Aileen Kwa, Geneva

In a concerted effort to smooth over the setback of the collapse in G4 talks in Potsdam on Thursday, Pascal Lamy quickly convened an informal Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) meeting at the WTO on Friday afternoon. He told Members that he had spoken to all four G4 ministers separately, “and that all four have told me that they want the process to continue here in Geneva”.

The Friday TNC meeting was described by an inside source as “too mechanical”, even “surreal”, and that people seemed to have gone back to business as usual. Beneath the surface, however, many questions remained unanswered. The meeting basically affirmed the Geneva multilateral process as central, and that, as Lamy put it, “From now on the process (is) conducted by the Chairs and myself”. Chairs are expected to release draft modalities by the end of June.

Another source observed on Friday, certainly no Member of the G4, nor Lamy, would have wanted to take the blame for pulling the plug. “Lamy could not have done anything different from what he did today. It would have been too risky for him to pull the plug. That would have put him in the spotlight. He would get the blame and nobody wants to be blamed for what may happen”.

However, uncertainty reigns. Until the day of the G4 collapse, the WTO secretariat had been preparing for a mini-Ministerial to take place in Geneva in July. “What will happen now remains an open question”, said an insider. Some people speculate that without G4 input in the multilateral talks, there would be no beef in the negotiations. Others say that when the dust settles, Lamy could pick up the process and continue. Articulated one source, “We are not sure if this will be a fake or real process”. Will the G4 take the multilateral process seriously, since the differences between them seemed unbridgeable?

There were 35 interventions from delegations at the TNC. The EU Ambassador said that the Potsdam discussions were useful. Major political differences, however, could not be bridged. He said that they were close to a “landing range” in agriculture, but not in NAMA. The EU was ready to pay a lot in agriculture, but that they needed reciprocity. The Round, he said, remains alive. The G4 process has run its course, it stops here and the process now reverts back to Geneva.

The US Ambassador said that there was need to move ahead with international efforts although “the path ahead is somewhat obscure”. He underscored the need to sustain the WTO as a multilateral instrument. He said that whilst progress was made in Potsdam, and in the run-up to Potsdam, it was not enough. We need modalities in NAMA also. He said that the responsibilities in terms of making progress are also with the larger emerging markets. It is simply about fairness and economics. If we succeed in concluding the round, the effects will mostly be beneficial for the large emerging economies. The US thinks that they were “close to a development outcome”. “Should we throw that away?” he asked.

The Brazilian Ambassador was reportedly the most candid. He said that Potsdam was a reality-check. It was a failure as the differences were not bridgeable. “The development dimension was lost and it became a negotiation on market access”. He reaffirmed that Brazil was always seeking a pro-development outcome, which is why it was in the G4. He underscored that agriculture is at the centre of the Round. The proposed reduction on domestic supports and market access offers made were “insufficient and obscure”. He said that Brazil did not see the progress that was referred to regarding the Potsdam meeting. On the exchange rate in NAMA, he said that developing countries were ready to do more than has ever been done before, and that developed countries wanted more from them than what they themselves committed to in the Uruguay Round. In a twist of logic, he said that the differences in the future are bridgeable, if we deliver on development as mandated. He affirmed that members should get together under the guidance of the Director General and the Chairs.

India said that they were “heavily disappointed but not disheartened”. Progress was made but differences remained wide. He underscored that the division between the G4 was not necessarily only between the G4 Members, but the same differences would also be found in the wider membership. The conflicts of interests, India said, will reflect potential problems in negotiating the Round.

Jamaica, on behalf of the ACP and G90 plus countries said that they stood ready to work with the Chairs, but the Ambassador underlined that the process should be transparent, inclusive and member-driven, and that sufficient time must be allowed for draft texts to be analysed by experts in capitals. Development should be at the core of the continuing work. Her statement was echoed by Zambia on behalf of the LDCs and Uganda, representing the Africa Group.