The Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is the organization’s highest decision-making body and convenes every two (2) years. An issue of key concern for this 8th Ministerial is the future of the Doha Development Round which is now openly recognized as being deadlocked.
Day One was comprised of an Opening Session and a Plenary Session during which the primary players and various interest groups made their opening statements sharing their positions on the key issues facing the Ministerial:
1. Should the negotiations keep the single undertaking which requires all members to sign unto all decisions/agreements, or adopt alternative approaches in an attempt to jump-start the negotiations?
2. Is it possible to fast-track agreement on some issues, and if so, which ones?
3. What action should the body take on decisions made at the 6th Ministerial (2005) to provide duty-free/quota-free access for all goods from least-developed countries (LDCs) and remove developed country subsidies on cotton exports?
4. Should the WTO remain focused on concluding the Doha Round or begin to address new emerging issues, such as the financial crisis and climate change?
5. What is the role of the emerging economies?
6. Is it possible to conclude the Doha Round, and what is the future of the WTO?
Here is what some of the key players and other diverse interests had to say about these issues:
The United States:
• highlighted its ongoing commitment to the WTO, particularly its dispute settlement mechanism
• stressed that successful conclusion of the Doha Round requires that the emerging markets assume greater responsibility
The European Union
• stressed the limited scope of what can be accomplished by the Ministerial, i.e. admitting new members and reaching agreement to implement the 5th Ministerial decisions to benefit the LDCs
• expressed support for concluding the Doha Round in 2012, fast-tracking more issues of importance to the LDCs, including trade facilitation and non-tariff barriers which are of importance to all members as well
• expressed the view that, to avoid being sidelined in the future the WTO needs to continue to open markets and address emerging challenges to world trade, also overseeing the regional trade agreements to ensure they are constructed in a way that supports the multilateral system
• addressed the need for joint efforts to address the financial crisis, key among them being conclusion of the Doha Development Round
• emphasized continued support for the single undertaking in a way that respects the development mandate and the progress made in the negotiations to date, which China sees as the only way forward
• expressed China’s willingness to engage in new issues only after conclusion of the Doha Round
• said that the development mandate of the Doha Round needs to remain a top priority and the LDC concerns need to be addressed ASAP, so China is willing to approve duty-free/quota-free treatment for LDCs and the proposals on cotton
Bangladesh, speaking on behalf of LDC Group
• stressed the need to break the deadlock in the Doha Round through focus on the development agenda
• identified as issues of primary importance to LDCs extension of various transition periods
• expressed dismay at the body’s failure to address the cotton subsidies
• reiterated support for the single undertaking approach to concluding the negotiations
• identified as a priority adoption of the 5th Ministerial decisions to benefit the LDCs
• expressed concern at the current impasse in the Doha negotiations
• reiterated support for the single undertaking, stressing the need to respect the mandate made by a democratic body and for decisions based on multilateral debate, consensus, and transparency, seeing any departure from the single undertaking as a throwback to the days when the decisions of a few determined the fate of the rest
• stressed that this remains the Doha Development Round and so issues key to LDCs should be a priority, including implementation of the 5th Ministerial decisions on duty-free/quota-free access for LDCs and on cotton
• said that the decisions already on the table reflect years of hard work and the body should secure (fast-track0 what has been settled and continue to work on multilateral negotiations
• stated that the origins of the financial crisis and the slow economic growth originated in the north but has not left the south immune, so growth is much slower than expected, but that meanwhile, the south has been helping to mitigate the crisis and Brazil’s imports have grown significantly
• highlighted the need to reinforce the rules of the multilateral system and to find ways to move the Doha Round forward
• recognized that politically-difficult decisions have become even more difficult because of the challenging financial environment but that this did not remove the need to strive to find common ground, starting with a determination of reasons for the current state of play early in 2012
• expressed Brazil’s continued commitment for Doha, as well as the importance to Brazil of progress on market-oriented agricultural reform, which it sees as the engine of progress on the Doha agenda
• stated that there is always room to improve the functioning of the WTO and that the impasse in the negotiations should not overshadow these other areas
