitation, the disciplines emerging from the Trade Facilitation negotiations should assist countries to achieve tangible benefits. The special and differential (treatment) provisions should be precise, effective and operational to ensure disciplines arising from trade facilitation negotiations assist countries attain tangible benefits.

The LDCs remained committed to ensuring the successful conclusion of a development-centred Round and will effectively participate in the process. "To us, the conclusion of the Round is the only stimulus package within our reach to deal with the after-effects of the financial and economic crisis."

According to trade officials, Australia, on behalf of the Cairns group of agricultural exporters, said that it has taken note of the political statements made and that the group is ready to move towards the end-game. There is need to strengthen the work in the negotiating groups and for a transparent and inclusive process. It must be one that provides for flexibility to accelerate breakthroughs. There is also need to engage in a text-based multilateral bottom-up approach, which will be the basis for the overall deal. Agriculture is central to the negotiations and there is need to fulfil the mandate to eliminate all forms of export subsidies to enhance market access and to have substantial reduction in trade-distorting domestic support.

Speaking on its own behalf, Australia fully supported the TNC Chair's statement. It said that it would like modalities in agriculture and NAMA to be concluded by June/July. Easter would be a good target for the revised texts. The key areas are market access in agriculture, NAMA and services. These will be what will determine the overall level of ambition, it said.

Chinese Taipei, on behalf of the Recently Acceded Members (RAMs), said that small-group "brainstorming" sessions of ambassadors have been useful, but that it is now time for the negotiations to move into another phase. It is important that the development dimension remains central to the process, which also needs to be transparent and inclusive. As RAMs, Chinese Taipei wanted other Members to be aware of the significant market access contributions that they have made as part of their accession process and this should be taken into account.

Switzerland, on behalf of the G10, said that the agriculture package represents a very high level of ambition, and it is not one in which sacrifices are equally shared among all Members. It remains engaged on the basis of the December 2008 text. The final outcome can only be realized with a balance across agriculture, NAMA and services.

Barbados, on behalf of the Small, Vulnerable Economies (SVEs), endorsed the TNC Chair's plan. There is need for a clear work programme to be a common platform from which Members will be able to bring about a more intensified negotiating process. There is need for all the issues to be on the table. Not all of them are of sufficient maturity. Agriculture remains the driver of the negotiations. While the small-group process has been useful, it is now desirable to make this a multilateral process, which is more transparent, and inclusive. The negotiating group process ensures a bottom-up approach.

The European Union said that Members have received strong political guidance. It agreed with the TNC Chair's work programme. Perhaps we have to wait and see how things go in January, it said, adding that if at the end of January, we do not seem to be getting any traction, there should be a political reality check at the end of that month to see if in fact the new process is working.

Associating itself with the G20 and G33 statements, India said that it welcomed the work programme outlined by the TNC Chair for utilising the critical but narrow window of opportunity of 2011 for concluding the Round. "In line with the directions given by the leaders in the G20 Summit, we are looking forward to intensifying and expanding the negotiations in the coming months."

India further said that it shared the TNC Chair's views that the involvement of the Senior Officials would be crucial to take the process forward because it also feels that many of the trade-offs would have to take place at the Senior Officials' level.

"In this context, we welcome your [TNC Chair's] idea of having a horizontal process go on in parallel to the negotiating groups, at some point of time within the next two months. This would be absolutely vital for the development of the texts, which have to be bottom up and have to reflect consensus reached among the Members. Any effort to short circuit the process and produce texts in perceived anticipation of a possible consensus, is fraught with risks and may cause damage to the whole process. It has, therefore, to be avoided at all costs," said India. It reaffirmed its fullest commitment to concluding the Round with an outcome that is in accordance with its development mandate and is balanced and equitable.

Also associating itself with the G20 and G33 statements, China said that one of the major achievements of the G20 Summit in Seoul is that Leaders reaffirmed their strong commitment to the Doha Development Agenda and "directed us as negotiators to engage in across-the-board negotiations to promptly bring the Doha Development Round to a conclusion consistent with the mandate and built on the progress already achieved."

"Leaders also recognized the urgent need to seize the window of opportunity in 2011, albeit narrow, and intensify engagement in order to complete the end game. The Leaders' Meeting and the Ministerial Meeting of the APEC also reiterated the importance of translating political commitment into concrete actions toward a final conclusion of the Round. Now it is upon us to shoulder the task of implementing the instructions of our Leaders," said China.

Noting that the Leaders recognized that the window of opportunity in 2011 is indeed narrow,China said that in its view, "the narrowness lies first and foremost in the fact that time is not with us, thus it is important to plan wisely the year ahead of us."

It further noted that since Members last met, Ambassadors have been able to conduct the final round of small group brainstorming. The Chair-led process has also restarted. "We believe the brainstorming has been a helpful exercise in a sense that it not only enables Ambassadors to have thorough exchanges on all topics, but also paves [the] way for possible progress in quite a few areas such as development, rules and dispute settlement."

It however stressed that the brainstorming is not and could not replace negotiating sessions and that negotiations from now on should be centred around the Chair-led multilateral process, a primary objective of which is to come up with revised texts as soon as possible, based on Members' intensified engagements in the coming months.

"Across-the-board trade-offs could have a better chance when we have the texts on the table. The guiding principle, undoubtedly, should be transparency, inclusiveness and bottom-up. For this purpose, Senior Officials should also be involved as much as necessary."

