WTO situation disappointing but not disastrous, says Supachai

Original Publication Date: 
31 July, 2005

By Kanaga Raja, Geneva 28 July 2005Published in SUNS (South North Development Monitor) 29 July 2005

The Chair of the WTO Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, at a meeting of the TNC on 28 July, summed up the situation in the negotiations on the Doha work programme as 'disappointing but not disastrous'.

In a report to the TNC produced under his own responsibility as TNC Chair, Supachaipainted a rather mixed overall picture of where members currently stand in thenegotiatons on the Doha work programme.

'The picture remains a mixed one overall,' Supachai said, in his assessment after theChairs of the various bodies under the TNC had presented their reports.

'There has been progress, but we are clearly far from the kind of progress we wouldall have liked to achieve by the end of July. Nonetheless, there has been constructiveengagement and some positive signals and we have narrowed differences, even if wehave not yet resolved them,' he said.

'I would sum up the situation as disappointing but not disastrous,' he said, addingthat much substantive work has been done over the last few months.

'The situation we are in makes Hong Kong harder but not impossible,' he added.

The TNC meeting was held in order for Supachai to present his overall assessmentof the state of play in the negotiations so far. The General Council meets Friday wherethe TNC Chair's full written report will be discussed.

According to the TNC Chair, his full report to the General Council is aimed to helpprovide a focus for the intensive work which will be before members when theyreturn in autumn.

'We are finishing the intensive work this month without major breakthroughs butwith a much sharper sense of the key issues for urgent decision and the links betweenthem. We are also finishing this month with a renewed sense of the absolute necessityto resolve these issues rapidly if our essential ambitions for Hong Kong are to berealized,' he said.

In agriculture, Supachai said that it has not proved possible so far to resolve theoutstanding major difficulties, particularly in the market access pillar, but also indomestic support. Nonetheless, some useful further work has been done and it is alsocertainly true that the main outstanding issues on which decisions are urgently neededhave been more clearly identified.

In non-agricultural market access (NAMA), Supachai said that some useful additionalprogress has been made on issues concerning the formula and the treatment ofunbound tariffs, but here too, it is clear that members do not have major decisions yet.

In the work on special and differential treatment (SDT), Supachai reported thatdespite some positive signals concerning the LDC Agreement-specific proposals, ithas not been possible to harvest a solution now. Some very good progress has beenmade, however, and he hoped that the work on these proposals, as well as the others,will move ahead rapidly in the autumn.

Supachai cautioned that if the necessary breakthroughs are not forthcoming early inautumn, the possibility of the substantive results at Hong Kong which are essentialto conclude the Round will be inevitably put in jeopardy.

'The alarm I sounded earlier this month is still ringing, and I urge everyone to hearthe warning. It must be a real wake-up call for all participants.'

Supachai said that in his full report, he had set out some key issues that he believedare absolutely necessary to resolve urgently in order to unlock progress not only in thearea concerned, but also across the broader range of the negotiations. This is far frombeing an exhaustive list of the elements that will have to go into a balanced packagefor Hong Kong, but it is an attempt to help members focus on the most urgent ofthem.

The TNC Chair also underlined the need for the Development Dimension to remainat the centre stage in all areas.

Looking to the work ahead, Supachai said that all members must make the mostproductive use possible of the very short time remaining in which to prepare theMinisterial. He added that substance must drive the process, not vice versa.

He urged members not to see the critical path to Hong Kong in terms of the number,location or format of meetings at whatever level, but instead to keep their attentionfixed firmly on what needs to be done and the most effective way to do it.

The TNC Chair suggested that appropriate checkpoints might need to be set along thethree-month period before the Ministerial. What form these might take and at whatlevel they might be convened is for further consideration.

However, they should not become deadlines in themselves, but rather reality checksof progress made along a continuum towards Hong Kong, he said, adding that the firstsuch checkpoint should be no later than mid-October.

The TNC Chair also believed that as far as possible, this important exercise and allthe remaining preparatory work for Hong Kong should take place in Geneva.Meetings in other locations have an undeniable value, but they can also involve costsin terms of resources, time and transparency.

'What we need urgently is not just a change of gear in these negotiations but also achange of attitude and approach,' he said.

There is an urgent need in most negotiating areas to move rapidly to text-baseddiscussions, he said, urging members 'to engage directly with each other to producesuch texts, not wait for Chairs to work miracles.'