Geneva: Attempts by the US to force so-called plurilateral initiatives with a small group of countries instead of pursuing larger multilateral agreements are causing “negotiating chaos" at the World Trade Organization (WTO), according to several trade officials.

The US’s stance is making it difficult to negotiate global agreements to tackle fisheries subsidies, controversial anti-dumping rules and domestic regulation barriers to trade in services, said a trade envoy from an industrialized country who asked not to be named.

Plurilateral agreements involve a coalition of willing partners in which the US is able to set the agenda and fashion the outcomes according to its interests, the envoy suggested.

During a meeting of the Doha negotiating body on rules on 29 June, the US said it doesn’t see any compelling set of circumstances for re-engaging in the rules negotiations on fisheries subsidies.

Washington maintained that continuing work in the rules negotiating body is difficult and asked the members to consider whether the body can be an appropriate venue for negotiating multilateral disciplines to curb fisheries subsidies that are contributing to the depletion of global fish stocks.

The US also signalled its intention to work with like-minded countries, a term for a coalition of the willing, to negotiate the rules for fisheries subsidies, although this is primarily a global problem, said a participant, who also asked not to be named.

The negotiating body on the Doha rules is tasked with finding multilateral outcomes on the outstanding issues in addressing fisheries subsidies, improving anti-dumping provisions to curb some predatory dumping practices based on the controversial zeroing methodology, arriving at horizontal subsidy disciplines and enhancing transparency provisions in regional trade agreements.

The US, however, wants to pursue negotiations only on fisheries subsidies but not on anti-dumping provisions, in which it uses several controversial practices, including the zeroing methodology (in which negative differences between foreign domestic prices and US import prices of the item are treated as zero in the calculation of dumping margin) for calculating anti-dumping margins. The US wants to address horizontal subsidies, which is an issue close to the European Union’s trade agenda, but on the basis of new approaches and paths.

The US strategy of “cherry-picking" issues in the Doha rules dossier is undermining the overall balance in the negotiations, said an Asian negotiator who asked not to be identified. “After all, multilateral negotiations require every member to make credible and commensurate contribution across all areas," the negotiator said.

At the same rules committee meeting, India, China, Russia, and several other countries said categorically that all issues in the fisheries subsidies, anti-dumping provisions and horizontal subsidies must be addressed on a balanced framework.

The US also remains indifferent to addressing domestic farm subsidies that are largely contributing to continued trade distortions in the global farm trade. The US had consistently maintained that without China and India being willing to undertake commensurate commitments to reduce their farm subsidies, it will not do so, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

Although developing countries are exempted from undertaking commitments to reduce input and other subsidies under Article 6.2 of the WTO agreement on agriculture, the US had already demanded the removal of such exemptions for China and India.

Despite support from many nations for commencing negotiations on domestic regulation barriers that impede trade in services, the US expressed scepticism about addressing all domestic regulation barriers. It remains to be seen how the US will engage in all areas of services negotiations after the summer break, given the interest expressed by a large majority of members in pursuing negotiations in all areas of trade in services.

Nevertheless, there is one area of services in which the US is proposing an ambitious agenda for multilateral negotiations. That is electronic commerce, in which it has a distinct edge over all other countries given the near domination of cloud computing and other areas in which US-based firms Amazon.com Inc., eBay Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are leaders.

Against this backdrop, the chairs of different Doha negotiating bodies impressed upon the overall chair for the trade negotiations committee (TNC), Roberto Azevedo, the WTO’s director general, to convene a TNC meeting for reviewing the stalemate in the negotiations following the positions adopted by the US, said a trade envoy familiar with the development.

Azevedo has not convened any TNC meeting since the WTO’s 10th ministerial conference in Nairobi, more than six months ago. The director general, however, addressed the General Council as TNC chair on 24 February and chaired two informal heads of delegations meetings in February and May this year.

Paragraph 31 of the Nairobi ministerial declaration emphasized that “there remains a strong commitment of all Members to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues. This includes advancing work in all three pillars of agriculture, namely domestic support, market access and export competition, as well as non-agriculture market access, services, development, TRIPS and rules.

“Work on all the Ministerial Decisions adopted in Part II of this Declaration will remain an important element of our future agenda."

Azevedo, who chose to remain silent on these developments, has convened an informal heads of delegations meeting on 25 July followed by a meeting of the General Council on 27 July.

“Instead of the informal heads of delegations meeting, he must convene a TNC meeting to provide his assessment on the impasse in rules and other negotiating bodies such as Doha market access for industrial goods," said the trade envoy cited above.

Azevedo has also remained silent about the crisis in the WTO’s highest adjudicating body after the US blocked the reappointment of the former Korean member Seung Wha Chang for a second term as the AB judge.

As WTO members proceed for the summer break, the director general, however, remains indifferent to convening a TNC meeting to address these multiple challenges without delay, the envoy added.

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