"... In order to seize the window of opportunity and complete the end game, the Leaders' instructions must be honoured in letter and spirit, which means, I repeat, a balanced and ambitious outcome to be achieved through 'respecting the mandate' and 'building on the progress already achieved'," said Ambassador Sun Zhenyu. "Here I would like to offer a word of caution. Any unilateral movement of the goalpost and change of the rules in the end game would cause further delays to the negotiations. Therefore, we encourage each and every member to take a realistic and pragmatic approach to the negotiations."

China stressed that this Round is a development round. Many things could be said of the outcome of the Round, but above everything, it has to be development-oriented. In this regard,China said that it is in favour of addressing in real earnest the concerns of the LDCs and SVEs as a priority in line with the statements made by Zambia and Barbados.

Associating itself with the statement of Zambia on behalf of the LDCs, Tanzania welcomed and supported the G20 meeting in Seoul and APEC meeting in Yokohama, signals of a renewed engagement that seeks a conclusion of the Doha Round in 2011, covering all the major sectors under negotiations. Consequently, the launching of intensified negotiations in early January 2011, which will involve Senior Officials from Capitals as well as Geneva-based officials is also a welcome move.

However, said Tanzania, much remains to be seen on how this will be translated on the ground here in Geneva.

"Moreover, for some of us uncertainty looms over the process that is going to involve Senior Officials who are in any case over-stretched to come and join us here in Geneva in January next year. For countries with weak economies like mine, it is not clear who is going to fund their prolonged stay in Geneva as we cannot finance them outside the already operating austerity budgets. This financial inability will automatically lock out some Members particularly from LDCs and SVEs to participate in this process. We therefore hope this issue will be addressed in a way that will enable all of us to participate and engage constructively with the rest of the membership."

Tanzania said that to it and other LDCs in particular, an early test of the seriousness of this political move of concluding the Doha Round next year, should start with an early harvest in areas where consensus has been achieved for LDC's specific issues.

"In view of the burden and heavy cost which we have had to bear as a result of the protraction to the Doha Round negotiations, LDCs have been calling for operationalization of duty free-quota free (DFQF) market access for LDCs; provision of a Services Waiver; and ambitious and expeditious implementation of the decision regarding the cotton initiative as mandated in the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration."

"If we are to see a balanced and meaningful outcome of the trade negotiations with development component that is going to be beneficial to LDCs, the three issues have to be concluded. Otherwise, conclusion of the Doha round just for the sake of concluding will have no meaning to some of us," it stressed.

Korea said that 2011 was a window of opportunity, and that in Seoul, the G20 had given guidance. There is now need to revitalize the negotiating process through more work in the negotiating groups. It is important that texts are ready be the end of the first quarter and agriculture and NAMA modalities concluded by July.

Japan said that the G20 has provided political direction and the next steps are that the negotiating groups must intensify their discussions. It supported the Director-General's next steps, saying that it is important that if Members are to conclude the Doha Round by 2011, they must get the next steps right. The negotiations must commence in earnest again in January with participation of senior officials as needed. There is need to also move to the horizontal process sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Egypt pointed to the need for transparency and inclusiveness. The development dimension needs to be preserved. The golden rule is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. The December 2008 texts are the basis for the negotiations. There is also need for caution when moving to the horizontal process, said Egypt, pointing out that the last time Members went to a horizontal process was in July 2008 and that did not represent the end-game.

The United States supported the process that was outlined by the TNC Chair. The "cocktail" approach has worked, but there is need to change the ingredients. It welcomed the renewed emphasis on the negotiating groups and the Chair-led process. But at the same time, there needs to be direct engagement between Members especially bilaterally. There is now need to pivot to true negotiating mode, and to move quickly to the end-game, otherwise the progress made up to this point will be eroded. Political signals have been received from the G20 and APEC and they were clear.

In the final analysis, substance trumps process, said the US, pointing to the need to move in such a way that all Members can deliver on a Doha deal which will be acceptable to their domestic audiences. Pointing to comments from some that the US needs to be more realistic, the US said that it has a different perspective on what is realistic. What is not realistic is for some major trading powers to receive significant new market access and give nothing in return.

Bolivia said that it is not part of the "G23" (a mix of developed and developing countries), APEC and the "Green Room" (at the WTO). It is difficult to set artificial deadlines and that these sometimes make it more difficult for developing countries. It believed that Members are ready to move into the negotiating groups, but questioned whether texts need to be ready by April. It is in the TNC where each work programme should be developed with the input of all the Members. It said that it would like to see something that is more transparent and inclusive, and a bottom-up approach. It was not in favour of small groups. It further said that agriculture needs to go first, then NAMA and then services.

Mexico said that there is need for texts by April and a final package (of all elements) by the end of June. At the eighth ministerial conference (15-17 December 2011), Ministers can trash out the final details.

Saudi Arabia said that this is intended to be a development round and Members must not lose sight of the development dimension. Any outcome of the negotiations must be of benefit for the poorest countries, and the process going forward must be transparent and inclusive.

Hong Kong-China said that there is need for modalities in agriculture and NAMA by mid-2011.

New Zealand said that if Members are to conclude by 2011, then June would be the latest for a deal to be concluded. +


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