Most WTO members seek to continue Doha round talks at Nairobi meet

ModiLivemint, November 23, 2015. Geneva – Many members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have called for reaffirming the commitment to continue negotiations on all outstanding issues of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) at the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration, a panel of three facilitators said on Thursday. 

But “one delegation said it would prefer an explicit statement declaring the end of the (Doha) Round” at the Nairobi ministerial meeting beginning on 15 December.

That delegation “could agree to a ministerial declaration that was silent on the fate of the DDA,” the facilitators said in their restricted report issued to members of the WTO.

The one delegation which wants the termination of the Doha Round at the Nairobi meeting is the US, according to several trade envoys, who asked not to be quoted.

Several other countries, according to the panel, could agree to continue the negotiations on the remaining DDA issues but will not “accept any statement to the effect that the Doha Round would continue, or any reference to the previous mandates or progress made”.

WTO director general Roberto Azevedo appointed the three facilitators—Ambassador Gabriel Duque of Colombia, Ambassador Stephen Karau of Kenya and Ambassador Herald Neple of Norway—for preparing the ground for a ministerial declaration.

In a format of confessionals, around 57 countries appeared before the panel to share their views on three questions. The facilitators asked what should be the “structure” of the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration, what “elements” should the declaration contain, and what “process” should be followed to arrive at a consensual declaration.

The panel’s report came on a day when leaders from India and Africa shared their views on what ought to be the outcome at the Nairobi ministerial meeting.

At the New Delhi meeting on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a strong statement on the need to ensure that “the Doha Development Agenda of 2001 is not closed without achieving these fundamental principles” at the Nairobi ministerial meeting.

“We should also achieve a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security and special safeguard mechanism in agriculture for the developing countries,” Modi told leaders from African countries.

“It remains to be seen whether the African countries and India will put up a common stand at the Nairobi meeting to ensure that the Doha Round is not brought to an end without resolving the fundamental issues for which it was created,” said an African trade envoy, who asked not to be identified.

“In the face of a sustained assault by the United States and several other developed countries to close the Round at the Nairobi meeting, the developing countries, including India, have a huge task on hand,” the envoy added.

Nevertheless, the panel’s eight-page report has revealed sharp differences on almost all issues at this juncture. The widest differences were on what ought to be the “DDA Deliverables for Nairobi” as well as the future of Doha negotiations. Many members, for example, said the DDA deliverables for Nairobi would depend on the progress made in the negotiating groups.

Members also emphasized that “the focus could not only be on export competition, without assurances about what would happen in the other two pillars [domestic support and market access] in agriculture.” They said ministers needed to provide clear direction that negotiations would continue on the domestic support and market access pillars.

More importantly, “a number of delegations stressed that the special safeguard mechanism (SSM), special products and public stockholding for food security [the G-33 coalition of countries led by Indonesia, the African Group, and many members of the Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) group were critical elements for them.”

A large number of members, according to the panel, have pressed for “reaffirming the principles of special and differential treatment and less than full reciprocity” as guiding principles for both DDA and future negotiations.

But “one delegation said this could only be acceptable, if it was made clear that these principles applied exclusively to LDCs (least developed countries) and vulnerable economies.,” the panel said in their report.

In the run-up to the panel’s report, the US has made it known in several closed-door meeting that it wants to discontinue special and differential flexibilities for developing countries like China and India despite widespread poverty and poor peasants dependent on agriculture.

Against this backdrop, “one delegation mentioned that commitments should be undertaken in line with Members’ prosperity and weight in international trade, and the length of time since their access,” the panel maintained.

Differences over new issues

The report suggested that members expressed “different and often divergent views on whether non-DDA issues should be included in any post-Nairobi work.”

Some members said “no new issues should be introduced before the conclusion of the DDA and stressed that even then, they could only be considered on an exploratory basis and for some by explicit consensus,” according to the facilitators.

However, “one delegation stressed that it could not support the introduction of any new issues other than those already listed in the Doha Declaration and that those issues could only considered on an exploratory basis,” the facilitators noted.

Several members, particularly the European Union and the United States, want to bring new issues at the Nairobi meetings. The new issues include e-commerce; investment, including investment incentives and subsidies; competition; SMEs (small and medium enterprises); RTA (regional trade agreements); global value chains; food security in the context of a broader agriculture discussion; government procurement; consideration of Mode 5 in services; environmentally harmful subsidies; tropical products; traditional knowledge in intellectual property and unilateral measures.

Image Credit: PTI

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