Dead Horses II: WTO NAMA Negotiation in Reverse

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 6/03/2008 02:12:00 AM
Despite Pascal Lamy's best efforts at presenting a positive outlook on the current state of WTO negotiations, the wheels of the Doha wagon are coming off fast. With the agricultural market access negotiations already in a parlous state, it is perhaps unsurprising that things are no better on the non-agricultural market access (NAMA) front as negotiations are going nowhere there, either. Or, to be more precise, they may be going somewhere--backwards. Canada's ambassador to the WTO Don Stephenson, who is the chief negotiator over NAMA, says that there is no point in further talks given the current state of affairs. From Thomson Financial:

The WTO's chief negotiator on freeing up access for industrial products said on Monday he sees no point in further talks until member states are ready to compromise over tariffs and other key sticking points. The 152 members of the WTO need to 'work among themselves to bridge their positions and until they do that, it is pointless to convene NAMA negotiating group sessions,' ambassador Don Stephenson said.

Industrial products come under the rubric of 'non-agricultural market access' (NAMA) as part of World Trade Organisation talks launched in 2001 on liberalising the global trading system. Stephenson said that member states were more divided than ever after he had issued a fresh text aimed at spurring stalled negotiations that are key to any success in the WTO's long-running Doha trade round.

'Over the course of the week of discussions, things actually got worse rather than better. We got farther from a text that could be put before ministers rather than closer,' he told reporters. 'Some issues that were either resolved or at least nearly resolved were reopened, some extreme positions were maintained, some positions were perhaps even arguably made more extreme,' he added.

The NAMA text proposes that about 30 emerging market countries would agree to reduce their customs duties to a maximum level of 19 to 26 percent. The more the tariffs are lowered, the greater would be the right of these governments to protect certain 'sensitive' areas. Developing countries have been particularly forthright in their criticism, with India slamming the proposed tariff cuts on industrial goods as a 'total mess' that need to be redrafted.

Washington also cast a downbeat note, with top trade official Susan Schwab describing the new texts on NAMA and agriculture as 'disappointing'. 'Unfortunately recent developments in Geneva have moved the negotiations in the direction of less balance and less market access,' she said.

But Stephenson, who is also Canada's ambassador to the WTO, said it was high time for countries to take 'responsibility' for the negotiations and strive to bridge the gaps in their positions. 'It's their lack of work to try to reach a consensus, it's their lack of engagement in the process, it's their failure to negotiate' that has led to the current impasse, he charged.

Around 30 ministers are set to hold an informal meeting on the sidelines of a summit by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris on Thursday, with WTO director general Pascal Lamy also attending. 'He'll have to ask them whether or not they're ready to negotiate amongst themselves,' one diplomat said last week -- adding that he expected a negative answer.