TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct08/07)
8 October 2008
Third World Network

Trade: Mandelson's leaving reduces chances of a Doha deal
Published in SUNS #6562 dated 7 October 2008

Geneva, 6 Oct (Martin Khor) -- The exit of Peter Mandelson as the European Union's Trade Commissioner is expected to be a setback to the last-ditch efforts to conclude WTO negotiations on modalities for agriculture and non-agriculture market access by the end of this year, which is the new target set by WTO's Director-General Pascal Lamy, who incidentally was also the predecessor to Mandelson.

Some diplomats at the WTO view Mandelson's resignation to return as a Minister in the United Kingdom as a major blow to any remaining hopes of an early conclusion of the modalities negotiations.

This is because Mandelson was one of the most important of the few Ministerial-level officials in the thick of the negotiations, and who personally believed in the importance of concluding the Round, preferably on his watch.

Another factor depressing the chances of a deal this year is that Mandelson's successor, Baroness Catherine Ashton, the leader of the United Kingdom's House of Lords, is not known to be knowledgeable about trade diplomacy issues or about the WTO in particular, although she is an economist.

It will thus take some time before she can be adequately briefed about the Doha-related WTO issues, to make decisions, and to represent the EU in the often highly technical Doha negotiations.

Hardly anyone in trade circles in Geneva had known of Ashton before the announcement of her succeeding Mandelson, thus, there is a lack of confidence generally that she will be able to step ably into Mandelson's shoes, especially given the narrow time-scale for finalizing modalities before the end of the year.

"Mandelson's leaving is a major development," India's Ambassador to the WTO, Ujal Singh Bhatia, told the SUNS.

"He was a major proponent and mover of the Doha Round and was in the forefront advocating for an early conclusion. Therefore, his departure will have important consequences. The prospects of an early conclusion are thus reduced."

A senior diplomat, from another developing country, who has been intensely involved especially in the agriculture negotiations, said there would be at least one direct effect of Mandelson's exit - that it would now not be possible to hold a Ministerial meeting at short notice if the need arises.

"It is hard to imagine any Ministerial level meeting being held at short notice, now that Mandelson has suddenly left," he said. "For his successor to come up to speed with the issues in order to negotiate, it will take at least a few months.

"Although the commitment of the EU to the negotiations may not change, the personality factor must also be taken into account. Thus, the change-over at this stage is not favourable to a successful conclusion of negotiations in this short run." +