World Trade Organization (WTO)

WTO Doha Round Bulletin

2008 End of Year Bulletin

December 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

The Australian Government is disappointed a WTO Ministerial meeting was not held in December 2008 to agree a framework package (“modalities”) on agricultural and industrial products (non-agricultural market access, NAMA) in the Doha Round.  WTO Director General Pascal Lamy recommended to the WTO Membership on 12 December that a Ministerial meeting not be convened, as he assessed there was not enough convergence on key issues to reach a deal.  This was particularly the case on negotiations at a sectoral level for further industrial (NAMA) tariff cuts and the agriculture Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM, i.e. a mechanism for developing countries to put in place additional duties for all agricultural products).

There have been positive steps in December 2008.  Revised draft negotiating texts on agriculture and industrial goods (NAMA) were released on 6 December.  These texts usefully captured progress made in the negotiations and have been generally well-received.  In Geneva, Australian negotiators participated in intensive, officials-level discussions on agriculture and NAMA and in meetings on services and trade facilitation.  Further details are provided below.

In his statement to the WTO Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on 17 December, Mr Lamy outlined his plans to move the Doha Round forward.  He said “concluding the Round should remain our focus in 2009 but this endeavour takes place within a more global portfolio of WTO activities”.  He proposed all negotiating groups (including agriculture, NAMA and services) resume work almost immediately in 2009.  Mr Lamy urged Members to work in 2009 to demonstrate that the WTO remained “as necessary and credible as ever”.

The Government considers that, with the right level of political will, the gaps remaining on the Doha negotiating table are surmountable.  It will press for trade ministers to re-engage early in the New Year to finalise a Doha package.  G20 and APEC Leaders have attached high importance to the Doha Round as part of the international response to the global financial crisis.  Concluding Doha would make a major contribution to restoring confidence in the global economy and assist in the global economic recovery, as well as improve Australian exporters’ access to overseas markets in agriculture, industrial goods and services.

Agriculture

A revised negotiating text was issued by Agriculture Chair Crawford Falconer on 6 December, along with three accompanying papers (on tariff quota creation, the number of sensitive products, and the SSM).  These were discussed in December 2008 consultations convened by the Chair and senior officials’ meetings convened by WTO Director General Pascal Lamy.  They reflected the considerable progress made during the July Ministerial meeting, and in recent months.  Australian negotiators continued to participate actively in discussions on agriculture throughout December, including through close cooperation with members of the Cairns Group. 

Following the end of his official term as New Zealand’s Permanent Representative to the WTO, the New Zealand Government has announced that Crawford Falconer will stay on in Geneva as Chair of the Agriculture Negotiations.

Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA)

Following extensive consultations in November, NAMA Chair Luzius Wasescha produced a fourth revised negotiating text on 6 December.  The text reflected areas where there was significant convergence in discussions.  The revised text also contained areas where there are outstanding differences among Members - including in relation to modalities for sectoral negotiations, and some special flexibilities being sought by developing countries.  On sectoral negotiations, the text contains options in an Annex for Members to declare the sectors in which they are prepared to conduct negotiations.  The extent to which Members can provide an upfront commitment to either negotiate or participate (ie adopt the results of negotiations) remains a critical issue to be resolved.

Services

The Council for Trade in Services and subsidiary bodies met in Geneva (26 November – 5 December).  Like-minded services demandeurs agreed that once agriculture and NAMA modalities were finalised, Members would need to redouble efforts on services to ensure services remained an integral pillar of the Doha outcome.

Substantive discussion of a specific work program for services was postponed until early in 2009 when the Chair of the Services Council would undertake further consultations.  However, Members agreed to hold a workshop on scheduling of services commitments in early 2009 to assist with preparation of final offers.  The workshop will also provide a timely opportunity to undertake dedicated exchanges on scheduling/classification issues confronting all Members.

Australia’s interests in the workshop are focused on sectoral-specific discussion of schedules/classification issues in financial, telecommunications, energy and environmental services.  Also of interest is the relationship between disciplines on domestic regulation and new specific commitments (particularly the tendency for Members to over-schedule their domestic regulations).

Intellectual Property

The TRIPS Council met in November, while Special Session meetings on a Geographical Indications (GI) Register were held in November and December.  A group of Members led by the EC pursued their proposal (‘W/52’ or ‘the parallelism proposal’) for amendments to the TRIPS Agreement in three areas: to put in place an international register for all GIs with compulsory participation and strong legal effect; to extend the higher level of protection available to GIs for wine and spirits; and, to require disclosure in a patent application of any genetic resources or associated traditional knowledge used in an invention.  Australia, with like-minded countries, continued to argue that these proposals need to be decided individually and on their merits, went beyond the mandate for negotiation of a GI register for wines and spirits as part of the Doha Round, and could distract from the pressing task of agreeing modalities on agriculture and NAMA.

In early December, Australia and like-minded countries submitted a list of technical questions to the EC and other parallelism proponents regarding the practical implementation of that part of their proposal relating to a wine and spirits register for discussion in the TRIPS Special Session.  At the WTO TNC Meeting on 17 December, the new Chair of the TRIPS Council, Ambassador Trevor Clarke of Barbados, said that he would continue negotiations in January 2009.

Trade and Environment

No new developments.

Trade Facilitation

Constructive discussion continued at the meeting of the Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation on 1-3 December on refinement of textual proposals aimed at improving and clarifying GATT Article V (goods in transit), Article VIII (fees and formalities connected with trade) and Article X publication and administration of trade regulations), as well as on customs cooperation; special and differential treatment (S&DT) for developing countries; and technical assistance and capacity building  The meeting also discussed a new proposal by Norway on establishing a Trade Facilitation Committee.

WTO Director-General Lamy urged acceleration of work on trade facilitation in the coming months at the TNC meeting on 17 December.

Rules - Anti-Dumping, Subsidies and Fisheries Subsidies

No new developments.

WTO Meetings in Geneva

A full schedule of upcoming WTO meetings is available at http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news_e.htm#whatson.

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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