Differences among WTO members on services component of post-Bali work

Original Publication Date: 
15 May, 2015

TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (May15/06)
15 May 2015
Third World Network

Published in SUNS #8019 dated 11 May 2015
Geneva, 8 May (Kanaga Raja) - An informal meeting of the Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services on Thursday showed continuing differences among members, with key developing countries making clear that progress on agriculture and the US-EU concessions therein will be the yardstick for progress in other areas of the Doha negotiations.
Both the Chair's attempt (in the non-attributable summary of the post-Bali discussions on services circulated on 27 April) and the efforts of the US, Australia, the EU and other developed countries for an overall imbalanced outcome, by getting more concessions from developing countries in services, proved non-starters, according to some participants.
The informal meeting was the first since members began discussing (on 20 April) the services pillar of the post-Bali work programme on the remaining Doha Development Agenda (DDA) issues, with a July 2015 deadline (set by the November 2014 General Council decision) for members to agree to this work programme.
According to trade officials, while welcoming the start of substantive discussions, the Chair, Ambassador Gabriel Duque of Colombia, said that this did not mean however that they were achieving a consensus on a work programme.
He noted that there were differences on key issues such as whether members engage immediately on substantive issues related to market access and domestic regulation of services or to await an outcome on agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA).
According to trade officials, while some new ideas were put forward, there was also opposition.
Canada wanted the secretariat to prepare a paper outlining the sector-by-sector commitments that members have proposed as part of their current services offers, Australia mooted dedicated talks on the "doable and realistic" in domestic regulation, while Hong Kong-China suggested a "refresher" briefing on discussions on domestic regulation.
The Chair, according to trade officials, said as suggested by some members, he will consult on how this could be done, and asked members to come up with any ideas or suggestions.
According to trade officials, in the summary of the (20 April) discussions issued on 27 April, the Chair had said most delegations wished to see a realistic, doable and balanced work programme, and that most delegations believed the services negotiations need to be calibrated with those in agriculture and NAMA.
[The Chair had on 27 April issued a five-page non-attributable summary setting out what he viewed as the positions held by members. According to this paper, the views of the developing countries differed from those of the developed countries. A large majority of developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) had reportedly demanded that Annex C of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration must remain the basis for drawing-up the post-Bali work programme on services. For more details on the Chair's non-attributable summary, see SUNS #8014 dated 4 May 2015.]
The discussions at the informal meeting on Thursday however showed that the key sticking point continues to be the "sequencing" of the services negotiations vis-a-vis those on agriculture and NAMA, said trade officials.
According to trade officials, Australia, Switzerland, Pakistan and New Zealand noted the comments made by Director-General Roberto Azevedo at the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) meeting on 27 April, where he had suggested that members should avoid any kind of de-facto sequencing.
Paraguay and Chinese Taipei said that developments in the other negotiations should not hinder work on services.
The EU, trade officials said, felt the vast majority of members were ready to engage on services, while Canada, Chile, Singapore and the Russian Federation wanted focussed discussions on market access and/or domestic regulation. Turkey, Japan and Korea were ready to engage in substantive discussions.
Saudi Arabia said additional efforts were needed to secure the work programme by July.
However, a number of key developing members including Argentina, South Africa, Ecuador, Uruguay, Brazil and Bolivia made clear that they were not prepared to move forward on services until the outcomes in agriculture and NAMA were clear.
India said that members needed to distinguish between the discussion on the work programme and actual negotiations, and it was strictly against any approach which would lead to negotiations at this stage.
According to trade officials, India also rejected any outcomes on market access based on benchmarks or on the removal of "water" (meaning committing at the WTO any autonomous liberalisation it may have done, above its requirements in terms of its current GATS schedule).
Both South Africa and Brazil said that they were not prepared to consider any additional concessions beyond those in their existing offers.
According to trade officials, the US said that it was disappointed that prospects for achieving an ambitious outcome in services was fading and if new market access gains were unlikely, members should at least be able to reduce the gap ("water") between current WTO market access commitments and actual practices.
China said it was willing to engage in substantive discussions with any member, even though it was becoming more apparent that the final result might be more "toned-down" in ambition.
Uganda, for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), stressed the importance of members meeting the goal of notifying to the WTO by the end of July which areas they would provide preferential access to LDC service suppliers.
According to trade officials, many developing countries stressed the need to respect Annex C of the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration.
South Africa said that the modalities must remain one of "request-offer" as set out in Annex C, while Saudi Arabia said this approach remained the main negotiating approach.
According to trade officials, India pointed out that the modalities of the services negotiations were settled a long time ago in Annex C of the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration.
China said that the request-offer approach should continue to be the main method of negotiations, and that Annex C must continue to be the basis for the discussions.
According to trade officials, Bolivia, El Salvador and Kenya also highlighted the importance of Annex C of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration.