World Trade Organization (WTO)
WTO Doha Round Bulletin - Update
Week ending 28 February 2006
Since the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in December 2005, negotiations on agriculture have intensified, with Members looking towards the new 30 April deadline for modalities. The February agriculture negotiating meetings were constructive and some progress was made on technical issues. G6 Members (Australia, the EC, the US, Brazil, India and Japan) have started an intensive process to prepare for upcoming senior officials and ministerial meetings (mid-March).
The Agriculture Chair used last week's special session to look for progress on issues where he thought there were some signs of convergence. On domestic support, implementation and criteria for the green box were the main focus; export competition focused exclusively on food aid; and on market access it was agreed to do some further work on the special safeguard mechanism for developing countries. Australia's contribution on food aid was well received by like-minded Members as a constructive contribution to developing a simple structure based on the ‘safe box' requirement established in the Hong Kong Declaration. The key stumbling blocks in relation to the level of ambition on cutting domestic support and improving market access remain, and we will continue to press key players to live up to the mandate of substantial improvement.
The negotiating group on non-agricultural market access (NGMA) is meeting in Geneva from 27 February to 3 March. There will be a number of small group meetings convened by the Chair to discuss a range of issues in the NGMA, including product coverage, determining ad valorem equivalents (AVEs) for non-ad valorem tariffs, non-tariff barriers, and flexibilities for developing countries. There will also be discussion on the paragraph 24 of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration, which refers to agriculture and non-agricultural market access reflecting a comparably high level of ambition. Plurilateral meetings will also take place to discuss sectoral initiatives to reduce or eliminate tariffs or non-tariff barriers.
The WTO Services negotiations moved into a new phase last week, with the launch of the plurilateral (or collective) sectoral request process agreed by Ministers at the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference. Australia has participated actively in this process and will be associated with up to 14 plurilateral requests. The plurilateral requests will be the subject of negotiations in late March/early April in Geneva.
The first round of services negotiations in 2006 (6-17 February) in Geneva saw the start of a sectoral plurilateral request-offer process, to complement bilateral negotiations. The idea is that groups of Members with similar interests make collective requests to other Members, identifying their objectives for the negotiations in a particular sector or mode of supply.
To date there are 20 groups exploring or preparing plurilateral requests.
Australia coordinates the groups preparing requests on legal services and air transport services. In addition Australia participated in 12 other groups where we are actively considering co-sponsorship of plurilateral requests, namely: architecture and engineering, computer and related services, commercial presence (Mode 3), construction, cross border services (Mode 1), education, energy, environmental services, financial services, logistics, maritime, and telecommunications services.
It is not clear how many other plurilateral requests will eventuate. We are aware, for example, that there is a group developing a plurilateral request on audiovisual services and on the temporary movement of services suppliers (Mode 4), and that Australia is likely to receive requests from both these groups. We may also be the target of a request on postal and courier services, a sector in which Australia has yet to make a commitment.
A summary of the plurilateral requests in which Australia is involved will be placed on the DFAT website once requests have been submitted (expected 28 February or soon thereafter).
The 15-16 February meeting of the WTO Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation (NGTF), its first since the Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong, focussed on a number of new proposals covering specific aspects of the three GATT Articles under negotiation (Article V, VIII and X). An "advance copy" of a joint paper by Australia, Canada and the United States on "Elements of Advance Rulings" was provided to members towards the end of the meeting and will be discussed in detail at the next NGTF meeting scheduled for 5-7 April.
Subsidies and Trade Remedies
The WTO rules negotiations on trade remedies, covering anti-dumping, subsidies, countervailing duties and fisheries subsidies, have moved to an intensive phase. In light of Director-General Lamy's proposed 2006 timeline, the chair of the rules negotiations has outlined his suggestions to facilitate the tabling by July of the consolidated legal texts on all areas of the mandate that will be used as the basis for the final stage of the negotiations. During the last Rules Negotiating Group Meeting (1-10 February), the Chair expressed his view that all core proposals were now on the table in the form of legal texts and the time for discussion of general principles had closed. The focus between now and July is seeking convergence, if not consensus, on text-based proposals.
Small group consultations considered Australia's further revised text on a proposal on prohibited export subsidies. This proposal continues to receive solid support. Australia also submitted conceptual text on its proposal on "Withdrawal of a Subsidy", the remedy for prohibited subsidies. Many WTO Members expressed a willingness to work with Australia on this.
On fisheries subsidies, there was a clear call by a number of WTO Members to move to text-based negotiations on the prohibition of fisheries subsidies with some Members signalling the tabling of text at the next session.
WTO Rules on Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs)
The first post-Hong Kong Ministerial meeting of the Negotiating Group on RTA Rules was held 30-31 January. Further progress was made on the transparency mechanism for RTAs, which aims to improve the reporting and notification requirements for concluded RTAs and to provide for the "early announcement" of RTA negotiations. The major outstanding issue is whether RTAs between developing countries, called Enabling Clause Agreements, will be covered by this transparency mechanism. Views are sharply divided.
Negotiations also continued on the substantive WTO rules applicable to RTAs. Currently there are wide differences in Members' views on these systemic issues. The key issue for Australia is ensuring that RTAs are subject to effective WTO disciplines, which requires the development of a definition for "substantially all trade" (SAT) under Article XXIV of GATT. A rigorous definition of SAT is important to ensuring that RTAs complement the multilateral trading system and are truly trade liberalising. Australia has led the way in these negotiations with a proposal for the establishment of an ambitious threshold for SAT, which has generated much debate and some proposals from other WTO Members. We hope to move to text-based negotiations on SAT and other systemic issues (RTA transition periods and development issues) early in 2006, with the aim of meeting the timeframe set down in Hong Kong of achieving outcomes in this area by the end of 2006.
Meetings in Geneva (as at 28 February 2006)
27-3 Mar NAMA Week
28 Sub-Committee on Cotton
28 Trade Policy Review Body - Overview of Developments in the International Trading Environment
13-24 Rules (Trade Remedies/Fisheries Subsidies Weeks)
16-17 Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights - Special Session
20-24 NAMA Week
20-24 Agriculture Week
24-7 Apr Services Weeks
3 Council for Trade in Services - Special Session
6 Council for Trade in Services - Special Session
18-21 Agriculture Week
19-21 NAMA Week
24-5 May Rules Week
24-25 Dispute Settlement Body - Special Session
26 Committee on Trade and Development - Dedicated Session
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