AS expected on December 6, 2008 the WTO released a fresh revision of the agriculture and NAMA (non-agricultural market access) texts for consideration of its members. “At best the two papers can be termed as the respective Chair’s assessment of what could be the middle-path for the WTO members to agree on formulas for cutting tariffs and trade-distorting agricultural subsidies, and related provisions”, said Pradeep S. Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS International.
In agriculture the Chair has tried to engineer a consensus over formulas for reduction of domestic support and tariffs. For instance in domestic support where the base OTDS (overall trade distorting domestic support) is greater than US$60bn (or equivalent) in monetary terms, the reduction shall be 80 percent, which is a simple mean of July 2008 Chair’s proposal on 75-85 percent.
Similarly, in special products the Chair has proposed for 12 per cent tariff lines to be self-designated by developing country members as against the 10-18 percent proposed in the July 2008 text. In case of Special Safeguard Mechanism the Chair claims there is genuine progress but still short of clear convergence.
In case of NAMA, the situation is not very encouraging as consensus still eludes members on sectorals. According to the Chair the main issue in sectorals is that some developed country members indicated that their ability to finalize NAMA modalities depends on a commitment by some other members (mainly large developing countries) who took part in the negotiations on formula and flexibilities in July to negotiate an agreed list of sectors and to participate in the agreements that result from those negotiations.
Earlier in July 2008 the language on sectorals has generated a lot of criticism from the developing countries as they were being compelled to use the sectorals route to get a higher coefficient for tariff cuts in some other products and lose its existing protection on an entire sector in the process. Such an approach potentially transforms the voluntary nature of sectorals into that of mandatory commitments for some large developing countries.
The two revised texts in no way indicate the emergence of consensus on the key contentious issues. The next couple of days will determine whether this consensus is possible. The need for developing countries to stay together for the realisation of the development promise of the Doha Round is greater than ever.
The WTO talks broke down in July 2008 because developed and developing countries failed to bridge their differences over agriculture and NAMA. The WTO Director-General hopes that the members will agree to his call for holding a mini-ministerial later this month so that modalities for negotiations on agriculture and NAMA are finalised. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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