Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Trajectory of WTO trade negotiations in 2011

Reproduced from Economic Survey 2012, pp 173-74.

The Doha Round of trade negotiations in the WTO effectively made very little progress after 2008. Throughout 2009 and 2010, discussions continued but no headway was made on any substantive issue in the negotiations.  However, the subject featured on the agenda of almost every major international meeting and there were strong affirmations of political support for an early conclusion of the Doha Round. Discussions continued in Geneva during March and April 2011, in a variety of formats.

(Find here a summary of India's stand on key WTO issues).

The focus then shifted to the possibility of selecting some issues for finalization as an ‘early harvest’ in time for the Eighth Ministerial Conference of the WTO in December 2011. It began with an attempt to select issues of particular importance to least developed countries (LDCs). However, these attempts did not meet with any success and proved not only unproductive but very divisive as well. Members could not agree on the issues to be included and sought to selectively bring in various issues of commercial interest to them. Gradually, as Members brought in non-LDC issues, the discussion veered away from the LDC issues.
The LDC issues include
(i) duty free quota free (DFQF) market access;
(ii) the rules of origin for DFQF market access;
(iii) LDC waiver in services; and
(iv) issues relating to cotton (domestic and export subsidies for cotton and tariffs). 
Some of the issues suggested in addition for an ‘LDC plus’ package were trade facilitation and the export competition pillar of the agriculture negotiations. There was however little progress in arriving at a consensus on the elements of the early harvest package. The LDCs made it clear that if the LDC package was not delivered at the December 2011 Ministerial Conference, they would be very disappointed. The African Group, the AfricanCaribbean-Pacific Group, and other groups of developing countries supported an effort to harvest an LDC package for the Conference. India too, supported this stand.

In October-November 2011, concerted efforts were made by some of the developed country members of the WTO to advance an agenda for the Eighth WTO Ministerial Conference scheduled to be held in Geneva in December 2011. Specifically, they wanted  to:

  • set   the stage  for  plurilateral agreements on selected  issues  in  the WTO negotiations (rather than multilateral agreements); 
  • get WTO members to agree to a commitment abjuring the use of export restrictions; and 
  • introduce new issues for negotiation, namely climate change, energy security, and food security. 

At the Eighth Ministerial  Conference from 15  to 17 December, ministers adopted a number of decisions on:

  • intellectual property (IP), 
  • electronic commerce, 
  • small economies, 
  • LDCs’ accession, 
  • a services waiver for LDCs, and 
  • trade policy reviews. 

In an unprecedented display of unity, a coalition of more than a hundred developing countries, including
India, Brazil, China, and South Africa, met on the sidelines of the Conference and issued a declaration
emphasizing the development agenda. They roundly criticized suggestions for plurilateral agreements to
replace decision making by multilateral consensus.They stressed that the work ahead should conform to the Doha mandate, respect the single undertaking,  and be truly multilateral transparent, and inclusive.

Click here for a discussion on Plurilateral agreements vs. Multilateral agreements.html

Single Undertaking: is a principle of negotiation wherein virtually every item of the negotiation is part of a whole and indivisible package and cannot be agreed separately. “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.


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