No Harvest on WTO Mini Ministerial Texts

The WTO’s July 2008 Mini Ministerial was unable to engender progress into the now sluggish malaise of the Doha Development Agenda. Just over a month has passed since the Ministerial meeting collapsed, and it seems unlikely that the negotiating texts will survive into a subsequent incarnation now that the WTO summer recess has ended.

The spin doctoring would have one believe that all but two items were ‘solved’ on the Director General’s itemised negotiation check list, hinting that a solution was near to hand. In reality there remained some rather decisive disagreement on certain matters like the so-called special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, while other very significant issues like the cotton topic were not even dealt with. Arguably there remained deep waters that were un-sounded, and may thus have sunk the Mini Ministerial in their own right.

As we have seen with the wealth of previous proposals and drafts that successive Chairs have tabled over the past 7 years, each impasse invokes a passion to ‘bank’ what has already been agreed. However the negotiating dynamic seems unable to gather these early harvest items. In the present phase it is once more likely that an elapse of time will see the need to once again apply a Herculean effort on the redrafting front.

Granted the Mini Ministerial did have precise texts as a basis upon which to finalise the negotiations over agriculture modalities. This in itself raised a barrier to a deal, in that the arcane nature of the text rendered it almost impossible to digest at a Ministerial level in any reasonable timeframe. The lesson is that precise texts will not in and of themselves secure a deal unless they are also digestible in their precision.

Agriculture Chair Crawford Falconer admitted post event that that there are issues where substantive disagreement remains as well as issues where no substance was delved. In his view, with which we concur, the current text has had its day. His reasoning is intricate in that it is not to say that it is that Members have necessarily retreated from the substance of their positions that has torpedoed the text but rather precisely because Members might still be prepared to live with their exposed positions, that it would be counter productive to oblige them now to abide by any text which ‘alleges their agreement’ but may admittedly not fully reflect such possible agreement accurately.

For the meantime the ‘Falconer Text’ like the 2003 ‘Harbinson Text’ remains as Falconer himself quipped: “on the hard drive … where they do and must remain, at least for the time being’. This statement is equally pertinent to the NAMA text in our view.