World Trade Organization (WTO)

WTO Doha Round Bulletin

March 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

Overview and Highlights

The Chairs of the Agriculture and Industrial Goods (NAMA) negotiating groups released their revised draft texts in early February 2008. The Chair of the Services negotiating group released his draft services text in mid-February. These documents represent an important step in the Doha negotiations but still leave a significant number of issues unresolved. Officials are continuing to meet in Geneva.

Australia’s Ambassador to the WTO, Bruce Gosper, has been appointed Chair of the WTO’s General Council for 2008. The General Council is the WTO’s highest decision-making body and the Chair is one of the key figures guiding the Doha negotiations. This is the first time an Australian has served in this influential position since the establishment of the WTO in 1995. Mr Gosper takes over in a pivotal year for the WTO, with the Doha Round entering a critical phase and negotiations about Russia’s accession expected to intensify.

During his speech at the Lowy Institute on 28 February 2008, the Minister for Trade, Simon Crean reviewed Australia’s role in the multilateral trading regime and outlined the Government’s approach to trade policy. Mr Crean used the opportunity to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the GATT, outlining the profound gains in world trade that have taken place over the past six decades.

Agriculture

Agriculture Chair Crawford Falconer released a revised modalities text on 8 February 2008. The text reflects progress in technical discussions since the release of the initial draft text in July 2007, clarifying a number of issues.

Although it is widely considered that the revised text provides a comprehensive basis to move forward on all outstanding issues, technical discussions in Geneva have been difficult, with no major breakthroughs. The market access pillar remains the least developed, with further work required on flexibility issues such as Sensitive Products, Special Products and the Special Safeguard Mechanism.

Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA)

NAMA Chair Don Stephenson released a revised text on 8 February 2008. The text reflects the diversity of views on issues, including the extent and nature of developing country flexibilities, the mark-up to be applied to unbound tariffs and the period over which tariff cuts would be phased in. Notably, the text removed numbers (present in the previous draft) setting the extent of developing country flexibilities, on the grounds that this issue was too contentious for numbers to be presented, even in square brackets. However, the text retained (in square brackets) tariff reduction formula coefficients in the range 8-9 for developed countries and 19-23 for developing countries.

In comments accompanying the text, the Chair suggested that an undefined 'sliding scale' mechanism could be established linking a lower coefficient to greater flexibilities, and vice versa. Reaction from Members was mixed, with most expressing concern at the removal of the flexibilities numbers and uncertainty as to how outstanding issues could be resolved. Negotiations on the text will continue this month.

Services

A services negotiations round was held in Geneva on 19-28 February 2008. Delegations, including Australia’s, worked on developing a full services text following the release of a first draft by Services Chair Fernando de Mateo on 12 February 2008. Australia continued to push for the final services text to provide strong and clear guidance on the level of ambition expected in revised services offers, particularly in relation to market access.

The Australian delegation also engaged in a series of bilateral services negotiations with key trading partners. Australia continued to press for improved offers in its major sectoral interests and greater flexibility for business mobility, as well as reduction of foreign equity caps on commercial presence and removal of restrictions on the establishment of services businesses.

Australia also continues to work actively to build momentum for a services signalling conference. At this conference, participating WTO Members will need to signal their responses in second revised offers to bilateral and plurilateral requests. Increased bilateral activity is expected in preparation for the signalling conference.

A highlight of the two week round of negotiations was the Symposium on Telecommunications in Geneva on 20-21 February which commemorated the 10th anniversary of agreement among WTO Members to open basic telecommunications services. In his address to the Symposium, Director-General Pascal Lamy hailed the liberalisation of trade in telecoms services as a vital tool in economic growth and development.

Intellectual Property

The next meeting of the TRIPS Council will take place on 13 and 14 March 2008. It is expected that Members will discuss the relationship between the TRIPS Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Members will also continue the fifth annual review of developed country reports on technical cooperation, capacity building and technology transfer to least-developed countries.

Trade and Environment

Members continued discussions in the Committee on Trade and Environment Special Session (CTESS) on principal issues mandated for negotiation under paragraph 31 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration. Small group meetings were convened in January and February 2008 in the lead up to the informal CTESS, held on 27 February 2008. At the 30 November 2007 informal CTESS, the US and EC submitted a proposal on the liberalisation of a discrete group of "climate-friendly" goods. Australia has indicated its broad support for the proposal and is currently conducting detailed product analysis.

Trade Facilitation

On 18-22 February 2008 the Trade Facilitation Negotiating Group (NGTF) continued discussions on textual proposals covering elements of the mandate, focussing on freedom of transit (GATT Article V) and customs cooperation. The meeting discussed revised proposals on transit (TN/TF/W/113/Rev.1) and the reduction/limitation and periodic review of documentation requirements (TN/TF/W/124/Rev.1). Australia, Canada, and the US reached agreement with Turkey on a new joint proposal on advance customs rulings. While differences remain on the issues of special and differential treatment (S&DT) and technical assistance and capacity building (TACB), there is now wide acceptance of the aim of a trade facilitation agreement in which all commitments would eventually be implemented by all Members. The group will next meet on 7 April 2008.

Rules - Anti-Dumping, Subsidies and Fisheries Subsidies

The Rules Negotiating Group met over 21 January – 1 February 2008 and 11- 20 February 2008 to go through systematically Chair Guillermo Valles-Galmes’s draft text on anti-dumping, subsidies and fisheries subsidies.

On anti-dumping, small-group meetings discussed core issues such as zeroing (a methodology used to calculate dumping margins), sunset reviews (termination of measures after a certain period) and a public interest test (before imposing measures). On subsidies, discussion focussed on the treatment of export credits and other subsidy practices such as regulated prices and below cost financing.

The meetings held on fisheries subsidies examined the scope of the prohibition on fisheries subsidies, general exceptions from the prohibition, special treatment for developing countries and fisheries management. There continues to be differing views between WTO Members on the level of ambition that should be reflected in the text including, for example, whether some types of subsidies, such as port infrastructure subsidies and subsidies for operating costs should be prohibited. Developing countries and small vulnerable economies have expressed concern on the conditions for providing subsidies for artisanal/subsistence fishing.

WTO Meetings in Geneva

March

13-14: Meeting of the TRIPS Council

17-19: Rules (anti-dumping) Week

18-19: Committee on Agriculture

April

7: Trade Facilitation Negotiating Group

Correction: draft services text

An e-mail circulated to subscribers to the WTO Monthly Bulletin in February incorrectly referred to a "draft revised services text". To clarify, there is only one draft services text, and that is the text released by the Chair of the Services negotiations on 12 February 2008. This draft text is not yet a public WTO document.

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