Getting Closer to a Re-start

Original Publication Date: 
12 November, 2006

Geneva - Nearly four months after suspension, World Trade Organization Chief Pascal Lamy on Friday signaled the need to restart what he called the "process" of negotiations in all areas of the Doha Development Agenda "single undertaking," WTD was told (WTD, 11/10/06).

In a closed-door "green room" meeting with selected trade envoys, the Director General said many delegations want an immediate "restart" of the suspended talks. If negotiations are finally commenced then it must be in all areas - and not just in agriculture which brought the collapse of the five-year-old talks in July.

Mr. Lamy acknowledged that "some things have changed" over the last month while others remain the same. He remained silent on details of forward movement, according to one diplomat who attended the meeting.

The Director General also briefly spoke on whether the resumption of Doha would involve ministerial involvement. The important thing is to have the negotiating process resume as though it is "business as usual," said another trade diplomat.

The Director General will convene a trade negotiations committee meeting shortly after he returns from this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Hanoi (see related report this issue).

During the two-hour "green room" meeting, the chairs of the various negotiating bodies offered their assessments of the talks as they stand - with agriculture chair Crawford Falconer underscoring the need for "some collective exchange with which all members are comfortable such as in informal meetings." Ambassador Falconer stated all members are committed to a multilateral process.

Canada ambassador Don Stephenson - who chairs the Doha nonagricultural market access negotiating group - said if there are only "plurilateral" negotiations, then the process would go backwards.

He pointed out that there has to be across-the-board negotiations, involving the larger membership.

Services

Services negotiations chair Ferdinand De Mateo lamented the lack of progress in the services dossier - as compared to agriculture and NAMA.

He suggested that by the end of next March, services negotiations will have to cross some impending thresholds. The chair of the rules committee, Guillerme Valles, said much more work remains to be done in the coming days.

European Union trade envoy Carlo Trojan said the current situation is "unhealthy" for the Doha negotiations. He made a strong case for re-staring the negotiating "machinery" right away. He said Brussels wants immediate resumption.

Australia ambassador Bruce Gosper said the time for reflection is over - and urged a quick and substantial restart.

Japan said it is flexible on what route to take - whether formal or informal. Members are ready to undertake a restart. Tokyo is ready to work with the roadmap suggested by the agriculture chair Crawford.

South Africa's Faisal Ahmed also said the time for resumption has come, suggesting it is the Director General's call to announce a decision.

But Argentina warned that members have to be careful. It argued that if the formal talks are commenced, a failure would be an unmitigated disaster for the multilateral trading system.

Thailand stressed the need for resumption, arguing that members should ponder all consequences.

Malaysia said it prefers a full resumption, saying there has to be work on all fronts.

US - 'Normal Process'

The United States said the question is not whether the resumption should be "formal or informal," but there should be a "normal process." Ambassador Peter Allgeier said it should be a chair-led process - that each chair should develop what he reckons as the best course. But all must start work simultaneously.

Switzerland said there was no formal or informal process during the last round of trade negotiations. There was only a "normal" process with negotiations across-the-board.

India said members will have to go beyond the so-called triangle that WTO Lamy has espoused over the past several months, arguing that members must explore all options and work across all areas.

China said it fully supports an early resumption.

Brazil asked for a "cautious" re-start.

Around the Globe

Asia-Pacific economies will try to help revive world trade talks and look for ways to combat counterfeit and pirated goods at this week's APEC meetings in Vietnam, officials said yesterday according to a Reuters news service report from Hanoi (WTD, 11/10/06). Senior officials said they were examining the "spaghetti bowl" of free trade agreements among the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group members to ensure they do not unduly increase transaction costs for businesses.

"APEC can lead the way for all members of the WTO to reignite negotiations and conclude the Doha Development Agenda next year," said Le Cong Phung, the deputy foreign minister of Vietnam, which is hosting the annual leaders' week. "If APEC can identify a way forward, this path will most likely be suitable to the broader WTO membership." An APEC statement said senior officials discussed"'unlocking stalled WTO negotiations, the adoption of APEC's model for free trade agreements and guidelines to secure supply chains against counterfeit and pirated goods."

Senior officials will meet again today to set the agenda for a ministerial discussion this week that will culminate in a summit of presidents and prime ministers on November 18 and 19 in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.

To resume the Doha round of negotiations and to boost trade facilitation are part of the eight proposals that the APEC Business Advisory Council will submit to the APEC economic leaders, according to Hoang Van Dung, Chairman of ABAC Vietnam 2006, according to the Vietnam News Agency. Other recommendations included taking measures to respond to the imbalance in energy, promoting uniform and high-quality sub-regional and bilateral trade agreements, developing the private sector and strengthening the financial system.

Canada is cautiously eyeing reviving the idea of an Asia-Pacific free trade agreement because the Doha Round of world trade talks is suspended, a senior Canadian official said on Friday (see related report this issue). "We would like to see a strong result to the Doha Round, but that doesn't mean that we're going to sit back at the same time as the round is in suspension, and this is one of the ideas that is coming to the fore," the official said. He confirmed reports that the United States had approached other APEC members about starting talks on a regional free-trade zone. "Certainly there are different views with regard to it, but many like-minded economies like ourselves want to look at all options with regard to trade liberalization," he said.