The aim of this update from Geneva is to give a quick snap shot of the state of play surrounding the ongoing negotiations during the General Council (GC) of the WTO. The information in this bulletin is from the daily briefings at the General Council of Peoples (which is the parallel civil society meeting organised by the Geneva Peoples Alliance from 27-29 July 2005).

The TNC met yesterday to hear a number of reports including one from Director General Supachai on his consultative process on outstanding implementation issues as well as reports from the chairpersons of agriculture, NAMA, services, and the dispute settlement body. Consistent with earlier assessments, the general message from TNC meetings is that the negotiations remain stalled with no progress in many of the issues on the negotiating table. On agriculture, Chair Tim Groser’s much anticipated paper presented nothing new. Entitled ‘Looking Forward to the Hongkong Ministerial’ the report was an attempt on the Chair’s part to present the fact that the negotiations on agriculture are stalled and yet at the same time identify crucial decision points where, as he said, ‘clear political decisions’ would have to be taken to restart the negotiations and pave the way for a successful Ministerial meeting in December.

 On market access in agriculture, unlike previous assessments of a convergence on the G20 proposal, the report also recognized the reservations expressed by some Members. The G10 (a group of countries with protectionist interest in agriculture) has expressed its opposition to the proposal, particularly on the issue of maximum tariff rates or caps, an integral element of the G20 proposal. The US EU game on their interpretations of the G20 proposal on this continues (see Update # 1).

While it is claimed that the export competition pillar has seen progress, there is still a stalemate over issues concerning food aid and state trading enterprises (STE). Neither has there been any substantive progress on SP and SSM. In an attempt to move ahead the negotiation on this matter, the G33 is trying to come up with indicators necessary for defining product coverage.

On NAMA, again the report of the Chair Johansson inexplicably expressed what he saw as growing support for the Swiss Formula for tariff reduction and increasing convergence around a non-linear approach to treat unbound tariffs. However, the Chair’s interpretation regarding the Formula was strongly rejected by India and Kenya.

On GATS, a total of 92 countries (out of the 148) have now tabled offers. Developed countries have all made offers while 24 developing countries are still to make their initial offers. Of the 24, South Africa and Venezuela have been identified as critical to the negotiations. It is expected that strong pressures would be exerted on these two countries as the services negotiations move forward. Countries with offensive positions are seeking a new deadline, if possible with benchmarks to measure the “quality” of the offers. It is expected the QUAD countries would set their own benchmarks and would most likely use these to negotiate with other countries.

Yesterday’s other important news, which could have an impact on progress in the WTO, was the 217-215 vote in the US Congress in favor of the CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement). With the win on CAFTA, some feel that the US would now push for intensification of the talks.

While the discussions on the substantive aspects remain lackluster, a number of developments on process and structure are worth watching. The incoming New Zealand Ambassador Crawford Falconer will now replace Tim Groser as Chair of the Agriculture Committee. Together with Pascal Lamy who will assume the Director General post as of 1st of September, they are expected to play a crucial role in driving the Agriculture negotiations full speed ahead in the coming months. In his stint as the EU Trade Commissioner, Lamy was known for his valiant defense of the EU’s CAP (Common Agriculture Policy). It will be interesting to see how he wears his new hat.

Another impetus to push the negotiations forward not just on agriculture is the increasing interaction between the US, EU, Brazil and India, now referred to as the new QUAD (the QUAD are 4 most powerful countries in the WTO – US, EU, Canada and Japan) or the QUIPS (the acronym is supposedly a combination of FIPS and QUAD). A QUIPS meeting has been scheduled for September.

Protest actions continued yesterday adding life to what was otherwise an uninteresting day in Geneva. Around 20 people mostly from the Seattle to Brussels network (a European network working on WTO issues) staged a demonstration in front of the EC Building protesting the control of corporate lobbies over the EU. EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson was greeted with a giant Peter Mandelson puppet controlled by strings being pulled by huge corporations. The stunt almost did not materialize as the Swiss Police earlier prevented the activists from proceeding to the EC building.

In a session at the General Council of the People, European groups comprehensively exposed the EU’s corporate agenda on NAMA and services. While the initial rhetoric post-Doha was that this was a development round, it is now clear from EU Trade Commissioner Mandelson’s statements that this round is a pro-corporate one and the European Commission’s (EC) primary role would be to open up markets in the south for its corporations. There are over 15,000 lobbyists in Brussels, the seat of the EC. When questioned by an activist on how exactly lobbying works in Brussels, one lobbyist confessed “We don’t need to do much… when the Director General of Trade wants to frame a request on GATS he just calls us up and asks me want I want.”

DAY 2 OF THE GC MEETING: No show again; maybe better luck in Autumn
The meeting ended at 1pm and the members thanked outgoing DG Supachai. Pascal Lamy made an appearance as DG designate and announced his Deputy DG’s which include the Ambassadors of Chile and Rwanda. The Jamaican Ambassador made a highly critical intervention where he stated that ‘development’ was sadly lacking in this new round. This was reiterated by the Kenyan Ambassador.

In his final formal address to the Membership Supachai stressed the need for checkpoints in the road to Hong Kong. A number of crucial meetings will take place from now until the Ministerial meeting. Besides the G20 (possibly together with the G33) meeting in Pakistan in September, there will be a mini-Ministerial meeting most probably in Geneva in early October, and the General Council Meeting, also in Geneva, on 19 – 20 October.

Despite the disappointment over the GC failure members reiterated their commitment to the Doha work programme.

For more information on the shenanigans in Geneva write to:
Jacques Chai Chomtongdi – [email protected]

In Philippines :
Joseph Purugganan – [email protected] / [email protected]

In India:
Benny Kuruvilla – [email protected] / [email protected]