WTO Hong Kong Ministerial
December 13-18, 2005
Moving Forward to Stand Still
Sabrina Shaw, December 14, 2005
Just a few meandering snippets from today in Hong Kong ... it is rather dismal!
Despite the burgeoning of bilateral and plurilateral group informals between the U.S. and European Commmission in an attempt to reach out across the board to the African Group, Cotton-5, Grulac, Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP), Caricom, G33 and G20 developing countries, the posturing on non-agricultural market access (NAMA) and agricultural market access persists.
While the U.S. is pushing to strengthen the services negotiations, a group of ASEAN countries has demanded to rework the text and the modal and sectoral objectives.
TRIPs and CBD
To the surprise of many, India called for agreement to be reached in Hong Kong on issues related to the relationship between the Agreement on Trade-Restricted Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), noting in the ministerial statement Tuesday the growing popular discontent among developing countries over biopiracy and the misappropriation of traditional knowledge for commercial gain. Minister Nath clarified India's intention to raise this matter in the Green Room.
TRIPS - Access to Medicines
The U.S. (Mr. Allgier) touted the access to medicines amendment to the TRIPS Agreement as an illustration of its commitment to a development package. Yet, it is critically noted everywhere in the developing country camp that this last minute deal was cobbled together with the sole intent of securing a deliverable on development if all else fails this week in Hong Kong. Moreover, the need to formalize the contents of a waiver of dubious ability to deliver tangible benefits for developing countries is heavily questioned.
Duty-free quota-free access
Differences emerged as to whether the proposed duty- and quota-free access for the least developed countries (LDCs) would be an "early harvest" from the negotiations or part of the single undertaking. Given that a ministerial commitment would require a legal anchor, the U.S. (Allgier) said it would need to be implemented as part of the larger package.
In a more generous spirit, both India and Brazil (G20 briefing) stressed that their commitment to duty-free quota-free access was not conditional on the conclusion of the Round and that it would in fact take place much sooner than the end of the Doha Round.
Amorim and Nath (in a G20 briefing) emphasized that while they support the LDC duty-free quota-free access, a deal does not exhaust the development dimension of the negotiations. While this deal would represent an important deliverable from Hong Kong, they stressed the need to move beyond artificial distinctions between developing countries.
The G20 had an exchange of views on the sensitive issue of preference erosion with LDCs, noting the need to look forward by diversifying production.
Aid for Trade
Aid for trade has quickly emerged as the hot issue. U.S. trade representative Rob Portman announced a doubling of aid for trade, from US$1.3 to US$2.7 billion by 2010.
Meanwhile a source noted that Brazil continues to pursue its proposal for a G8 meeting of heads of state to infuse the process with some political momentum. Others cautioned that this risked taking the pressure of the negotiators to do a deal in Hong Kong.
Developing country co-ordination - G20 credibility growing
Several developing country delegates (Amorim/Nath briefing) lauded the co-ordination being demonstrated by an informal "outreach" meeting between the G20 with other developing country groupings (ACP, LDCs, Caricom, African Union, small and vulnerable economies, G33, G90) - a first in the context of the World Trade Organization. The beginnings of frank, substantive discussions between like-minded developing countries emerged to "sort things out to the benefit of the whole." Minister Amorim commented that "every long march starts with the first step."
G20 desire to have convergence of concepts if not numbers on agricultural subsidies, particularly export subsidies. Minister Amorim noted that the reluctance to show any political will to put a date to the elimination of agricultural export subsidies was a tactical move by the EU. Need to have a visible and tangible deliverable for Hong Kong, such as - for the first time - put an end date to export subsidies.
Green Room talks
While the Green Room ministers-only discussions focused on process on Tuesday night, the 22h30 Wednesday night Green Room would move on to take up substance.
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