Hope now lies in a ministerial post-Hong Kong

Ashok B. Sharma | Updated: Nov 14 2005, 05:30am hrs
Expectations from the Hong Kong ministerial have now been scaled down. Repeated failures in the past and recently in London and Geneva indicate that nothing much can be expected. The negotiators are now calling for recalibration of expectations.

Various negotiating committees were initially scheduled to present their draft texts to WTO director-general Pascal Lamy by the second week of November and Lamy was to have produced a first draft of the overall text by mid-November. But matters turned out to be different. The chairs of both the committees agriculture and non-agricultural market access (Nama) have already said that they would not be producing, at least for now, any draft texts. The chair of the services negotiations, however, has been producing several drafts which continue to contain controversial elements, attracting strong opposition from many developing countries.

However, there are indications from the last mini-ministerial greenroom discussions which concluded on November 8 that another full-fledged WTO ministerial meeting would be scheduled about three months after Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, it still not clear how the text for the upcoming Hong Kong ministerial would be drafted. In contrast to the usual process of the negotiating panel chairs drafting it, several member countries have suggested a bottom-up approach in which members would draw up the draft with their own proposals.

It is still not clear whether the Hong Kong ministerial will attempt to draft or redraft the text as it did in Singapore, Seattle, Doha and Cancun.

However, options are many. But what would happen if the Hong Kong ministerial fails to achieve two-thirds of the Doha Development Round agenda What would be the fallout on the farm sector, in particular

Not much damage would be caused if Hong Kong fails to achieve the goal. The July 2004 draft was a bad beginning for the farm negotiations. In sugar- coated words it had sought to legalise trade-distorting subsidies through expansion of blue box provisions. It had encouraged shifting of subsidies from amber box to green and blue boxes. The draft did not spell out concrete terms for disciplining green box subsidies. The emphasis of the July 2004 draft was more on market access than on the need to effectively phase out trade-distoring subsidies by developed countries. It is good that the subsequent negotiations have already buried the July 2004 draft.

One good thing that the July draft did was to bury three controversial Singapore issues. Negotiators need to be careful that these issues do not surface in future. Even if Hong Kong fails, there is a full year to come out with concrete proposals for ensuring fair rules of trade.