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Montreal 'mini-ministerial' will represent reality check ahead of Cancun, official says
International Trade Daily - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

OTTAWA--An upcoming World Trade Organization "mini-ministerial" meeting in Montreal, is not expected to address the technical aspects of the Doha Development Agenda negotiations, but will rather serve as a reality check on what needs to be done before the September ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico, a Canadian official said July 18.

The mini-ministerial, scheduled for July 28-30, will also gauge the flexibility and political commitment different delegations bring to the negotiations, the official told reporters on background.

The Montreal meeting, to be chaired by Canadian International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew, will be attended by 25 countries representing all regions and points of view across the WTO membership, the official said. It will be the last such meeting before the full-fledged WTO ministerial conference set for Sept. 10-14 in Cancun.

One of the stumbling blocks to moving forward is that there is no agreement on the level of ambition in the Doha Round, the official said, pointing to the key areas of agriculture and nonagricultural market access. Ministers meeting in Montreal will assess whether the countries are working toward the right level of ambition, the official said.

Because of the levels of spending in the United States and the European Union, Canada shares the same agenda on agricultural subsidies as the developing countries, the official said. While Canada is a developed country, it cannot afford the levels of subsidies that the United States and the EU provide in agriculture, she added.

The official said that there is consensus that the sooner the issue of access to essential medicines and intellectual property rights is resolved, the better off the whole negotiating process will be. However, she said it would be difficult to predict whether the issue can be resolved before, during, or after the Cancun meeting.

The official speculated that resolution of the medicine issue could provide some impetus to reach a solution on agriculture but said that she did not want to overstate the linkage between the two.

WTO members did not meet an end-of-2002 deadline for agreeing on new flexibilities under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) that would give poor countries the right to override patent rights and issue licenses for the import of generic drugs to tackle public health problems such as HIV/AIDS.

Developing Country Needs

Cancun will serve as a midterm review of the Doha Round talks. Negotiations are expected to continue regardless of the outcome. However, trade diplomats warn that failure by ministers in Cancun to show sufficient progress in overcoming their differences in key negotiating sectors--in particular agriculture--will throw the Jan. 1, 2005, deadline for completing talks into serious doubt.

The meeting will also discuss whether developing country issues are being addressed in a way that ensures better integration of developing countries in the global trading system, the official said. While developing countries still insist on treating their needs as one bloc of issues, the reality is that the countries have variable development needs, the official said. The WTO will not be able to provide all the answers to developing country issues, and a more "holistic" approach with participation of the World Bank and other institutions was needed, the official said.

An ambitious outcome for the negotiations is critical to the overall success of the Doha Round, and is preferable to a quick agreement, the official said.

By Rossella Brevetti

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