WTO members “still interested” in securing results in rules negotiations
WTO members clearly remain interested in achieving results in the negotiations on rules, despite the lack of an outcome in the sector during last December’s Nairobi Ministerial Conference, the chairman of the negotiations said on 22 March.
In his first report to members since the Nairobi meeting, Ambassador Wayne McCook of Jamaica, the chairman of the Negotiating Group on Rules (NGR), acknowledged differences on how the post-Nairobi discussions should proceed.
While “it's clear that members remain interested in finding ways to secure outcomes on rules,” some members wanted to focus on specific areas of interest while others emphasized the need for balance and observation of certain principles in pursuing outcomes, the chairman said. He added that he would make himself available should any delegation wish to consult with him on how to move forward.
Mr McCook said that despite intensive efforts in Nairobi, WTO members were unable to reach agreement at the 15-19 December Ministerial Conference on most of the rules issues, which cover anti-dumping and subsidies/countervailing disciplines, fisheries subsidies and WTO provisions on regional trade agreements (RTAs).
Two draft texts produced by the facilitator towards the end of the meeting on anti-dumping and fisheries subsidies failed to garner consensus from members. Save for the broad commitment to address rules as stated in paragraph 31 of the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration, only the issue of RTAs was the subject of a specific provision in the text (paragraph 28).
“Nevertheless, as we are all aware, members are committed to finding ways to advance work on all issues, including rules issues,” Ambassador McCook said. But he emphasized that proponents for outcomes in the rules negotiations have made clear they do not just want to simply pick up where they left off in Nairobi and do not want any limitations imposed by the Nairobi draft proposals and processes on the possible scope and ambition of further work.
More than two dozen delegations, some speaking on behalf of larger groups, took the floor to express their views on the way forward.
Many delegations highlighted the importance of the negotiations on fisheries subsidies and their disappointment over the continued inability to secure an agreement, despite the broad support for new disciplines in the sector. Reference was made to a Ministerial Statement issued in Nairobi by 28 members in which they committed to securing a ban on fisheries subsidies that negatively affect overfished fish stocks as well as subsidies to vessels engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Some said the mandate for a result was clearly spelled out in Target 14.6 of the United Nations' new Sustainable Development Goals on fisheries subsidies. It was therefore important that an outcome be achieved on fisheries subsidies at the WTO's 11th Ministerial Conference in 2017, they argued.
A number of developing countries in this group highlighted the second part of Target 14.6, which recognizes that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiation.
Several delegations emphasized that outcomes need to be achieved in all areas of the rules negotiations and that special and differential treatment for developing countries remains an integral part of the negotiations. The outcome needs not only to be balanced across all pillars, it also needs to reflect the realities of the negotiations in the overall context of the WTO.
Other delegations voiced support for continued efforts in the rules negotiations, in particular new anti-dumping disciplines. One delegation said those members who indicated a willingness to engage on rules post-Nairobi now must make good on that promise, citing the efforts of proponents pre-Nairobi to recalibrate their ambitions. Another delegation said there were still widely divergent views both across and within the various rules issues and that members should not resume the negotiations without a clear signal on the way forward; new approaches are needed rather than a return to the same debates.
Further background on the WTO rules negotiations and previous news items on the talks are available here.