Trends by Martin Khor
Monday 19 December 2011
Divisions beneath a relaxed WTO Ministerial
relaxed atmosphere marked last week’s ministerial meeting of the World
Trade Organisation but the deep divisions among the members on many
issues were evident.
World Trade Organisation’s Ministerial Conference was held in a calm
and relaxed atmosphere in Geneva last week.
Past WTO ministerials had been tension-filled, with some Ministers
(usually from developed countries) often aided by the Secretariat,
trying to push for mandates to launch talks on new rules or treaties,
and Ministers of developing countries resisting.
The decisions would be made by a small group of 20, usually selected
by the Secretariat or the host Minister, and there would then be great
tension to as to whether the whole membership would agree to what
the small group of 20 had decided. Sometimes the small group could
not agree among themselves.
Thus, WTO ministerial, or more recently “mini-Ministerials” of 30
or so members, could end in induced success or inglorious failures,
with the failures exceeding the successes.
In the past two to three years, these tensions have instead been absorbed
by trade negotiators and their senior officials in an endless series
of informal and formal meetings in Geneva, rather than by Ministers
in a conference.
These meetings have made it evident that there is no agreement on
how to conclude the Doha talks launched in 2001, nor on what the WTO
should be doing in the next few years beyond its regular work.
To avoid another tension-filled Ministerial, the diplomats designed
last week’s Ministerial to be a simple combination of formal speeches
and informal discussions among the Ministers.
There was to be no Ministers’ declaration and thus no intense negotiations
over texts. At the end, on 17 December night, the conference Chairman,
Nigerian Minister Olusegun Olutoyin Aganga, presented his own Chairman’s
statement. The first part was on what the diplomats had already prepared
before hand, and the second part summarized the Ministers’ discussions.
below the meeting’s calm surface, deep differences of views were evident
both on the Doha impasse and on the way forward.
All profess to be still committed to concluding the Doha agenda.
While most want it finalized based mainly on December 2008 texts on
agriculture and industrial goods, the United States
the big developing countries to open up their markets by even much
more than that, which the latter do not consider fair.
Most developed countries have proposed a new method for Doha, that
the talks and outcomes on some issues be conducted on a plurilateral
basis (involving only those members that are willing).
But this was firmly rejected by a hundred developing countries which
in a statement (entitled Friends of Development) said it went against
the principles of multilateralism and inclusiveness.
Another proposal is to have an “early harvest” of some issues first
rather than wait for all issues to be agreed on. Though many countries
are amenable to this, there is no agreement on which issues should
be “early harvested.”
Earlier this year, a quest to announce an early harvest at the Ministerial
failed. Almost all members agreed there would be a “package” for least
developed countries, so that Doha could deliver results first for
the poorest members.
However, two of the key issues (duty free market access for LDC products
and reductions in cotton subsidies) were not acceptable to the United
Next year when the Doha talks resume, developed countries want a trade
facilitation treaty to be an early harvest. But most developing countries
insist that any early harvests should be on their development issues,
including an LDC package, enhanced special and differential treatment
and resolving problems arising from implementing the WTO agreements;
as well as reducing agricultural subsidies.
In the Ministerial discussions on issues not on the Doha agenda, there
is also a deep divide. Developed countries want to launch discussions
on new issues, possibly leading to new rules.
These include investment and competition (which had already been discussed
for years but then removed from the Doha agenda in 2004), climate
change, energy security and food security.
However, a majority of developing countries were opposed to a top-down
introduction of new issues. The “Friends of Development” declaration
said that any trade-related issue should be discussed at appropriate
WTO bodies in accordance with due process and consensus.
also believe that introducing new issues now would distract from the
development components of the Doha agenda, and that the proposed issues
are not in the developing countries’ interests.
Instead, the developing countries proposed work to enhance the development
aspects of the WTO, including strengthening the trade and development
committee and having a development review of the special and differential
treatment provisions of the WTO.
The Ministerial conference was conducted in a friendly and relaxed
atmosphere, but the underlying differences and tensions will still
be there when the WTO resumes work next year.