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WTO Ministerials

Hong Kong updates

WTO Hong Kong Ministerial
December 13-18, 2005

Update 4
Will the Elephant Give Birth to a Mouse

Sabrina Shaw, December 16, 2005

With the realization that it would not be possible to agree on modalities in agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA), one month ago the expectations for the Hong Kong Ministerial were lowered significantly. Nevertheless, many delegations are left wondering in the final late-night negotiating hours in Hong Kong whether they are here under false pretenses. What of the development round? Concerns about preference erosion for some developing countries, which will result from reducing tariffs in a NAMA deal, contrast sharply with the logic of agreeing to extend preferential duty- and quota-free market access for least-developed countries (LDCs). With the end game in play the final deal is taking shape - a barebones development package within a supposed Development Round.

The highlight of the day was without doubt the midday press conference given by the coordinators of groups representing 110 WTO member developing countries in which they set out their desire to harmonise their positions with the objective of having a successful focused development outcome. This is the first time in the history of the WTO that there has been such coordination at a ministerial meeting between these various developing country groups (the full gambit of G's - G33, G20 developing countries, LDCs, Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific [ACP] and the vulnerable small economies).

Their basic platform - to ensure the development nature of the Doha round as determined in Doha on all issues. Their common objectives - to fix the date for the elimination of export subsidies by 2010, to push for duty- and quota-free market access for LDCs, to have recognition of preference erosion for some developing countries and to address the concerns of others on cotton. The Brazilian foreign minister, Celso Amorim, was quick to note that despite the diversity of situations of developing countries, they have a common objective to push for a bona fide development round.

Following a laudatory statement from Oxfam for their structured coordination process in Hong Kong, African representatives from Oxfam as well as former prime minister and high commissioner for human rights Mary Robinson were even called to join the trade ministers on the podium. The G110 were basking in a perfect "photo op" moment. Minister Amorim emphasized that the large umbrella membership represented pragmatic commonalities and was not based on a North-South rhetorical unity - it was, he insisted, "an historic moment".

The facilitator for trade and environment (Ignacio Walker, Chile) consulted with a large number of delegations on the bracketed text on removing tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade in environmental goods and services. One bracket contains language to develop a common understanding of the different approaches to the negotiations while the other is a general reference to complete work by a specific deadline in 2006. In parallel, several Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development delegations floated compromise text with other delegations to merge these two alternatives. The consultations on EGS continued into Thursday night in the Green Room. The facilitator was scheduled to hold further consultations on a compromise text for inclusion in a "first final" version of the ministerial declaration.

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For the WTO's official site on the ministerial, please see the Sixth WTO Ministerial Meeting.
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