Doha Talks Need ‘Serious Acceleration’ to Meet 2010 Deadline: Lamy
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy warned delegates at the WTO’s General Council meeting on Tuesday that they will need to dramatically pick up the pace of their negotiations if they want to wrap up a global trade deal by the end of next year. The meeting also shed some light on the organisation’s upcoming ministerial conference, which is set to kick off at the end of next month.
Addressing delegates in his opening remarks, Lamy was frank in his assessments of the progress that has been made in the talks since he last briefed the General Council at the end of July. The director-general, usually an unabashed cheerleader of the talks, struck an uncharacteristically sombre tone.
“It will be difficult to get to 2010 without a serious acceleration of the pace,” Lamy told the gathering, referring to the deadline that world leaders have set for a successful conclusion of the Round. “We need to see real negotiations emerge, not only informal consultations and discussions, but real exchanges among members,” Lamy continued. “We need to do so in a manner which is inclusive and leaves no interest behind.”
But Lamy acknowledged that the talks “have seen some progress” on trade facilitation, and that there had been “serious engagement” on the procedural issues of templates and scheduling in the negotiations on agriculture and industrial goods.
The DG also reported briefly on his recent consultations on two intellectual property issues over which WTO members remain squarely at odds: the extension of ‘geographical indication’ (or GI) protections to all products, and the relationship between the Convention on Biological Diversity and the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS Agreement).
The meeting, which Lamy chaired on 8 October, resulted in little movement, the director-general said. “The discussion was highly technical and detailed. However, differences still remain on the substance,” he reported.
Ministerial details slowly emerge
The WTO’s upcoming ministerial conference, which is set to take place in Geneva from 30 November to 2 December, was a major item on the General Council’s agenda.
Ambassador Mario Matus of Chile, the current chair of the General Council, briefed delegates on the consultations he has held with WTO members on how the meeting - which will focus on the organisation’s ‘regular work’ and will not serve as a Doha Round negotiating session - should unfold.
Chile’s trade minister, Andrés Velasco, will chair the ministerial conference, Matus told the delegates, while the trade ministers of Egypt, Indonesia and Switzerland will serve as vice chairs. At this point, there seems to be consensus that three items should be included in the ministerial agenda, Matus reported: TRIPS non-violation complaints, e-commerce, and a recently circulated proposal entitled ‘Strengthening the WTO’.
The latter proposal has already generated a wide base of support, having attracted 18 sponsors that range from the EU and the United States to Brazil, India, Mexico and Uruguay. The proposal - which would have the General Council “establish an appropriate deliberative process to review the organisation’s functioning, efficiency and transparency and consider possible improvements”-has been generally well received by other members, Matus said.
The new document has quickly generated buzz among trade observers.
“This is a very interesting development,” said Aaron Cosbey, Associate and Senior Advisor on Trade and Investment at the International Institute for Sustainable Development. “The members understand that they cannot tie any and all progress to the outcome of a Doha Round that may never have an outcome,” he wrote in an email message. “This is the first sign of a road ahead for making progress on anything outside of Doha. It may herald more substantive roads in future. And it is a welcome sign of organisational maturity. ”
The sponsors of the paragraph-long proposal indicated that they would like it to be included in the chair’s summary that is to be released at the end of the three-day ministerial meeting. At this point, that summary is the only ‘outcome document’ expected from the meeting, Matus reported. An official ministerial declaration is still a possibility, a trade source said, but at this point such a document appears unlikely.
Lamy also weighed in, offering a bit of clarification on the scope of the meeting.
“It is our hope that ministers will come to Geneva to address and interact on a few key themes, regarding the WTO and the multilateral trading system, the ‘big picture’ so to say,” Lamy told the delegates. “It is time that ministers are given the opportunity to engage in a more wide-ranging systemic debate and to provide the WTO with guidance for the next few years.”
“However, and there seems to be some confusion on this point, this does not mean that ministers’ statements or indeed their discussions cannot address the issue of the Doha Round or indeed specific negotiations,” Lamy continued. “On the contrary, it would seem rather odd if the elephant in the room remained nameless.” To that end, he said, the Doha Round work programme will officially be on the agenda for discussions in ‘working sessions’ at the ministerial conference.
Outside the conference, though, key countries are already planning meetings for their ministers, where Doha Round negotiations will be the main item on the agenda. Brazil is reportedly organising such an invitation-only gathering for the weekend before the conference kicks off (see Bridges Weekly, 7 October 2009, http://ictsd.net/i/news/bridgesweekly/56551/).
EU hosts ‘G14′
Even as the ministerial preparations pick up speed, trade officials continue to engage on Doha, both according to the WTO’s official negotiating schedule and in their own bilateral and plurilateral closed-door meetings.
On the latter front, this week the EU hosted officials from the so-called G14 countries for a Doha Round negotiating session. The meetings were intended to provide impetus to the talks, a European delegate explained to the General Council, adding that the results of the consultations would be integrated into the broader multilateral process. But several delegations intervened on Tuesday to express their displeasure at the lack of transparency in such meetings. Lamy seemed sympathetic.
“We need to ensure greater transparency over bilateral discussions so that every member feels it is part of an overall process,” Lamy told the delegates.
The EU is expected to brief delegates on the outcome of the G14 sessions at an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee on Friday morning. The G-14 is made up of Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, the EU, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States.
The full text of Lamy’s speech to the General Council is available here: http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news09_e/tnc_chair_report_20oct09_e.htm.
For more information on the plans for the ministerial, please see: http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news09_e/gc_20oct09_e.htm
The ‘Strengthening the WTO’ proposal can be viewed here: http://ictsd.net/downloads/2009/10/strengthening-the-wto-proposal.pdf
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