Transparency and inclusiveness needed in resumed Doha talks, stresses South

Original Publication Date: 
13 February, 2007

Developing countries welcomed, at a WTO General Council meeting on 7 February the full resumption of multilateral negotiations on the Doha Work Programme and stressed on a multilateral process that fully observed the principles of transparency and inclusiveness in achieving an outcome.

The developing countries, individually or as groups, were speaking at the General Council following a report on the Doha Round negotiations by the Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee Pascal Lamy.

The General Council also appointed Ambassador Muhamad Noor Yacob of Malaysia as its Chair for 2007 and named a new slate of Chairs of the regular WTO bodies (see SUNS #6186 dated 8 February 2006).

All the major groupings of developing countries - including the G20, the G33, the NAMA-11, the African Group, the ACP Group, the Cairns Group, and small and vulnerable economies - made statements at the meeting.

Apart from the common theme in the statements of the developing countries on the need for transparency and inclusiveness in the resumed negotiations process, the issue of agriculture also featured prominently in some of the interventions.

The G20 developing countries stressed that the major players in the agriculture negotiations need to show movement in domestic support and market access. The Cairns Group of agricultural exporters said that it is essential to see a considerable improvement soon in the positions of the major Members on market access and domestic support.

The G20 also criticized the recently-announced Farm Bill proposals by the US administration, and said that it was not going as far as needed in accomplishing the twin objectives of a reduction in applied levels of domestic support and product-specific disciplines.

According to media reports, under the US Farm Bill proposals, agriculture subsidies would be reduced by about $10 billion over five years. Some trade-distorting subsidy programs in the Amber Box will also be cut, but there would be an increase in direct payments to farmers under Green Box programs, which are considered non-trade-distorting. The media reports also said that the US Department of Agriculture was unclear as to reforms in counter-cyclical payments.

The current US offer at the WTO is to limit its trade-distorting support to about $22 billion a year, but the EU has asked for it to be limited to $15 billion and the G20 wants a limit of $12 billion or less.

In his report to the General Council on Wednesday, Lamy said that ''we have resumed our negotiations fully across the board.''

Political conditions are now more favourable for the conclusion of the Round than they have been for a long time, Lamy said, adding that delegations must be prepared to engage constructively in this last phase of the work, and that they do so in the full, and shared, conviction that ''this deal is doable''.

''We are now writing the last chapter of this long, and sometimes tortuous, story,'' Lamy said.

Lamy also announced that a High Level Session of the Consultative Framework on Cotton will take place in Geneva on 15-16 March.

Brazil, on behalf of the G20, welcomed the announcement of the full resumption of multilateral negotiations in Geneva, and said that bilateral and plurilateral contacts are important, but any outcome must be the product of a multilateral process that is inclusive and transparent. The results must also be general, comprehensive and non-discriminatory, and embodied in full modalities adopted by a bottom-up approach and consistent with the MFN principle.

Brazil said that they still need to see movements by the major players on domestic support and market access. The majors must show in deeds their readiness to strive for compromises, translating into new negotiating positions the political will in support of the successful conclusion of the Round. And these compromises must fully deliver on the Doha commitments as complemented by the July Framework and the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration.

Brazil noted the growing support for the view that the G20 positions on all three pillars constitute the center of gravity in the agricultural negotiations and that there should be a convergence toward them.

An essential element for the success of this Round is the agreement on agricultural policy reform through the reduction in applied levels of domestic support, coupled with disciplines by product to avoid concentration and circumvention.

In this context, Brazil said, the recent guidelines for agricultural reform presented by the US administration do not seem to go as far as needed to accomplish both objectives. Brazil said that the G20 is still assessing the impact of the proposed changes.

In its preliminary view however, although there are positive aspects in the proposal, the volume of resources still available for trade distorting programs is not consistent with the need for effective cuts. The changes to be introduced in the current programs do not seem to carry the reform far enough, Brazil said.

