ACP group present elements for a WTO post Bali work program
Various elements for defining a post Bali work program on remaining WTO Doha development agenda negotiations were defined in a communication circulated by Barbados, on behalf of the African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) group of countries, on 10 March.
The elements presented by the ACP group have been designed with a view toward reaching consensus by the next WTO ministerial conference in December.
Following the adoption of the WTO Bali deal in December 2013, members committed to prepare a clearly defined work program on the remaining Doha development agenda issues, particularly agriculture and LDC issues.
The deadline for agreeing on the work program mandated in the Bali declaration has been set for July 2015, after a previous end-2014 deadline was extended last November.
The submission elaborates on the ACP group positions in the DDA regarding special and differential treatment (S&DT) proposals, agriculture, non-agricultural market access (NAMA), services as well as fish subsidies, and trade-related intellectual property rights.
“The Group feels that at minimum these outstanding issues are central to concluding the DDA,” reads the communication.
According to the latest consultations, the remaining issues of the Doha development agenda are likely to revolve around agriculture, non-agricultural market access and services. (See Bridges Weekly, 26 February 2015)
“We are continuing to make steady progress in terms of understanding the issues and each other's aspirations and limitations,“ said WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo at the Heads of Delegations meeting held on 18 march.
“There is a clear sense that members are moving into a solution-finding mode”, he added.
The Group identified a selection from the original 88 proposals on special and differential treatment to have “economic and practical value.”
S&DT has long been considered a crucial part of the Doha round’s development dimension.
Originally created as an overarching mechanism to give preferential treatment to developing and least developed countries (LDCs), the measure aimed to help these countries more easily integrate into the multilateral trading system.
To this end, paragraph 44 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration granted a mandate to review all S&DT provisions with a view to making them stronger, more precise, effective, and operational.
“Achieving tangible and binding results from negotiations aimed at establishing a fair, and market oriented trading system in agriculture, remains central to the conclusion of the Doha round,” the ACP group’s communication reads.
The group specified that “at a minimum”, the work program should preserve the gains in special flexibilities as contained in the December 2008 revised draft modalities text for agriculture.
ACP countries also stressed that a solution on cotton should be part of any result to conclude the DDA, and by the next ministerial conference.
The communication mainly reiterates the need to preserve flexibilities (Rev.4) related to measures on domestic support, market access and export competition.
Regarding agricultural market access, Argentina circulated a communication on 10 March calling for a request and offer approach for market access negotiations. (See Brides Weekly 12 March 2015).
A separate report is currently being drafted on this issue and will soon be available.
Negotiations on substantial improvements in market access are required to be conducted in parallel with negotiations on agriculture and services with a view of “achieving balanced and development centred outcomes (…),” specifies the document.
The Group emphasised the need to address non-tariff barriers (NTBS) which affect particularly products of export interest to developing countries. According to the Group, NTBs should be an integral part of the negotiations and members should aim to reach an agreement on a potential NTB package structured around ACP proposals but also those of other developing countries and LDCs on the different types of NTBs impacting their NAMA trade.
To this end, the communication instructs the Chairman of the negotiating group on market access to convene sessions to discuss NTB elements.
The communication also reiterates the need to for NAMA negotiations to take into account the special needs and interests of developing and LDC participant and states that such action should take place through “less than full reciprocity in reduction commitments.”
The group therefore called for a core set of flexibilities to be preserved for developing countries with low binding coverage, small and vulnerable economies (SVEs) and LDCs. These flexibilities are currently reflected in the Draft modalities text dated 6 December 2008.
On tariff reduction formula, the ACP group proposed an approach that would stem from the level of commitments envisaged for LDCs, ACP countries and SVEs under Rev.3 flexibilities as in the 2008 draft text in which tariff reduction commitments are proportionately higher for developed and developing country members.
The ACP group encourages members to improve and notify their LDC services preferences under the Waiver decision by July 2015.
Several WTO members indicated concrete sectors and modes of supply where they intend to provide preferential treatment to LDCs services and services suppliers during a high level meeting held on the 5 February. Members agreed during that meeting that they would endeavour to notify their preferences formally to the WTO Council on Trade in Services specifying actual preferences by the 31 July at the latest. (See Bridges Africa 9 February 2015)
On mode 4 – the mode of supply of most interest for LDCs as it involved the movement of person across borders –, the Group for particular attention on new commitments in contractual services suppliers and independent professionals across all sectors.
The document also stresses the importance of GATS flexibility for individual developing countries and LDCs “to open fewer sectors and liberalize fewer types of transactions” while reiterating the right for such countries to “progressively” extend market access in line with their development situation and attach conditions to market access opening.
In their proposal, the ACP Group urged members to reach an agreement at the next ministerial conference on a fisheries package.
ACP countries consider fisheries subsidies as a “central” element of the development component of the Doha round, given the critical importance of the sector to poverty reduction, livelihood and food security in their countries.
Further disciplines on subsidies in the fisheries sector should be an integral part of the post-Bali work program according to the ACP group, and such measures would include: enhanced transparency and notification requirements on the type and scope of subsidies provided by members to their fisheries sector and the capping and progressive phasing out the various forms of fisheries subsidies.
The communication lists for example, subsidies provided to any vessel engaged in fishing practices which have significant adverse impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems and habitats, subsidies provided to any vessel engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing as well as subsidies provided to any fishing vessel or fishing activity affecting fish stocks that are in an unequivocally overfished condition.
Additionally the Group stated that it remains committed “to explore broader disciplines” on fisheries subsidies provided that these disciplines incorporated “appropriate and effective” S&DT provisions.
The Group also linked the implementation of discipline on fisheries management by members whose share of the global marine wild capture fisheries is less than 60 percent to sufficient technical assistance and capacity building.