NAMA Group concludes four days of consultations

6 February, 2007

The WTO Negotiating Group on Market Access for Non-agricultural Products (NAMA) concluded on Thursday 25 January four days of consultations in different formats to advance the technical work in the negotiations. The consultations to advance technical work covered areas such as Ad Valorem Equivalents, Non-Tariff Barriers, Recently Acceded Members and sectorals.

In summarizing the situation, Chairman Ambassador Don Stephenson of Canada said that ''we are back at work - sort of''.

He said that he liked the description that someone had made of the present state of play as "a state of suspended pessimism".

He added that things look uncertain for the time being and urged members to intensify work in the areas that will take longer to complete such as NTBs.

Ambassador Stephenson also called for a resumption of regular meetings, such as monthly meetings, and asked members to reserve the week starting on 26 February for another session of open-ended consultations and small group gatherings on NAMA.

It was reported at the meeting that the Ad Valorem Equivalents (AVEs) of four members have been multilaterally verified - those of Japan, Thailand, Turkey and the United States. This brings to 17 the number of members with their AVEs verified.

The NAMA-11 group of developing countries (Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Namibia, Philippines, South Africa and Tunisia) submitted responses to some questions asked regarding the proposed NTB Resolution Mechanism.

This document, plus interventions by the EC and New Zealand, provided for a discussion on the merits and problems of such a mechanism.

There are two proposals for a mechanism to solve problems related to NTBs - one by the EC (TN/MA/W/11/Add. 8) and another by the NAMA-11 (TN/MA/W/68/Add. 1).

The EC proposes "the establishment of a horizontal mechanism, in the form of a procedure for problem-solving in the area of NTBs, with short time-lines, as well as with the involvement of a facilitator that can assist countries in reaching mutually agreed solutions".

The NAMA-11 refers to the need for a new, standing, flexible and expedient mechanism that is solution based rather than rights based; that would offer creative and pragmatic results, which further trade, rather than adversarial outcomes which hinder trade, at least in the short term.

Accordingly, says the NAMA-11 paper, a "NTB Resolution Mechanism" is proposed to be established in the WTO as an outcome of this Round. This mechanism will supplement the presently available means to resolve NTBs in the WTO system even after the present Doha Round negotiations conclude. The "NTB Resolution Mechanism" would consider NTBs that affect trade in goods and the Agreements listed in Annex 1 of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization.

The "NTB Resolution Mechanism" would be guided by the principle of "good faith" and conciliatory negotiations wherein every Member would make a concerted effort to resolve the NTB at hand, under the guidance of a mutually agreed "facilitator". Members would be required to engage with the intention of arriving at a solution to the NTB. It would be informal, low-key and less adversarial than the DSU, and without prejudice to the rights of Members under the DSU, says the NAMA-11 paper.

According to trade officials, most of the discussion on Thursday focussed on the possible duplication of work with the WTO's committees, or some kind of conflict with the DSU (Dispute Settlement Understanding). In both cases, proposals call for a mechanism outside the DSU. This issue will continue to be explored.

Meanwhile, members that organized small group meetings on "sectorals", (sectors proposed for the complete elimination or harmonization of tariffs), reported on these meetings.

They said that they were pleased with the high attendance and the interest shown by participants. Among the typical issues discussed in the small group meetings were product coverage, drafting of an agreement, participation and critical mass of members.

The Chair reported on its consultations during the week. The issue to which members reacted with more interest was the one on Recently Acceded Members (RAMs).

According to trade officials, these affect the 15 members (plus Vietnam) that joined the WTO since its establishment in 1995 and are entitled to special consideration as defined by the General Council last June.

The RAMs propose longer implementation periods, longer grace periods, coefficient in the formula higher than that for the other developing members, and other flexibilities and exemptions.

The issue however remains open. Some members object to special treatment being provided to some of the countries in the RAM group.