As Elsewhere In Doha Talks, NAMA Negotiators Searching for Way Forward

18 May 2011

As with the Doha Round negotiations in general, WTO members are searching for a way forward in the talks on liberalising trade in industrial goods, the chair of the negotiating committee said this week.

In a brief meeting on 16 May, the chair, Swiss Ambassador Luzius Wasescha said that governments are unwilling to give up after what has been nearly a decade of negotiations. Nor are they saying - at least openly - that they are willing to give up on the idea of the ‘single undertaking', which they would need to do in order to conclude stand-alone accords on any of the several individual topics within the Doha Round talks where agreements are within reach.

Wasescha said that he would wait to see whether indications on how to proceed on non-agricultural market access (NAMA) emerge from an end-May session of the Trade Negotiations Committee, the WTO body that oversees the Doha Round negotiations. WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, who chairs the TNC, is expected to use the 31 May gathering to share with members his assessment of the state of the talks, based on his own consultations with governments.

Lamy will have ample opportunity to sound out ministers on the struggling multilateral talks over the coming  week. Trade ministers from across the Pacific Rim region are set to meet in the US state of Montana from 18-21 May during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meetings. Ministers from many leading economies are also set to meet in Paris next week at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In Geneva, meanwhile, ambassadors have been meeting in different groups in an attempt to find a way forward, although sources report their talks have thus far been inconclusive.

The WTO chief has called the NAMA negotiations the single biggest obstacle to a Doha Round accord, with members' positions currently unbridgeable. At the heart of the divide has been the extent to which large developing countries like China, Brazil, and India participate in initiatives to eliminate or deeply cut tariffs across entire industrial sectors. They have resisted accepting the far-reaching sectoral tariff cuts sought by the US and the EU, as well as other developed countries.

Given the impasse on tariff reduction, the NAMA chair's April report to members focused on non-tariff barriers (NTBs), where he said that differences were more bridgeable. That report included new draft agreement language on three NTB-related issues : a proposed "horizontal mechanism" for the swift mediation of trade irritants arising from non-tariff measures; general rules concerning transparency in the adoption of new technical regulations; and the labelling of textiles, clothing, footwear and travel goods.

During the NAMA negotiating group meeting, the EU and Hong Kong urged members to continue working on NTBs, which Hong Kong described as the "rule-making" component of the committee's work. The US reiterated its longstanding concerns regarding the ‘horizontal mechanism' - Washington has long questioned how such mediation would relate to standard WTO dispute settlement - and called for a focus on specific policies affecting specific industries.

Japan, for its part, appealed for a "serious discussion" on the divisive issue of sectorals. Switzerland said the NAMA negotiations needed a "political push" to move forward.

ICTSD reporting.

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