NAMA Chair Holds 'Confessionals' To Gauge Possibilities for Advancing Talks

24 May, 2005

GENEVA--The chairman of the World Trade Organization's negotiating group on non-agricultural market access (NAMA) has been holding private consultations with key member governments to gauge the possibilities for advancing the stalled talks.

Officials told BNA May 24 that the chairman, Iceland's WTO ambassador Stefan Johannesson, had scheduled 'confessionals' with some 45 delegations most active in the talks in the run-up to an important meeting of the NAMA negotiating group scheduled for the week of June 6-10.

Johannesson has been asking the delegations to give the chair their bottom line on issues such as expectations for July's 'first approximation' text on NAMA, the elimination or harmonization of tariffs in certain product sectors, the preservation of tariff preferences, and the treatment of tariff lines not currently subject to WTO caps.

The officials said there was some speculation that Johannesson may use the confessionals to unveil some initiative for the talks at the upcoming negotiating session, perhaps even presenting a possible compromise formula for reducing tariffs on industrial and consumer goods, in order to give a jolt to the negotiations. Johannesson himself was unavailable for comment.

Trade ministers from some 30 countries meeting at a WTO 'mini-ministerial'in Paris May 4 called on Geneva negotiators to come up with the 'concrete shape' of a tariff-reduction formula in July, including a 'range of values'for the coefficients in the formula as well as a 'clear indication' of the flexible terms to be offered to developing countries.

Drafts Expected for Next Mini-Ministerial

The ministers also said they expected the chairs of the negotiating groups on NAMA and others to produce the drafts of the first approximations for their sectors in time for the next WTO mini-ministerial, which is due to take place in Dalian, China on July 12-13.Johannesson told delegations at a meeting of the WTO's Trade Negotiations Committee May 19 that a lot of work still needed to be done to narrow differences over the NAMA formula. Five proposals are currently being considered by the membership--one from the United States, one from the European Union, one from Norway, a joint proposal from Argentina, Brazil, and India, and a joint proposal from Mexico, Chile, and Colombia.

Johannesson warned that while those proposals have had a 'positive effect'on the negotiations, convergence among the membership on a single approach 'is not taking place.'

The June 6-10 negotiating session will be the last before the Dalian mini-ministerial. A further session is scheduled for the week of July 18-22.