A 'Green Light' to Re-start DDA

Original Publication Date: 
16 November, 2006

Geneva - In a carefully crafted statement - that did not mention the suspension of the Doha Development Agenda - World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy yesterday gave the "green light" to restart work in all areas of the stalled trade negotiations by allowing the respective chairs "to determine the way ahead in each area and the speed with which the work should take place" (WTD, 11/16/06).

At a quickly convened informal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting, the Director General said there is "widespread support for multilateralizing" ongoing contacts already begun by agriculture negotiations chair Crawford Falconer so members can "start again to test each other's positions and to explore possible options to take the negotiations ahead."

"Today we are somewhere between the quiet diplomacy of the last months and the full-fledged negotiations which will only come when members are ready to put numbers to the flexibilities they have already expressed in general terms on key issues, in particular on agricultural market access and domestic support," said Mr. Lamy. He chose not to comment on the effect of the suspension on previously entrenched positions.

Mr Lamy acknowledged that while work intensifies in the negotiating groups in Geneva, it is crucial that bilateral contacts among members continue "to test numbers and explore flexibilities. It is an essential component to prepare the terrain for a deal."

'Window of Opportunity' Limited

But the Director General said the "window of opportunity" is limited. "There must be significant progress by the early spring if we are to have a chance of finishing the round next year." The re-start of the talks, he said, will commence with technical work at the level of experts - not moving to ministerial negotiations for a while.

He emphasized the need to "prepare the ground for fully fledged negotiations to take place when the conditions are right."

Mr. Lamy's proposed course of action could have been adopted as early as July 24 after the talks broke down, said one trade diplomat.

European Union Ambassador Carlo Trojan maintained that the suspension has only brought about "indifference." Feelings have been growing, the diplomat told WTD, of the "unhealthy" impact the suspension has had on the negotiations.

The EU envoy said he agrees that the chairs should decide the sequencing of the negotiations as well as their focus and format. He said there is considerable technical work that needs to be completed before trade ministers are called to address the critical issues. He cautioned against any attempts to back-load work.

Steps to resume talks at the technical level cannot be seen as a substantial breakthrough - only an intermediary phase to find the right "spark" to move the talks to a final phase, diplomats said.

During the open-ended TNC discussion, India Ambassador Ujal Singh Bhatia spoke of the futility of new time-lines. The need now is to focus on "substance" - particularly the "distortions" and "inequities" of the past as well as the development dimension of the current negotiations, he said.

Speaking for least developed members, Bangladesh said the balance in agriculture between domestic support and market access is vital to success as are the issues of cotton and duty-free and quota-free market