Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct18/15)
23 October 2018
Third World Network
DG points to escalating trade tensions, no progress on AB impasse
Published in SUNS #8776 dated 18 October 2018
Geneva, 17 Oct (Kanaga Raja) - A continued escalation of trade tensions
is a real possibility, with some early warning signs of its effects
being already seen, the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation
(WTO), Roberto Azevedo, said on Tuesday.
In some remarks at an informal Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC)/Heads
of Delegation meeting, apart from highlighting the current situation
in global trade, the DG also provided an update on the ongoing impasse
over Appellate Body appointments, saying that he had no positive news
to report on this issue, and that this comes at a time of increased
dispute settlement activity.
The Director-General also spoke on the issue of WTO reform, claiming
that discussion on this issue is gathering "significant momentum",
and that "this is something we can't ignore."
The meeting also heard reports from the Chairs of several Doha negotiating
A number of delegations made statements following the remarks by the
DG and the reports by the Chairs (see separate stories).
In opening the informal meeting, the DG said that he had met with
the Chairs of the various negotiating groups on Monday.
He said that it is clear that the situation in some of the negotiating
groups has not changed since the Chairs of these groups last reported
on 24 July.
In fact, some negotiating groups have not met at all, and in a few
cases the Chairs have not held any formal discussions despite indicating
their availability to delegations, said Azevedo.
The Chairs of several Doha negotiating bodies then presented updates
of the situation in their respective bodies since July.
These included the Chair of the agriculture negotiations, the Chair
of the Council for Trade in Services in Special Session, the Chair
of the Committee on Trade and Development in Special Session, the
Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules and the Chair of the Dispute
Settlement Body in Special Session.
According to trade officials, with the possible exception of the negotiations
on fisheries subsidies in the Rules Group, there was not much progress
reported by the Chairs of the other bodies.
In some further remarks following the reports by the Chairs, the DG
noted the intensive work being done on fisheries subsidies and thought
that this was an area where progress could be made.
However, it is clear that in most areas, we are seeing very little
progress, Azevedo said.
He told members that if they want to advance these issues, they will
have to drive them forward. No one can do this except the members
themselves, he said.
"Importantly, we must keep up the pressure in areas with specific
deadlines such as public stockholding and fisheries subsidies."
The DG also highlighted the current global situation with regards
to trade, noting that trade tensions continue to escalate.
Further measures have been proposed and at present continued escalation
is a real possibility, he said.
Azevedo said he has warned before about the real threat to stability,
jobs and growth should this trend continue.
"The effects will take time to filter through but we are seeing
some early warning signs," he added.
Indicators show that businesses are holding off on making job-creating
investments and export orders are on the decline.
He said that the WTO had last month revised its trade forecast downward.
On the other hand, he noted that significant trade agreements have
been struck in recent weeks.
"I hope we can take inspiration from this," he said. "We
pursue dialogue an d negotiation to help abate tensions elsewhere
but as yet, there are no clear signs that tensions are indeed abating",
On the issue of WTO reform, Azevedo said that one element which is
at the root of the current frictions is the argument that the trading
system is allowing distortive trade practices to go unchecked, and
that therefore this system needs to change.
In this context, so-called WTO reform or modernisation has increasingly
been on the minds and in the speeches of many.
It's clear that this discussion is gathering significant momentum
with more leaders becoming engaged and talking to each other about
"So it is something we can't ignore," Azevedo maintained.
A variety of initiatives and meetings are being prepared and a range
of priorities have been suggested by members.
He said there are several perspectives being offered on what the priorities
should be including resolving disputes and reaching agreements more
rapidly and effectively, addressing a variety of trade-distorting
practices that are either not covered or just partially covered by
existing rules, avoiding protectionism and unilateral measures, advancing
the current work, and improving notifications and transparency.
These are all important issues and others may be brought forward but
precisely which issues are taken forward and how, is for members to
determine, said t he DG.
Clearly, this debate is gathering momentum, he claimed. "But
again, I would suggest that there are members who are not convinced
that reform is needed. "
He noted that he has been invited to take part in some of these discussions
, saying that he is happy to do that.
His key impression is that these discussions are at a very early stage.
It is too soon to say what would be covered by these discussions.
It is also too soon to establish if or how they will advance, and
what fruits, if any, they might bear.
He said he doesn't think that anyone is talking about shaping a new
package or a new round.
"It seems to me that this discussion is more focused on trying
to fix some specific problems where necessary as people identified
to help the system work better," said Azevedo.
"Whatever members' positions may be on this subject, it is useful
to make your voices heard," he told members.
"I would encourage members to engage with each other and exchange
views through a range of channels and formats. The state of this organization
is an issue in which everyone has an interest, so it is important
for all members to en gage - whatever your perspectives may be."
"As ever, I remain available for consultations with individual
members and groups of members on this issue - or any other issue.
I am here to facilitate whatever conversations members want to have,"
Addressing the crisis in the dispute settlement system, Azevedo noted
that the Appellate Body is down to three members, the minimum required
to hear an appeal.
"I have no positive news to share here," he said, adding
that he has continued talking "but I am not hearing anything
new which would allow us to identify a way forward."
He noted that this comes at a time of increased dispute settlement
activity , with around 30 disputes having been initiated.
This is the highest annual total for 16 years, he said, noting that
we are only in October.
While this shows faith in the WTO, at the same time it puts additional
strain on the system.
"We must continue working to resolve the impasse in the Appellate
Body and to maintain this essential pillar of our work."
He said any broader systemic conversation should not compromise other
areas that members have been working on and are currently working
"We should continue our work in all areas of negotiations and
exploring other issues to the extent that members wish to do so."
He noted that work is continuing on the various joint (plurilateral)
initiatives (from Buenos Aires). "I leave it to members to update
each other on this work as they see fit."
"I will not conclude with a reminder and an appeal. Our trading
system is not perfect but it represents the best effort of governments
around the world over many decades undertaking painstaking work to
construct what we have today," he said.
"The system has real value in supporting stability, economic
growth, development and poverty reduction. We cannot take it for granted.
So we must preserve what we have. At the same time we must ensure
that we are responsive to continuo us evolution of members' needs,"