• said that the WTO must always be open to discussion of new issues by member states so long as the consensus exists and expressed interest in examining the relationship between the financial crisis and trade
• expressed welcome for adoption of new guidelines for the accession of LDCs and for progress on cotton
• ended with the expectation that the Ministerial Declarations issued by the issued by groups representing the developing and emerging countries (including the Group of 20 (G-20) and the G-90) would be reflected in the Chair Summary to be issued at the end of the Ministerial
• expressed the goal, as a new member, that the Doha agenda would remain focused on advancing the development interests of the poorer countries and would not be complicated with new issues
• identified as a goal improved fairness in the accession procedure
• requested that Arabic be made an official working language of the WTO to encourage greater participation by governments and civil society
• expressed deep disappointment at the impasse, which Australia saw as a derogation of responsibility
• said that the northern hemisphere, faced with very slow economic growth, needs a new sustainable source of stimulus in the form of trade liberalization and urged that members resist protectionism in all its forms
• expressed strong support for a fast-tracked approach on those components on which an early decision can be reached, breaking the Round into components that will allow the LDCs to benefit earlier instead of waiting for a grand bargain to arrive from the sky, something that it did not consider will happen
• identified as areas for early agreement (fast-track), 100% duty-free/quota-free entry for products from LDCs, trade facilitation, agricultural trade liberalization, agreement on services, strengthening anti-dumping, disciplines on fisheries subsidies, and review of regional trading agreements
• committed eighteen (18) million dollars to support trade facilitation reform by developing countries
Trinidad & Tobago for CARICOM
• expressed the frustration of CARICOM and other small vulnerable economies (SVEs) that the development gains from trade continue to elude the region
• identified the trend to reduce the development ambitions of the Doha Round but said these issues remain core for CARICOM
• expressed regret at the failure to deliver early benefits and support for LDCs
• expressed support for recalibrating the negotiations, so long as this did not undermine the single undertaking
• said it was important that the round preserve gains made so far on issues of importance to CARICOM, e.g. decisions on tropical products, reforms to the dispute settlement system to protect the rights of small vulnerable economies, and on aid for trade
• discussed the need to develop globally-coordinated solutions to deal with these challenging times in the global economy, key among them being the deepening of trade and investment ties to rescue the global economy
• urged members not to allow the existing obstacles to weaken the rules-based multilateral system or undermine the work of the WTO, identifying the need to fight against protectionism and to ensure that the dispute settlement system remains strong
• identified as a goal the need to help developing countries to benefit from trade
• said Canada was open to exploring new approaches but that it was important to address each others’ trade interests
• recognized the critical juncture at which the global economy stands and that the WTO is at a crossroads, also saying that participation in the WTO system has served Norway well
• urged that countries resist protectionism
• identified as the main purpose of the Round a development agenda to benefit the poor
• affirming its commitment to WTO rules, expressed support for the Doha agenda and the single undertaking
• expressed readiness to explore small steps to overcome the deadlock (fast-track), delivering on the promises already made to the LDCs, addressing food and security, and disciplines on fisheries subsidies
• expressed support for agreements on climate change but added that social issues should be placed on the post-Doha agenda
• committed to increase its contribution to aid for trade by 50%
• ended by saying that members needed to adapt to decision-making in a multilateral world by working across the trenches to build trust and exploring how much members have at stake together, and expressed the desire for the major players to provide leadership to bring the Round to a successful conclusion
Behind the “diplomatic-speak” of these Ministers lie the positions that will inform the discussions over the remaining two days of the Ministerial.
Other Highlights from Day One:
• Signature of a revised Government Procurement Agreement signed by its 42 Members to improve the disciplines on government procurement and expand the market access coverage to between 80 to 100 billion dollars a year.
• Announcement by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy that he will convene a panel to conduct a year-long study of present and future trade, including an examination of the real drivers of trade, the obstacles it faces, trade patterns, and how to keep transforming trade into development, growth, jobs and poverty alleviation.