WTO - NZ: a former Chair of the WTO Negotiating Group on Rules on the workings of international negotiations

Mr Tim Groser, New Zealand's current Minister in charge of Trade was the very first Chair of the Negotiating Group that is dealing with new WTO for Fisheries Subsidies.

Mr Groser does not like to beat about the bush. He is someone who likes to speak things out, in all clarity. At least that is the impression I have got when reading one of the speeches he has recently delivered. I found in this post titled "Tim Groser on Border Tax Adjustments: "anti-dumping or CVD investigation on steroids" of the International Economic Law and Policy" Blog, which appears in "My blog list".

In this speech, given in London on 8/12/2009, i.e. just before the start of the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change, Mr Groser shares with the audience his personal views on how the above mentioned meeting could develop and the results it could yield.

In this post I will go through Mr Groser's talk by way of quoting some of the passages which I think could be related, in some way, to the ongoing WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies. After all the title of the speech is "Trade and Climate Change: A Negotiator's Perspective", so Mr Groser is discussing how he, as a negotiator for New Zealand, approaches the issue of Climate Change and the negotiations at the Copenhagen meeting.

Copenhagen: the Outlook

There will be literally thousands of international civil servants; hundreds of harassed security guards; a phalanx of the world's media interviewing delegates initially and finally interviewing each other. There will be businesses, lobbyists, a diverse range of NGOs with a vast universe of demands and agendas, some of which will be only loosely related to climate change.
There will be film stars, vegans, people running around in polar bear suits. This is, ladies and gentlemen, international diplomacy in action. Is it likely to lead to anything useful?
Comment: fisheries subsidies negotiations have not attracted as much attention as Climate Change talks, nevertheless there are a number of NGOs gravitating around the negotiations (e.g. WWF, OCEANA) and film stars (remember my post on the presence of Ted Danson in Geneva) have been "running around" to lobby negotiators. In this regard I always wonder why civil society organisations representing are not lobbying, at least in a visible manner, WTO negotiators in Geneva. Until now I have only seen reports of fishermen from the Philippines protesting against "fisheries liberalisation" (see my post of 20/12/2009).

I have spent thirty years negotiating international economic agreements. Most of them, contrary to popular opinion, and after massive political frustration and delays, do end up getting done - never perfectly of course, but usually in the right direction.
Comment: Mr Groser appears to be right in the sense that delays are part and parcel of international trade negotiations. Needless to say that the Doha Round is a good illustration of how delays do plague such undertakings. On the outcome of negotiations I can agree with Mr Groser with the fact that there can be "massive political frustration". This was the case for the EU in Copenhagen. Will it be the case (for the EU) on fisheries subsidies? I ask this question because the assertion on agreements (usually) ending up "in the right direction" is made by a negotiator representing New Zealand. I assume thus that for Mr Groser, should the Doha Round be concluded and an agreement reached on new rules for fisheries subsidies, it will end up in the right direction, at least for New Zealand.

But this is never achieved in one step and seldom in conformity with agreed 'road maps', or time-lines to which solemn Brownie oaths have been earlier pledged. A successful negotiation is always done incrementally by building up convergence and consensus first at the general, then increasingly specific, levels of detail.
Comment: Mr Groser appears to have participated in negotiations where results were reached by using a different approach than the one put forward by his successor in the Chair of the Negotating Group, Ambassador Valle, who did draw a Roadmap for the to move forward the negotiations on fisheries subsidies. Here what Tim Groser tells us about such “different approach”

Highly experienced and astute Secretariat officials, working closely with experienced negotiators from a number of countries, will be developing a text covering the key issues contained in the unmanageable draft legal text and on which firm political decisions are required - mitigation targets, financing in both the short and long term, capacity building and other key elements of the earlier Bali Action Plan.
He also gives us hints on the dangers that the “different approach” can entail and of the opportunities it can bring with it.

Extremism, or gross tactical misjudgements by certain Delegations, can still torpedo what could be a highly constructive step towards a full and ratifiable agreement at a subsequent point. This is not a time for people to start throwing their toys out of the cot. And if finally wisdom prevails, and we do get a solid set of politically binding decisions on key issues, our professional negotiators will then be able to re-engage in 2010 to complete the second, and one hopes, final step towards a far more solid agreement than Kyoto ever was.
This was Tim Groser, the first Chair of the WTO Rules Negotiating Group on Rules of the Doha Development Agenda, on how international negotiations are (or can be?) conducted.

The full speech can be found in these web pages:



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