World Trade Organization (WTO)

WTO Doha Round Bulletin

August 2008

This bulletin, summarising key WTO Doha Round-related activities, is issued by the Office of Trade Negotiations, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Key Issues

WTO Ministerial Meeting

At the WTO Ministerial Meeting held in Geneva on 21 -30 July, around 40 Ministers met with the aim of reaching agreement on agriculture and industrial products (non-agricultural market access or NAMA) and signalling improvements in services offers. This was the largest WTO Ministerial Meeting since 2005. Revised negotiating texts on agricultural and industrial products were released in the lead-up to the Meeting and a Services Signalling Conference was held during the Meeting.

The Ministerial talks broke down on 29 July. Australia, like other countries, was very disappointed at the failure to secure an outcome (see Mr Crean’s media release of 30 July). However, WTO Members came very close to securing a deal, with only a few issues unresolved. Significant progress was made on agriculture and industrial products, and on signals to improve services offers. The trigger for the breakdown of the meeting was an issue relating to the agricultural special safeguard mechanism in some developing countries – positions were too polarised to enable agreement to be reached.

This is not, however, the end of the Doha Round. At a meeting of the WTO’s Trade Negotiations Committee on 30 July, many WTO Members spoke of the need to return to work in the northern autumn. As outlined in Mr Crean’s speech to the APEC Ministerial Meeting on Structural Reform on 4 August, Australia is working to get the Doha Round back on track as quickly as possible, building on the progress made at the Ministerial meeting in Geneva.

Agriculture & Industrial Products

At the beginning of the WTO Ministerial Meeting on 21 July there were around 100 square brackets in the two key draft negotiating texts on agriculture and industrial products. The talks secured significant progress towards convergence on the majority of these issues – including on the depth of cuts to and the balance between agriculture and industrial tariffs, on the size of tariff quota expansion, on the depth of subsidy cuts to agriculture, and on the elimination of export subsidies and the Special Safe Guard (SSG).

The outcomes within reach would deliver:

The key issue leading to the breakdown was the Special Agricultural Safeguard mechanism and the extent to which major developing markets would have to open their agricultural markets – specifically, the extent to which these countries would be able to reinstate protective tariffs in the event of surges in imports or sharp price declines. Officials have already begun work on trying to resolve this issue.

Services

Australia participated in bilateral discussions with key trading partners and small group meetings throughout the week of 19 July to finalise preparations, and outline expectations, for the Ministerial Signalling Conference on services on 26 July.

Ministers approached the Signalling Conference with a clear recognition that progress on services was integral to securing overall progress in the Doha Round. Mr Crean underscored the importance of a successful services outcome as part of the overall Doha outcome, as well as his expectations of improvements from other WTO Members in their services offers.

Australia is disappointed that with the breakdown of Doha talks we will not immediately be harvesting the signals on improved market access on services. We had heard important signals of further liberalisation, including from countries in our region. The signals provided important markers of the content for future offers, and in many respects, specifically addressed Australian requests. For example,

Australia will work to ensure those signals remain on the table in the course of future negotiations.

Intellectual Property

Shortly before the beginning of the WTO Ministerial Meeting in Geneva, a group of some 100 Members tabled a proposal on three TRIPS issues. A number of Members said they required an outcome on these TRIPS issues for a Ministerial agreement on modalities for agriculture and NAMA to go ahead.

Though linked by proponents for tactical reasons, the three TRIPS issues are quite distinct in subject matter, and in the level of interest among members in their resolution. There is an existing mandate to negotiate a multilateral register for geographical indications (GIs) for wines and spirits, with Members differing above all on the legal effect such a register should have in a Member’s domestic law. In contrast, there is no agreement that outcomes on the two other TRIPS issues should be part of the Doha Round. First, some argue that the TRIPS agreement should be amended to extend the higher level of protection currently given to wine and spirit GIs to other products. There is some support for that proposition from developing countries that believe their non-wine GIs suffer discriminatory treatment, but strong opposition also. Second, some argue that the TRIPS agreement should be amended to require that patent applicants disclose the source of any genetic material used in their invention, and potentially also supply proof of consent for that use and compliance with national regimes governing benefit sharing. Support for this position is relatively widespread. Some, like Australia, are concerned at the effect a TRIPS amendment would have on the patent system, but nonetheless agree concerns around the use of genetic material in inventions should be explored.

The WTO Director General Pascal Lamy initiated officials-level informal consultations to explore Members’ positions on the three TRIPS issues, chaired initially by himself and subsequently by Norwegian Minister Jonas Store as Friend of the Director-General. Australia engaged actively in the process, from 18 to 28 July, as well as bilaterally, trying to find common ground, but drawing the line at any over-reaching legal effect for a GI register, as well as at agreement to tying TRIPS amendments to the Doha single undertaking. With little convergence on these substantive issues, Store developed process-focused options for Ministerial consideration. These options were not put to Ministers before talks ended, and the status of the three issues remains as before.

Trade and Environment

No new developments.

Trade Facilitation

No new developments.

Rules - Anti-Dumping, Subsidies and Fisheries Subsidies

While the focus of the negotiations at the Ministerial Meeting in Geneva was not on trade remedies issues, the Rules Chair reported to the Trade Negotiations Committee on 21 July on the progress and forward plan for these negotiations. Chair Guillermo Valles-Galmes indicated his intention to table a ‘road-map’ on fisheries subsidies which will identify the core questions that need to be answered in order to reconcile key differences. He also plans to issue new texts on anti-dumping and horizontal subsidies concurrently with this “road map”. He foreshadowed a series of intensive rolling meetings from September.

The importance of fisheries subsidies to the overall negotiations was reinforced by several papers issued in July. Australia joined with the United States and New Zealand to co-sponsor a paper (TN/RL/W/235) circulated on 21 July that repeats the call for an ambitious outcome on fisheries subsidies negotiations and encourages momentum in the negotiations. A joint paper from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru (TN/RL/W/234) that is also supportive of ambitious outcomes of fisheries subsidies was circulated on 17 July.

WTO Meetings in Geneva

There are no formal WTO meetings in August.

Contact Us:

Trade Policy Section
Office of Trade Negotiations
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
BARTON ACT 0221

Fax: (02) 6261 1858
Email trade.consult@dfat.gov.au

or for more information visit our website or the WTO website.

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