World Trade Organization (WTO)

WTO Doha Round Bulletin - Update

Week ending 31 March 2006

Key Issues

Overview

Negotiations are continuing to try and break the impasse in the Round. The key issue remains the linkage between the need for developed countries with high levels of agricultural protection (especially the EU) to offer more on agricultural market access and the need for a similar increase in ambition to be shown by key developing countries on industrials. Recent discussions have focussed on ways of highlighting the linkages between these sectors and on mapping out more clearly defined possible outcomes or “landing zones” for the Round.

Mr Vaile participated in a meeting of G6 Ministers (EU, US, Australia, Brazil, India and Japan) in early March which focussed on these issues. He proposed a way forward which would involve both sides of this debate committing to measures which would ensure the creation of new commercial opportunities in each sector. Encouragingly, there does appear to be a widespread acceptance that the creation of new commercial opportunities across the board will be the benchmark for the Round’s success. Key players continue to work with ideas such as those put forward by Mr Vaile.

Addressing the Trade Negotiations Committee on 28 March WTO Director General Lamy emphasised that failure to meet the 30 April deadline would be “a huge collective mistake”, and that there was no time to waste.

There will be an intensive process of negotiations between now and the deadline. Ministers are expected to meet in Geneva at the end of April to address outstanding issues.

Agriculture

Intensive negotiations have taken place at officials level over the past few weeks, but as yet no breakthrough has been made. Time is now running short if negotiators are to meet the April 30 deadline set in Hong Kong to establish parameters for cuts in tariffs and subsidies in agricultural products. Agricultural market access remains at the centre of the current impasse. Until there is movement on this key issue, other major aspects of the negotiations are likely to remain in a holding pattern.

The Chair of the Agriculture Negotiating Group used last week's March special session meetings to progress technical issues. On market access, the EC confirmed it would, in the near future, put down some further ideas on its sensitive products proposal, although it is not clear whether this will deliver anything more substantial in terms of ambition. We are working with others on alternative ideas. Other topics of discussion included special products, a revised G33 proposal on the special safeguard mechanism, the blue box (including the overall ceiling for spending and possible additional disciplines on a product specific basis), food aid (assisted by an African/LDC proposal), and the transparency mechanism for export credits (on which the US made a proposal).

The chair of the negotiating group intends to put forward papers on the green box, the special safeguard mechanism, export credits, state trading enterprises and food aid - and possibly blue box - before the April special session. The April special session is scheduled for 18-21 April and we anticipate a series of other meetings, formal and informal, in the lead-up to the end April deadline.

Non-Agricultural Market Access (industrial products)

The Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) Negotiating Group met in Geneva 27 February to 3 March, and 20-24 March.

The focus of the 27 February to 3 March meeting was on sectoral initiatives, with a number of plurilateral meetings being held by WTO members sponsoring sectoral initiatives. The main result from these meetings was the distribution by sponsors of product matrices that aim to identify WTO members’ interests in sectoral proposals. There were also consultations hosted by the Chair of the NAMA Negotiating Group concerning non ad-valorem tariffs, non-tariff barriers and flexibilities in commitments for developing countries.

The NAMA Negotiating Group meeting 20-24 March discussed the interlinked issues of the formula for tariff cuts, the treatment of unbound tariffs, and flexibilities for developing countries. However, little progress was made. A technical presentation was made on the results of a tariff simulation exercise relating to various formula approaches undertaken by some WTO members. There was general agreement that WTO members’ understanding of the issues could be further assisted through the provision of additional tariff formula simulations.

Services

The initial, two-week round of plurilateral discussions in the WTO services negotiations commenced in late March. The plurilateral process, mandated by the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference, began with Members co-sponsoring requests in a total of twenty service sectors. Once the requests were finalised they were sent to target Members (recipients) who were invited to attend the plurilateral discussions.

Australia is a co-sponsor of 13 requests, namely: air transport services; architecture, engineering and integrated engineering; computer and related services; construction; education; energy; environmental services; financial services; legal services which we coordinate; logistics; maritime transport; and MFN exemptions. We are also a recipient of six requests: audiovisual; cross-border services (Mode 1/2); commercial presence (Mode 3); temporary movement (Mode 4); postal/courier services; and services related to agriculture.

The early indications from the discussions are encouraging, with constructive engagement between co-sponsors and recipients of requests in a number of sectors.

According to the timetable set at the Hong Kong Ministerial, Members are required to issue a revised offer of commitments by 31 July 2006.

