Post-Bali work programme not doable by end-July, says DG Azevedo

Original Publication Date: 
14 July, 2015

Third World Network

Published in SUNS #8060 dated 10 July 2015
Geneva, 9 Jul (D. Ravi Kanth) -- Several developing countries on Wednesday (July 8) expressed their frustration with the World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevedo's announcement that the work program with precise modalities for concluding the Doha Development Round (DDR) trade negotiations will not be delivered by end-July.
Many developing countries said that the new criteria based on "doability," "re-calibration," "simplification," "alternative approaches," and "alternative paths" were responsible for creating confusion and chaos in finalizing the work program.
The criteria were proposed by the DG and developed countries for concluding the DDR negotiations over the last seven months, particularly after the DG's meeting with the European Union trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in December last year.
At an informal heads of delegations (HOD) meeting on 8 July, Azevedo issued a downbeat message that it is not possible to finalize the post-Bali work program by end-July, as agreed by members at a General Council meeting last year.
Azevedo had repeatedly maintained over the past seven months that the work program with precise modalities is essential for concluding the DDR negotiations at the WTO's tenth ministerial conference in Nairobi, Kenya, beginning on December 15, 2015.
The DG said his consultations with members in different configurations have failed to bring about convergence on the so-called landing zones.
However, he did not elaborate on the landing zones, an issue on which many developing countries expressed dismay because of the attempts to change the landing zones without correspondence with the previous mandates.
In the statement to the HOD, put out on the WTO website, the DG said "considering everything I have heard from members over the last three weeks, I see very little prospect of delivering a detailed and substantive work programme by the end of July."
Azevedo shifted the responsibility for finalizing the work program onto members. "Whether we can deliver a work programme is in the hands of the members and their ability to bring forward new proposals in the coming days which will pave the way to find consensus," he maintained.
It is not clear what he meant by new proposals that members ought to bring for paving the way to find consensus. Is the DG expecting new proposals not based on the existing Doha mandates, asked a developing country trade envoy.
The DG's overall stance about the failure to comply with the end-July deadline provoked an angry response from several African countries.
Lesotho, on behalf of African Group, asked the DG why is it that the failure to finalize the work program is being treated in such cavalier fashion unlike the adoption of the Trade Facilitation protocol last year?
When members failed to adopt the TF protocol last year, the DG had said that the credibility of the WTO is at stake and it would have far reaching implications, Lesotho pointed out.
But when it comes to the failure for delivering the work program which is so critical for concluding the DDR negotiations, there is a "casual" approach being adopted, Lesotho said.
On behalf of the G-33 farm coalition, Indonesia delivered a strong message that the development dimension of the Doha Round must be at the center of the work program, as and when it is finalized. The livelihood, rural development, and food security concerns of the developing countries must guide the final outcome in which flexibilities for special products and policy space for special safeguard mechanism (SSM) remain as the scaffolding of the final agreement, Indonesia declared.
India delivered the strongest criticism yet on what happened over the past seven months when some members attempted to change the goal posts. "At the cost of repetition Chair, we must say that a handful of Members that have been espousing the need for ‘re-calibration' or ‘simplification' seem desirous of moving the discussions away not only from the 2008 texts but also perhaps from all previous mandates," India said.
"At the same time they have been hesitant to directly come forward with credible and wholesome alternatives," India's Ambassador Anjali Prasad argued.
Until now, the proponents of re-calibration failed to "translate the rhetoric of re-calibration into actionable proposals on which it is possible to engage meaningfully," she maintained.
More disturbingly, the proponents of ‘re-calibration' are redefining "their terms of engagement on the pre-condition that a couple of developing country Members agree to undertake higher contributions vis-a-vis the rest. Such conditionalities are unprecedented as a gateway," Ambassador Prasad said.
India also pointed a finger at the lack of transparency when chairs are submitting reports or papers without indicating the proponents of those reports. "There cannot be any short-cuts to a member-driven, bottom-up approach," India argued.
India also said that "alternatives suggested in the Chair's papers and those tabled so far by Members themselves have not found convergence." India questioned the re-calibration or simplification criteria, pointing out that it is not supposed to "result in the rewriting of mandates contained in the Doha declaration and elucidated further in the July Framework and Hong Kong Declaration."
According to India, there is a concerted attempt to view "Special and Differential treatment - a core principle of the GATT and the WTO and informing all pillars of the negotiations, as is being viewed by some, as a ‘threshold' issue now."
Also, there is a demand for bigger contributions in some areas from developing countries while the depth of obligations of developed country Members is sought to be reduced, India maintained. "To give an example, while some of the building blocks of Rev. 4 are either being consistently and substantially diluted or dropped selectively on the ground that they are not do-able, the linkage with the Swiss formula for determination of tariff reduction targets in NAMA is being maintained almost with a missionary zeal," India maintained.
"This approach denotes a complete asymmetry in the rebalancing of the level of ambition in these two critical areas," India maintained. "Any negotiation," said India, "involves compromises."
"But if the compromises envisaged are blatantly asymmetrical to be almost devoid of logic, the process, fragile as it is, could suffer a breakdown," India warned.
In a sharp critique of the process over the past seven months, Uganda's Ambassador Christopher Onyanga Aparr asked some searing questions to the Director-General. He asked whether members cast their minds on the remaining DDA issues after the Trade Facilitation agreement?
"We called for a discussion on the nature and scope of the work program, but apparently the call has not yet found a landing zone," Ambassador Aparr said. "Mr. Chairman, the question is, what is so wrong with the Doha Work Program?" asked Uganda.
"Given the time constraints, we would favour an approach that focuses on the end game," Uganda maintained. "Instead of wasting any more precious time, we should focus on achieving concrete deliverables for Nairobi," Uganda argued. "We do not want to be like some leaders in 1814, who were accused to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing," it argued.
Ambassador Aparr told the DG that members need to "deal with all aspects of issues now."
"Is it an Agreement-plus, like the case was in Bali; or a framework; a declaration; a decision; or a Chairman's Statement?" Uganda sought to know.
Ambassador Aparr suggested that "the Chairs should not become proponents, or surrogate demandeurs. Some may be sympathetic to follow a certain line of thinking. Modalities for work should be the same for all members. For instance, the approach adopted in the CTD should not be different from that being used in NAMA."
Uganda expressed its opposition to "re-calibration, doability and realism", saying "they are words that only mean one thing: Resistance to undertaking (subsidy) cuts by developed countries."
"We would reject approaches that places us in a position as taking part in a ‘collective' decision to deny ourselves the much needed reform, which is akin to swallowing a poison pill. History will be harsh in judgement of our generation!" Ambassador Aparr maintained.
Uganda called for undertaking "tough reduction commitments on trade distorting domestic supports; grant of DFQF in line with the Hong Kong Ministerial declaration; and reform the Rules of Origin to make them simple, transparent and objective in line with the Hong Kong [declaration]."
Barbados, on behalf of the ACP group, told the WTO chief that it is essential to have a work program without which members would not know the road to Nairobi.
Turkey said it is not in favour of the re-calibration approach as it does not have any basis. If there is a basis for concluding the Doha negotiations it is only the 2008 revised draft modalities, Turkey argued.
Several countries disagreed with the DG's assessment that a work program cannot be produced by the end of the month, saying that there is still time for more consultations.
Faced with stinging criticism from several quarters, Azevedo said he would hold more consultations to see if he could come up with a program by the end of the month.
In short, the DG's approach based on "do-ability" criteria for concluding the DDA negotiations, stands exposed as an attempt to salvage the major developed countries, particularly the United States, several trade envoys told the SUNS. +