Developing countries denounce re-calibration approach to end DDR

Original Publication Date: 
10 June, 2015

Third World Network
Published in SUNS #8036 dated 8 June 2015
Geneva, 5 Jun (D. Ravi Kanth) -- Trade ministers of leading developing countries denounced at Paris on Thursday (June 4) attempts by major developed countries to force a decision on the so-called "re-calibration" approach to lower the level of ambition of the post-Bali work program to conclude the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations later this year, several officials said.
The developing country ministers at the meeting said the re-calibration approach is aimed at pushing the most difficult issues (for developed nations) such as trade-distorting farm subsidies and other developmental issues like the cotton subsidies and duty-free and quota-free market access for the poorest countries into cold storage, a developing country trade minister told the SUNS.
At the informal trade ministerial meeting convened on the margins of the annual Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) meeting in Paris on June 4, the developing country trade ministers from India, Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia among others demanded a comprehensive post-Bali work program for concluding the DDA negotiations.
In sharp opposition, major developed countries - the United States, the European Union, Japan, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, and New Zealand - and some developing countries reiterated their position that the level of ambition must be re-calibrated on the basis of the so-called "doability" and "realism" criterion.
The US deputy trade representative Ambassador Michael Punke told the meeting that Washington is pursuing the re-calibration approach to bolster the efforts of the World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevedo who had suggested the idea.
India's trade minister Nirmala Sitharaman delivered a strong statement at the meeting by emphasizing that the "development dimension with enhanced special and differential flexibilities" must remain at the centre of the post-Bali work program.
"To conclude the Round on the basis of market access is unacceptable," Minister Sitharaman told trade ministers present at the meeting.
Ambition in agriculture depends on the reform of the trade-distorting domestic subsidies based on the revised 2008 modalities, the Indian minister said.
Minister Sitharaman criticized some industrialized countries for diverting attention from their trade-distorting domestic subsidy reduction commitments by raising issues that are not part of the Doha mandate.
For India, she said, issues such as "the special safeguard mechanism (SSM), the special products, the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security, and the LDC package are ‘must haves' in the post- Bali work program," according to a trade official who was present at the meeting.
South Africa's trade minister Rob Davies lamented that efforts to bring about re-calibration was carried out on an uneven basis in which the level of ambition in agriculture is drastically reduced while the reverse was sought to be done in market access for industrial goods.
Davies said African countries need policy space for carrying out industrial policies which will become difficult with the increase in the ambition in market access for industrial goods.
Brazil said while services and industrial goods are getting special treatment, laggards like agriculture are left behind.
China, Brazil, South Africa, and Argentina among others supported India by demanding a comprehensive post- Bali work program for delivering the results promised in the DDA.
The United States deputy trade representative Michael Punke sharply disagreed with the demands made by the developing country trade ministers for a robust post-Bali work program to address all issues in the three pillars of the agriculture package. Ambassador Punke said there is little evidence of any convergence on any issue at this juncture, said an official familiar with the meeting.
The US official suggested that "red lines" of India, China, and the US don't overlap. Ambassador Punke said there are only two options open to members. Either accept a re-calibration or face failure at the tenth ministerial conference in Nairobi, Kenya, said a participant who asked not to be quoted.
The EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom suggested that there is no need for extending tariff rate quotas in agriculture with the average formula approach.
"There is no realistic assessment on issues among ministers at this juncture," an EU official said.
It is unfortunate that there is little common ground at this critical juncture among ministers present at the meeting, another trade official said.
Faced with unbridgeable differences on the elements to be pursued in the post-Bali work program, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said there is no deal as of today.
Kenya's foreign minister Amina C Mohammed, who will chair the tenth ministerial meeting in her capital Nairobi, expressed sharp concern that there is no common ground among members at this juncture.
Trade ministers and senior officials from 29 countries such as Argentina, Bangladesh (LDC Group), Barbados (ACP Group), Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, European Commission, Hong Kong- China, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Korea, Lesotho (Africa Group), Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Senegal, South Africa, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, Tanzania, Turkey and the United States took part in the meeting.
The Kenyan minister Mohammed chaired the informal ministerial meeting in the absence of the Australian trade minister Andrew Robb (who had convened the meeting).
Azevedo gave his assessment on the state of play in the negotiations following his recent consultations with trade envoys in different configurations.
In her statement, the Kenyan minister gave her assessment, both on the process-related issues and the substantive items that must be included in the work program.
She urged the trade ministers to provide the "focus and direction" to ensure that there is no slippage in the process.
Minister Mohammed said "we must get the business of the WTO done by working in workable, different, but complimentary formats and configurations linked to transparency exercises in plenary meetings at appropriate moments."
On substance, she said, the post-Bali work program must be "realistic, balanced, and which modernizes and updates the WTO negotiating agenda and puts the WTO back in centre field."
The Kenyan minister said "the work program should be substantively robust, reflect the fundamentals in the Doha agenda and issues that will ensure that the WTO is relevant and adaptable."
It must not be a wish list and divide the membership, she cautioned. "Doha never died," she said, arguing that "the work program should facilitate closure on Doha."
The work program "must include agriculture, including an outcome on cotton and an understanding on food security, services, NAMA, trade and environment, fishery subsidies, and an expanded information and technology agreement," the Kenyan minister argued. +