Trade And Development Committee Unable To Bridge Gaps On S&D

20 December 2002

After numerous sessions held between 12 and 20 December -- including a marathon session on 19 December with Heads of Delegation -- Members at the Special Session of the WTO's Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) were unable to bridge the gaps that remained on the mandate to strengthen special and differential treatment provisions (S&D).

After a short discussion in the morning of 20 December, Members agreed that Chair Ransford Smith (Jamaica) would provide a factual interim report to the General Council on the current state of affairs. The Chair's report, according to one trade official, concluded that Members simply could not agree. At time of press, no further detail on how this matter would be followed up with in 2003 was available.

Developments over the past week

The discussions on S&D over the last week were split into two thematic groups. The first focussed on coming up with a first basket of decisions for immediate action. In this regard, Chair Smith prepared on his own responsibility 22 potential recommendations for agreement- specific proposals on 11 December (see BRIDGES Weekly, 12 December). The second thematic group dealt with how, and on what time frame, to proceed with the remaining issues.

Agreement-specific proposals

Delegates discussed the Chair's draft 'proposed recommendations for decisions in relation to certain agreement-specific proposals' (available here) on 12 December. While Members did not accept the draft as it stood, most were willing to continue working on the basis of its contents. However, one developing country trade expert commented that the 22 areas were procedurally heavy and substantively light, providing possible procedures for resolving the difficulties in using special and differential treatment provisions, but providing no solutions in themselves. Another observer noted that much of the language was non-mandatory, and -- echoed by a number of other developing country delegates -- cautioned that non-mandatory language had been the source of many of the problems the current exercise was trying to address. The delegates made it clear that if a decision of this nature were to go forward (i.e. an initial basket of proposals for immediate agreement), a detailed roadmap of future work on the remaining proposals would have to be included.

After further consultations on 13 December, a revised version of the 22 proposals was made available that evening. One trade source reported that the changes were mainly editorial in nature and there were no additions or deletions.

Finding a path to proceed

On the second theme of recent discussion, focusing on the way to proceed -- predicated on the success of agreeing to an initial basket of items for immediate decision -- Chair Smith released on 18 December a replacement for section VII of the draft report to the General Council (the first draft, TN/CTD/W/25, is available at http://docsonline.wto.org).

This revised section VII outlined the following procedures and timelines. The allocation of the remaining proposals into two additional baskets would be decided upon by 31 January. While all proposals would remain under the "oversight" of the CTD Special Session, only the first basket of agreement-specific proposals would remain under its purview for further consideration. This basket of items, those that could be amenable to solutions in the short-term, would face a deadline of reporting to the General Council with recommendations for a decision by 30 April 2003. On the other agreement-specific proposals, those on which the Special Session "could benefit" from ongoing discussions in other bodies (either because similar discussions were already underway or because decisions could not be taken in isolation of other negotiations), the Special Session would face a deadline of reporting to the General Council with recommendations for a decision by 31 July 2003 -- a full year beyond the original mandate for this review. These bodies would be instructed to give priority to the referred proposals and "requested" to provide regular written reports to the Special Session.

This draft also envisaged putting work on the cross-cutting issues on a parallel path, with a separate report being due to the General Council by 31 July 2003. As for the Monitoring Mechanism to monitor S&D provisions, the language did not change from the first draft, i.e. that the General Council would decide on the timing of the entry into force of the Mechanism, only after the special session had made recommendations on its "functions, structure, and terms of reference".

At the final stretch, no consensus could be found

After meeting until 10 pm on 19 December, Members were still unable to agree on either of the two tracks. On agreement-specific proposals, only four out of the 22 on the Chair's list seemed acceptable to everyone. On the way forward, Members could not agree on future deadlines or the procedure on which to handle the remaining proposals. In particular, one developing country delegate noted that having the cross-cutting issues in a report of its own was completely unacceptable. India and Kenya were reported to be unwilling to see the exercise go beyond February.

A last day of talks

The Special Session met again formally on the morning of 20 December to see if a last-minute deal could be worked out before the resumption of the final General Council session of the year (see BRIDGES Weekly, 12 December). After a short discussion, Members agreed that the Chair Smith would go ahead and make a factual interim report to the General Council on the state of S&D discussions. This report would, noted one trade source, indicate that Members could have potentially agreed on four of the agreement-specific proposals (out of 85-plus), being modified versions of items included in Smith's original 22 proposals. Two of these were allegedly related to the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), a third on the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) (regarding technical and financial assistance), and a fourth on the Enabling Clause (which stipulates, inter alia, that S&D should not be applied in a way that raises barriers or creates difficulties for other developing countries). On the way forward, the report would say that there was no agreement amongst Members and would conclude by requesting more time.

At time of press, no further details were available on the report that was made to the General Council on the afternoon of 20 December. One South Asian delegate did note however that the results were "extremely disappointing", while another observer closely following the issue commented that this deadlock, combined with the lack of progress on TRIPs & Public Health (see related article, this issue) and the lack of movement on implementation issues (see BRIDGES Weekly, 12 December, http://www.ictsd.org/weekly/02-12-12/story1.htm) seriously call into question the sincerity of the alleged Doha "Development" Agenda.

BRIDGES Weekly will follow up on this report in future editions.

ICTSD reporting.  

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