WTO Negotiators Start to Stake Out Shape of Nairobi Declaration

12 November 2015

Negotiators have tabled a flurry of proposals on the text of the WTO’s ministerial declaration, ahead of the organisation’s ministerial conference in the Kenyan capital city of Nairobi being held in less than five weeks’ time.

With controversy over the fate of the trade body’s long-running Doha Round continuing to loom over the talks, officials have agreed to divide the declaration into three parts: the first looking at the WTO’s achievements to date, the second containing Nairobi outcomes, and the third setting out how negotiating issues would be addressed in the future.

This structure was agreed following consultations held by three facilitators appointed by the Director-General: Ambassador Gabriel Duque of Colombia, Ambassador Harald Neple of Norway, and Ambassador Stephen Karau of Kenya.

Some major traders such as the US are believed to oppose the continuation of the Doha agenda under its current framework after the Nairobi conference, whereas many developing countries favour continuing talks so as to address the unresolved Doha issues.

“It will be impossible to mention whether we can continue Doha or not,” speculated one negotiator in comments to Bridges.

Ambassadors from all WTO member countries were invited to attend a meeting on Tuesday to discuss part 1, on the trade body’s achievements to date, as well as a similar consultation on Wednesday to discuss part 3, on the way forward after Nairobi.

Trade officials told Bridges that the content of part 2 would only be finalised at the ministerial itself.

Nine proposals

Negotiating coalitions and individual countries have tabled nearly a dozen new proposals since last Friday, ranging in length from one paragraph to a six-page document.

The submissions mostly lay out proposed text for parts 1 and 3 of the draft declaration, although one also identifies a list of proposed declarations or decisions for adoption in Nairobi under part 2.

Ten farm exporting countries, including both developed and developing nations, also submitted a short proposal on the text of part 1 of the draft declaration.

The group includes around half of the membership of the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters, as well as one non-member, Rwanda. The co-sponsors propose that part 1 of the declaration recall that fundamental reform of farm trade is an integral part of the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture under its Article 20, one that was reaffirmed in the Doha Declaration.

A separate short proposal from Brazil would have the third part of the declaration reaffirm the need for regional trade agreements to remain complementary to the multilateral trading system, rather than substitute for it. Brazil proposes that the WTO Committee on Regional Trade Agreements should map the systemic implications of these accords and their coherence with WTO rules.

The most detailed proposal is from the group of African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries, which along with outlining issues for post-Nairobi discussions, also envisages the adoption of declarations or decisions on export competition and cotton, as well as on various “development and [least developed country, or LDC] issues” such as duty-free, quota-free market access for LDCs and fisheries subsidies.

Another shorter submission from the African Group mirrors many of the ACP concerns.

Large developing countries

China, India, Indonesia, and South Africa joined forces with Ecuador and Venezuela to submit a proposal with detailed text on parts 1 and 3 of the draft declaration, which would see WTO members reaffirm the declarations and decisions adopted at Doha as well as all subsequent ones.

Meanwhile, proposals from the group of small, vulnerable economies (SVEs) and the group of recently-acceded members (RAMs) each sought to maintain flexibilities that had been negotiated to date by their members in future talks at the WTO.

In negotiations this year, the US in particular has questioned whether China, a RAMs group member, should be able to benefit from additional flexibility on agricultural domestic support that was granted to this group under the draft Doha negotiating text that was tabled in 2008. Beijing has argued that any effort to cap its current farm subsidy entitlements would amount to breaching one of its “red lines” in the negotiations. (See Bridges Weekly, 25 June 2015)

South Korea also tabled a text-based proposal as Bridges went to press, with another reportedly expected from the Arab Group. A joint communication by Colombia, New Zealand, and Pakistan regarding fisheries subsidies was also released at the time of this writing, referring to the WTO’s “central role” in improving disciplines on fisheries subsidies, and proposing a commitment to continue work in clarifying and developing better disciplines.

Agriculture negotiations

Vangelis Vitalis, the New Zealand ambassador who chairs the WTO agriculture talks, held small group consultations on public food stockholding last Friday, trade sources told Bridges.

However, the consultation did not reveal any common ground between members on the controversial issue. The G-33 group of developing countries continues to argue that WTO members should agree to a “permanent solution” that would allow them more flexibility to buy food at government-set prices under WTO subsidy rules, while farm exporting countries insist that governments should not be allowed to include market price support under the trade body’s “green box” – designed for payments that cause no more than minimal trade distortion.

Agriculture negotiators were reportedly having a little more success in addressing export competition, although the US was said to be reluctant to accept proposed disciplines on export credits and on food aid that had been included in the 2008 draft Doha deal. (See Bridges Weekly, 5 November 2015)

Trade sources told Bridges that the US was reportedly preparing a proposal that would set out their concerns.

The chair was reported to be planning another small group consultation on the question of the special safeguard mechanism this coming Friday. G-33 members have recently proposed that the Nairobi ministerial agree to an “accessible and effective” mechanism that would allow them to raise tariffs temporarily in the event of a sudden import surge or price depression. (See Bridges Weekly, 29 October 2015)

“We need more time to discuss,” one negotiator told Bridges.

ICTSD reporting.

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