4. WTO Members Bank on Pittsburgh to Revive Doha

7 September 2009

Very little substantive progress has occurred in the past few months in the key areas under negotiation in the Doha Round, and WTO Members are waiting for a clear signal from the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh to re-energise the process.

Although sixteen G-20 members have called for concluding the round in 2010 (seepage 3), a number of countries noted before the WTO's summer break that such high-level proclamations had failed to produce any true progress in the negotiations back in Geneva. Mauritius warned that the ‘mismatch' between political statements and technical progress in the talks risked creating a credibility deficit for the WTO. Ambassador Ujal Singh Bhatia of India said the lack of progress undermined the goal of concluding the round by the end of next year, while Costa Rica called the 2010 deadline unrealistic given the current state of the talks.

Brazil, however, cautioned against excessive pessimism. "This is not an easy process and it may take some time; but not so much time that would force us to miss the 2010 deadline drawn by many of our leaders," its representative said.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy told the General Council on 30 July that he had sensed there was ‘unanimous agreement' among delegations that if the Doha Round were to be completed by the end of next year, high-level political pronouncements must be translated into ‘tangible progress'.

Main Ag, NAMA Issues Still Open

He admitted tacitly that the key issues in the agriculture negotiations - the special safeguard mechanism, cotton, issues related to sensitive products, preference erosion and tropical products, tariff rate quota expansion and tariff simplification - were still unresolved. But he also said that the chair of the negotiations, Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand, was holding consultations "to determine how best to broach these issues, with a view to a steady programme of technical work in late-summer through to the autumn." Those consultations will resume on 7 September.

After chairing a session on non-agricultural market access (NAMA) on 17 July, Swiss Ambassador Luzius Wasescha likened himself to the captain of a boat no one seemed to want to board. He urged Members to engage more seriously in the negotiations, and suggested that they focus initially on non-tariff barriers, and then on sector-specific liberalisation initiatives. The latter have actually seen some movement, with lead countries crunching trade and tariff data to convince others that it would be in their interest to join.

Ambassador Wasescha told reporters that the "big issue is where will emerging markets apply the flexibilities" that will allow them to shield a certain number of industrial products from full tariff cuts. In his pre-holiday assessment of the state of play, Mr Lamy noted laconically that although consultations had taken place on this issue, "at this moment there are no developments to report."

To Schedule or Not to Schedule

One of the major new controversies to have cropped up in the negotiations is whether Members should continue to work only on the framework agreements, or modalities, that will determine the level of tariff cuts for agricultural and manufactured products, as well as farm support, or whether they should engage in a parallel process of scheduling tariffs on specific products. The US is particularly keen on the scheduling exercise, arguing that it needs greater clarity on which products other countries intend to use the flexibilities and exemptions in the current texts when they formally schedule new tariffs at the end of the round.

Agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA) negotiators have now embarked on technical work that is to result in templates that can be used to rapidly schedule new tariffs and other commitments once a deal on modalities is reached. The process is likely to be lengthy, and some negotiators question the usefulness of the exercise. However, Pascal Lamy stressed in July that "scheduling in agriculture and NAMA must follow the principle of ‘no surprises'. This means that all significant issues relating to schedules must be clear at the time modalities are established." With regard to sequencing the work, the majority of WTO Members agrees that the modalities must be finalised before scheduling can take place.

Meanwhile, some countries have held scheduling-related bilateral consultations. The United States, for instance, has sought more clarity on the precise concessions that Brazil, China and India could offer, but according to US Ambassador Peter Allgeier the results have been meagre. He told the Trade Negotiations Committee in July that although some WTO Members recognised the ‘importance, usefulness and necessity of this complementary bilateral work', certain other major trading partners continued to ‘fall back on over-worn rhetorical responses' to the need for such work. Ambassador Allgeier, who has since left Geneva, added that biggest collective challenge facing the membership was to "inject into the current situation the additional clarity and ambition in the market access negotiations on agriculture, NAMA and services that are necessary to achieve a package that we all can support."

Movement Needed across the Board

Mr Lamy urged countries to strive for a ‘commensurate level of certainty' (to that being sought in agriculture and industrial market access) in the other negotiating groups, including those on services, rules, trade facilitation, environmental goods and intellectual property. "We have to ensure that the whole caravan moves forward together and arrives on time," he said. To achieve that goal, "delegations must start thinking of the signals to send to all chairs about what would be ‘big-ticket' items for them. There will also have to be collective agreement not to take ‘hostages'. Finally, more horizontal processes to address political sensitivities across the board have to be put in place from September on," Mr Lamy concluded.

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