World Trade Organization (WTO)

WTO Doha Round Bulletin

Week starting 11 April 2005

Key Issues

Cairns Group Ministerial Meeting

Mr Vaile chaired a meeting of Cairns Group Ministers on 30 March-1 April in Cartagena, Colombia, at a crucial time in the WTO agriculture negotiations. Ministers were positive about the prospects for agreeing to a modalities text by Hong Kong, but acknowledged the challenges ahead. The meeting underlined the key role of the Cairns Group in pushing for an ambitious outcome on each of the three pillars.

Ministers met the new EU Agriculture Commissioner and new US Agriculture Secretary and gave them clear messages about the need for the EU and the US to provide strong leadership over the period ahead.

Cairns Group Farm Leaders, representatives of the Global Sugar Alliance and the Global Dairy Alliance called on Cairns Group Ministers to work actively to push for an ambitious outcome for agriculture which delivers on the Doha mandate.

More information on the Cairns Group Meeting, including the Ministers’ ‘Cartagena Declaration’..

Agriculture Negotiations

Negotiators return to Geneva this week for the April Special Session (13-18 April). The top priority for discussions will be resolution of the issue of converting non-ad valorem tariffs to ad valorem equivalents. This remains a threshold issue for the Round, as without agreement it will be difficult for real progress to be made on market access. Aspects of domestic support – the Green Box and the Blue Box – are scheduled for discussion, as are disciplines on the subsidy component of food aid and STEs.

Rules negotiations on Regional Trade Agreements (and FTAs)

The Doha Declaration mandated negotiations to improve the WTO rules that govern the development of regional trade agreements (RTAs). Some WTO Members have interpreted the rules broadly, resulting in RTAs that are not comprehensive or truly liberalising. These RTAs undermine the multilateral trading system through limited and selective liberalisation and giving comfort to protectionist interests. Concerns about such RTAs were highlighted in the WTO report ‘The Future of the WTO: Addressing Institutional Challenges in the New Millennium’.

Australia has taken a strong lead in ensuring that RTAs are subject to meaningful review and effective disciplines in the WTO. Australia has made three submissions to the Rules Negotiations on RTAs. The most recent was in March, proposing an ambitious definition of the requirement for RTAs to cover ‘substantially all trade’. Our submission generated a lot of interest from other WTO Members, and has been the basis for many useful comments and counter-proposals. We will build on this momentum at the next Rules Negotiations meeting in May.

TRIPS Council meeting

The recent TRIPS Council meeting (8-9 March) focused on the TRIPS / Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) basket of issues, particularly disclosure of genetic origin in patent applications. The Chair of the Council has been conducting dedicated consultations on this matter under paragraph 12 (b) of the Doha Declaration, outstanding implementation issues. The other issue occupying a large portion of the Council’s time, with little progress due to ongoing African Members concerns, is the missed 31 March deadline for amendment to the TRIPs Agreement to incorporate the 2003 TRIPs and Public Health decision. In the same week as TRIPS Council, the special session on the wine and spirits register and related GI issues was convened but little progress was made. The next TRIPs Council will be in June. However, intersessional consultations continue in Geneva with a view to resolving these three key issues.

WTO Negotiating Group on Non-Agricultural Market Access meeting

The Negotiating Group on Non-agricultural Market Access (NAMA) covering industrials, minerals, energy, fisheries and forestry products last met from 14 to 18 March. Members held several bilateral and plurilateral meetings, as well as so-called 'Room D' technical discussions.

Technical discussions focussed on four recent communications (by Norway, the EU, the US and jointly from Chile, Columbia and Mexico) on the formula for reducing tariffs. All four papers were based on a 'Swiss' harmonising formula, which requires deeper cuts to higher tariffs, and suggested ways to provide developing countries with appropriate special and differential treatment (S&D). Some developing countries were unhappy with the proposals submitted on the grounds that the Swiss formula approach did not sufficiently meet their needs and did not fully deliver on the principle of 'less-than-full reciprocity' for developing countries. In the absence of alternative formula proposals, however, substantive negotiation was limited and there was no conclusion on the form that the tariff-reduction formula would take. Members have been encouraged to come forward with new formula proposals in time for the next NAMA meeting (25-29 April).

Australia and Malaysia convene Trade Facilitation Workshop

The governments of Australia and Malaysia jointly hosted a workshop on the WTO Trade Facilitation negotiations for APEC economies in Kuala Lumpur on 1-2 March. The workshop was attended by over 70 customs officials, trade negotiators and business representatives from 13 regional economies.

Multilateral negotiations on trade facilitation were launched in August last year as part of the WTO Doha Round. The negotiations aim to expedite the movement, clearance and release of cross-border cargo and thereby lower business costs.

The workshop was designed to raise awareness of the issues involved in the WTO negotiations and draw lessons from APEC members’ collective experience in the field of trade facilitation. Proceedings were facilitated by Andrew Stoler, Executive Director of the Institute for Business, Economics and Law (University of Adelaide) and Director of the private-sector Trade Facilitation Alliance. Guest speakers included government and business representatives from various APEC economies, as well as Geneva-based trade negotiators at the centre of the WTO debate. The Chair of the WTO Trade Facilitation Negotiating Group, Ambassador Muhamad Noor of Malaysia, addressed the opening session.

The workshop concluded that there was a strong case for WTO rules on trade facilitation that built on existing GATT disciplines. While APEC economies had achieved considerable progress in the area of customs reform, experience showed that binding rules were necessary to shore up political commitment, secure resources and prevent "backsliding" by authorities. The workshop also highlighted the importance of technical assistance and capacity building for developing countries, both for implementation and during the negotiations themselves.

2005 Trade Statement

Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile, will launch the Government’s 2005 Trade Statement on 13 April, addressing the National Press Club on Australia’s trade performance and prospects, and the Government’s trade agenda for 2005 and beyond.

The Government is pursuing the most ambitious trade agenda in Australia’s history to deliver opportunities for Australian exporters now and into the future. At the top of the Government’s agenda is a successful and ambitious conclusion of the WTO Doha Round - crucial in providing improved access to international markets for Australian exporters. With free trade agreements with the United States and Thailand having taken effect from 1 January this year, the Government is also pursuing new opportunities to lock in better access for Australian exports at the regional and bilateral level.

Reservations should be made directly with the Press Club.

Forthcoming meetings in Geneva

April

8 Committee on Customs Valuation

11 Dispute Settlement Body

11 Working Group on Trade and Transfer of Technology

11 Negotiating Group on Rules

13 Negotiating Group on Rules

13 Negotiating Group on Agriculture

14 - 15 Committee on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures

14 Working Party on the Accession of the Russian Federation

18 Working Group on Trade, Debt and Finance

19 Committee on Agriculture - Special Session

20 Dispute Settlement Body

20 - 22 WTO Public Symposium

25 - 26 Negotiating Group on Market Access

27 - 28 Negotiating Group on Market Access

27 Trade Policy Review Body – Paraguay

27 Council for Trade in Services Special Session

28 - 29 Negotiating Group on Market Access

28 - 29 Services Symposium

28 Sub-Committee on Cotton

29 Trade Policy Review Body - Paraguay

29 Integrated Framework Steering Committee

29 Negotiating Group on Market Access

May

2 - 4 Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation

Contact Us

Trade Policy Section
Office of Trade Negotiations
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
BARTON ACT 0221
Fax: (02) 6261 3514
or e-mail trade.consult@dfat.gov.au

This bulletin is issued by the Office of Trade Negotiations, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It summarises key WTO Doha Round-related activities over the past week.

[More WTO Doha Round Bulletins]