Brazil said that it maintains its proposals on the table and remains committed to pursuing a result in domestic support that will lead to real cuts and effective disciplines. This, together with the expeditious elimination of export subsidies, will create the necessary conditions for an ambitious result in market access. Brazil encouraged the EC and the G10 to do their part by showing the appropriate flexibility on issues such as the formula cuts, sensitive products, special safeguard and all the other elements in the market access pillar.

The G20 is committed to achieving a 'breakthrough' in the shortest possible time, Brazil said, adding that concluding modalities before the summer break is indispensable to conclude the Round by the end of the year.

Benin, on behalf of the African Group, said that members were at the crossroads. We have to go back to where we were on all the issues in July 2006, Benin said. The principles of transparency and inclusiveness must be observed and the work must be done multilaterally, Benin stressed. There is a desire that the bilateral and plurilateral discussions would be the exception and that multilateralism be the rule.

African concerns, Benin said, need to be taken note of, such as reduction in trade distorting agricultural subsidies in rich countries; preference erosion; duty-free and quota-free market access for LDCs; the issue of cotton; flexibility in NAMA for developing countries; commodities; technical assistance and capacity building; aid-for-trade; and special and differential treatment. This last, Benin said, is a cross-cutting dimension that needs to be included in all elements of work.

Benin also welcomed the High Level Session of the Consultative Framework on Cotton that is to take place in March.

Australia, on behalf of the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters, said that it is essential to see a considerable improvement soon in the positions of the major Members on market access and domestic support, both of which will be central to securing a comprehensive reform outcome.

On domestic support, Australia said that significantly improved positions will be needed from all the major users, including the US and EC. On market access, the Cairns Group looked forward to hearing more about how the EC and G10 intend to improve their positions. It hoped that they will be transparent about their proposed treatment of reductions in each tier, and of sensitive products.

The Cairns Group said that it was studying closely the US administration's proposals for the next US Farm Bill.

The Group stressed that the negotiations must deliver real change to the world's farmers and real development dividends to those farmers in developing countries.

Barbados, on behalf of the Small and Vulnerable Economies (SVEs), said that they wanted to see a transparent and inclusive process as soon as possible.

Chad, on behalf of the Cotton-Four (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali), welcomed the announcement of the High Level meeting on cotton. It expressed concern over the lack of progress on the cotton issue. It said that a prompt decision is needed with respect to commercial and developmental elements on cotton. An expeditious, specific and ambitious treatment of cotton as called for in the July 2004 framework is needed, Chad said. It would also like to see a safety net set up that would offset losses to farmers that have been generated through subsidies in rich countries.

South Africa, on behalf of the NAMA-11 developing countries (Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Namibia, Philippines, Tunisia, Venezuela and South Africa), expressed concern and said that the sequencing of the negotiations that the Doha Development Agenda was careful to incorporate in its work programme - development issues first; agricultural modalities second; and then NAMA modalities - is not abandoned or even turned on its head.

South Africa said that the NAMA-11 is willing to contribute to the NAMA negotiations and that this contribution would be based on the objective of achieving a fair, balanced and development- oriented set of NAMA modalities predicated on the mandated principles of placing development concerns at the heart of the negotiations; ensuring 'less than full reciprocity in reduction commitments' for developing countries; comparable level of ambition with agricultural market access; and appropriate flexibilities to manage adjustment costs and address development needs.

With regard to flexibilities, the NAMA-11 reiterated that unconditional recourse by developing countries to the numbers in the brackets in paragraph 8 (of the July 2004 framework) are the bare minimum and should be adjusted upwards to enable some of the NAMA-11 economies to manage adjustment of their sensitive sectors.

Sectorals are not part of the core modalities nor are they mandatory, and therefore would need to be appropriately sequenced in the negotiations. In addition, South Africa said, the issue of export taxes and export restrictions are not part of the NAMA mandate and cannot be brought into the negotiations at this late stage. The NAMA-11 also believed that non-tariff barriers have to be meaningfully and comprehensively addressed in this Round.

Indonesia, on behalf of the G33 developing countries, put on the record of the General Council the statement it had made at an informal TNC meeting last week. In that statement at the informal TNC, the G33 had welcomed the announcement by the TNC Chair to restart the multilateral process, and urged that ''any developments be brought into the multilateral process as soon as possible in a transparent, inclusive and bottom up approach''.

