Jun 17, 2008

WTO: Lamy Backing Of Ministerial Meeting?

One report out of Geneva is suggesting that WTO DG Lamy is backing away from his previous optimism about holding a Ministerial meeting in late June (which is now only "technically possible".

World Trade Organisation (WTO) director-general Pascal Lamy now maintains that it is rather early to set the dates for a ministerial meeting to finalise the modalities for cutting agricultural subsidies and import as well as industrial tariffs, trade envoys said.
With senior officials from a newly constituted Group of 12 countries struggling to minimise differences in the Doha market-opening for industrials, the director-general is forced to revise many of his strategies, trade envoys lamented.
Chairing a closed-door meeting of select trade officials and envoys on Friday, Lamy suggested while he continues to believe that a ministerial meeting was still possible (during the week starting June 30), it is only a "provisional" assessment, subject to progress in the controversial negotiations on industrial goods, an Asian trade envoy told Business Standard.
The director-general, however, indicated that much would depend on what happens this week among senior officials of G-12, which includes the US (which is chairing the meeting), the European Union, India, China, Brazil, among others.
Though Lamy pressed the 12 countries to go all out to narrow differences in the talks, resuming on Monday, grave doubts are cast over the likely progress because of intransigent positions by the leading industrialised countries on three issues: flexibilities for members of customs unions, sectoral tariff elimination and anti-concentration provisions, as well as China's demands to take lesser commitments because of the heavy price it paid to join WTO.
Last week, G-12 was unable to make progress on the anti-concentration provision that intends to put a trigger on how many industrial tariff lines in any particular HS (harmonised system) chapter can be declared as sensitive products.
While the US, the EU, Japan and Canada are united behind this issue, senior officials from developing countries like India, South Africa, Malaysia, among others, firmly opposed the anti-concentration provisions, terming it a blatant attempt to curtail their flexibilities.
In a similar vein, the US, the EU and Canada want developing countries to commit on sectoral tariff elimination upfront on the plea that it would deliver substantial gains to all members.
But the developing countries flatly rejected this argument on two grounds. First, the Doha mandate requires members to enter into sectoral — zero-for-zero tariff elimination — only on a non-mandatory basis after the finalisation of the formula and flexibilities; and second, they would need ‘developmental' space for a calibrated move into sectoral tariff elimination.
The industrialised countries are also vehemently opposed to any relaxation of tariff-reduction implementation commitments for China, saying that it does not require them given its status as the global workshop for industrial goods.
India's chief trade negotiator Rahul Khullar maintained at the G-12 meetings that many of the problems in these talks ought to have been properly addressed by the chair for Doha negotiations on industrial goods. He also suggested that this small group cannot be a "substitute" to genuine multilateral process, officials said.
India, he said, wants to "multilateralise" these consultations without delay, otherwise it would delay the overall negotiating process.
Meanwhile, the Doha farm talks being convened in a format called the "Walk in the Woods" proceeded cautiously on the Special Product (SP) and Special Safeguard flexibilities sought by India and the G-33 countries.
The US, which opposes enhanced SP flexibilities for developing countries, agreed with India's assessment that there will be two-tiers: one tier with zero treatment for some special products and another with an average and minimum cut.