NAMA Chair’s February draft was not much different from his July text, if viewed in the context of reactions by the delegates. The delegates who criticized the July text also objected to the removal of long established numbers [though in brackets] for flexibilities available to the developing countries. Even the delegates from developed countries and ‘middle grounder’ also voiced their concern on this part of the modalities. It appeared as if negotiations have approached to a dead end.

In Late February NAMA Chair came up with ‘cafeteria options’ like flexibility within flexibilities, additional flexibilities, sliding scale, formula plus sectorals, formula plus average cut and UR like approach. The NAMA Chair explained that he has gathered these new ideas from Cafeteria and thus these new ideas are termed as ‘Cafeteria options’.

While the initial reactions to these option was not very positive and majority of delegations considered it a ‘step backward’ as it opened the structure agreed by Ministers. However, this new initiative pulled everybody out of its comfort zone. The delegates started talking to each other in every format, like bilateral, plurilateral and in various groups. This activity was further accelerated as the NAMA Chair started meeting bilaterally with almost every country applying the formula. Such an increased level of engagement was visible at the informal Room “E” meeting convened by the Chair (Friday the 14th March).

The delegates urged the Chair that while revising his text (expected by end of first week of April) he should get back to the well defined and constrained structure and put the numbers (relating to flexibilities) back in the brackets. They also indicated that they are willing to negotiate one or more of the Cafeteria options, which could provide greater flexibility to those Members who need it. While the first three ‘Cafeteria options’ were indicated to be most popular the option 2(ii) was certainly the winner. According to this option, there would be three sets of coefficient with corresponding flexibilities and developing country Members would have option to pick one of those.

There was intense engagement of almost all delegates but still there is lack of urgency required to complete the modalities in coming weeks. The level of ambition and completeness in Agriculture especially the ‘Sensitive Products’ is an important area. Only sufficient convergence there may bring NAMA modalities to a stage where Minister can decide in a horizontal process.

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