The G33 emphasized that all outstanding issues in agriculture must be dealt in a more balanced, timely, and sequential manner in the resumed negotiations.

Jamaica, on behalf of the ACP Group, welcomed the full resumption of talks. They also stressed the importance of transparency and inclusiveness.

India referred to statements made by the G20, G-33, NAMA-11, African Group, ACP Group, and Cotton-Four, and said that these statements have highlighted the central issues and principles in these negotiations.

India welcomed the full resumption of the negotiations. It is important that this resumption is meaningfully multilateral. Small group meetings have an important role to play in resolving differences among Members but a sustainable breakthrough can only be achieved in multilateral negotiations which are fully inclusive and transparent.

It must be clear that this resumption must be across the board and all areas of the negotiations must be addressed with equal emphasis so that all constituencies can derive equal comfort from the outcomes.

No issues can be pushed under the carpet for later consideration, India said.

It must also be recognised that despite its small share in global trade, agriculture is the centre piece of the negotiations, India said. There are two reasons for this - firstly, due to the distortions that exist because of the huge subsidies and non-transparent market access regimes in developed countries, and secondly, because in developing countries the livelihoods and survival of hundreds of millions of farmers depend on agriculture.

''Development must remain the leitmotif of the negotiations and must inform all aspects of the negotiations. There cannot be any shortcuts in this,'' India stressed.

Hong Kong China said that the larger members need to get their acts together to crunch the numbers and to test tolerances, as well as to have a rapid touch of transparency. It said that this was not just a negotiation about agriculture and NAMA. Services, rules, trade facilitation and development issues were also important.

Nigeria welcomed the full resumption of negotiations under the Doha Work Programme. It however noted that the problems we all faced as at July 2006 are still with us. Nigeria highlighted its concerns including the need to ensure that the full resumption of the negotiations conforms to the principles of an inclusive Member-driven process that is consistent with the bottom-up approach.

The Chairs of the Negotiating Groups must, therefore, ensure that the negotiations are not carried out elsewhere by a few members to the exclusion of the majority, Nigeria said. There is also a need to ensure that all issues remain important. Although Nigeria considered reforms in agriculture as the central issue in the negotiations, it urged that commensurate attention be given to the development dimension of the Doha Development Agenda.

To that end, Nigeria called on all members to not only adhere to the principle of less than full reciprocity, but also intensify work and ensure meaningful progress on core development issues such as Special Products, Special Safeguard Mechanism, the work programme on special and differential treatment and implementation-related concerns.

The European Union welcomed the resumption of the talks. We don't have the luxury of time and we need to shift gears rapidly and resume work on all issues, the EU said. Focusing on one or even two or three issues to the detriment of others will not generate the appropriate synergies.

The US, with respect to concerns raised about the way the process was going (the bilateral vs multilateral question), said that it recognized that solutions can only come through a fully transparent and inclusive process.

The US also referred to the Farm Bill proposals and its implications. It said that it was important for members to realize that there will be many curves, dips, rises and detours in the legislative road to US farm reform in the coming months. It said that the best way to secure further reforms is to secure a strong outcome in agriculture in the Doha Round, particularly in the areas of market access and trade distorting domestic support of other members.

There is need to equally put strong effort into NAMA and services to achieve a breakthrough, the US stressed.

China took note of the recent acceleration of work among the major players. While there was a useful role for bilateral and plurilateral meetings, this kind of work should not be an excuse for sacrificing transparency and inclusiveness. The Doha Round is a development round and must address special and differential treatment, special products, special safeguard mechanism, cotton, the LDCs, SVEs, and recently acceded members.

Argentina said that it had waited 40 years for agricultural reform. The reduction of domestic support and greater market access are the minimum that it would accept.

On NAMA, Argentina pointed out that while some industrialized countries say that there are sensitivities in agriculture, these countries need to realize that there are sensitivities for developing countries with respect to improving market access for industrial imports.