Intellectual Property

In accordance with the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference Declaration, consultations on the extension of the higher level of protection currently available for geographical indications (GIs) for wines and spirits to GIs for all products have been intensified, as have negotiations on a multilateral register to facilitate the protection of wine and spirit GIs. A number of meetings were held back-to-back with the March regular session of the Council for TRIPS. On both issues, the positions of the main players remain polarised.

Consultations on the relationship between the TRIPS Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have also intensified. There is a range of views among the main players, although a key point of disagreement is whether a disclosure requirement concerning the source and/or country of origin of any genetic resources, or the use of any traditional knowledge, used in an invention should be a mandatory condition for the grant of a patent.

Trade Facilitation

The WTO Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation will next meet 5-7 April to continue discussions on proposals covering specific aspects of the three GATT Articles under negotiation (Article V –Transit; Article VIII – Fees and Formalities; and Article X – Publication and Administration of Trade Regulations). Discussions will also focus on the development aspects of the trade facilitation mandate, which include special and differential treatment for developing countries, technical assistance and capacity building. The meeting is likely to be held in both formal and informal sessions, and will allow for discussion on both new papers and those previously put forward.

Trade and Environment

The Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration in December 2005 reaffirmed the mandate in paragraph 31 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration aimed at enhancing the mutual supportiveness of trade and environment. WTO Members were instructed to intensify work undertaken in the Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE) in Special Session on all parts of Paragraph 31 to fulfil the mandate. At a special session in February, members made some progress in mapping out a work plan for the environmental goods and services (Paragraph 31 (iii)) mandate. An informal meeting will be held in early April to discuss specific products by category, with the aim of refining an environmental goods list.

WTO Rules:

Subsidies and Trade Remedies

During the recent Rules Negotiating Group Meeting (15-24 March), covering anti-dumping, subsidies, countervailing duties and fisheries subsidies, WTO Members continued intensive text-based consultations. Members are mindful of the Chair’s intention to table consolidated legal texts before 30 July.

Eleven elaborated proposals, mainly on the WTO Anti-Dumping Agreement, were considered in plenary meetings with deeper, small group consultations on selected anti-dumping issues over the course of the negotiating session. These consultations revisited such issues as sunset reviews, the lesser duty rule, circumvention and preliminary determinations of injurious dumping. Australia remains active in small group consultations on issues such as circumvention and the lesser duty rule.

Significant efforts have been made to move to text-based negotiations on fisheries subsidies. During plenary, five fisheries subsidies papers were discussed, including text-based proposals tabled separately by Brazil and New Zealand. Major differences in members’ views on the structure of fisheries disciplines remain. This relates to the scope of the prohibition on fisheries subsidies – either a broad-based prohibition with limited exemptions (the “top-down” approach) or a building-block approach of limited, specific prohibitions (the “bottom-up” approach).

WTO Rules on Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs)

The 24 February informal meeting of the Negotiating Group on RTA Rules continued its work on development of a transparency mechanism for RTAs, which is aimed at improving the reporting and notification requirements for concluded RTAs and providing for the “early announcement” of RTA negotiations. Progress was made in formulating the provisions of this mechanism, and the Chair has since circulated a draft decision text that will be discussed at an informal meeting of the Negotiating Group on 31 March. The major outstanding issue continues to be whether RTAs between developing countries, called Enabling Clause Agreements, would be covered by this transparency mechanism.

The Negotiating Group on RTA Rules is also mandated to negotiate improvements to the substantive WTO rules applicable to RTAs. Australia continues to press for effective WTO disciplines for RTAs, particularly through the development of a definition of “substantially all trade” (SAT). To be WTO consistent RTAs have to cover substantially all trade, but there is no definition of what the term means. Australia will be encouraging the Negotiating Group to move to text-based negotiations in the near future.

Meetings in Geneva (as at 31 March 2006)

MARCH

27-11 April Services Weeks

APRIL

7 & 11 Council for Trade in Services – Special Sessions

18-21 Agriculture Week

19-21 NAMA Week

24-5 May Rules Weeks

24-25 Dispute Settlement Body – Special Session

26 Committee on Trade and Development – Dedicated Session

MAY

1-10 WTO Rules Negotiation Group

15-16 General Council

16-19 NAMA Week

Contact Us:

Trade Policy Section
Office of Trade Negotiations
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
BARTON ACT 0221
Fax: (02) 6261 3514

or email trade.consult@dfat.gov.au

[More WTO Doha Round Bulletins]