Before the summer recess at the end of July, members of the WTO had their last meeting at Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) level which also ended on the same note as most of the previous meetings on the Doha Development Agenda with no positive breakthrough on how to move the agenda forward. To the disappointment of many poor countries, members could not reach consensus on what to include in the mini deal proposed in late May. They could not reach an agreement even on issues of interest to poorest and vulnerable countries of the globe though a majority of the developing countries supported the idea that development needs of the least developed countries must be at the forefront of any deliverables that come out of the ministerial meeting scheduled for December.
The LDC issues included implementation of the Duty Free Quota Free decision, simpler Rules of Origin, services waiver and a step forward on cotton. The idea of LDC package was mooted after Easter when it became clear that there was no consensus among the members that the full DDA package would not be possible, hence should embark on a process aimed at delivering a smaller package on development for the poorest members.
With this latest development that WTO members failed to deliver even LDC specific issues, the Doha deal has now come across another road block. Judging from the the way in which the Doha round has been moving makes one wonder whether there will ever be a positive conclusion to the Round which is now more than 10 years old and is the longest of the WTO Rounds.
The Director General of the WTO, Pascal Lamy, told members at the last meeting, “What we are seeing today is the paralysis in the negotiating function of the WTO, whether it is on market access or on the rule making. What we are facing is the inability of the WTO to adapt and change to emerging global trade priorities.” This appears to be the correct picture. A round which began 10 years ago, when the global trade and economic scene was very different from what it is today,is struggling today unable to match the situation which existed at the beginning of the round with the present situation. Ten years ago, the WTO and the world was dominated by the developed countries of the West and the developing countries had to bow down to all conditions laid down by the West, however unpalatable they were to the developing countries.
The developments in the last 10 years saw the global leadership changing batons from the developed to the developing countries and in particular the dominant role of the newly emerging developing countries who are no longer silent spectators bowing down to the voices of the West,but voices demanding that they call the shots.The fact that the talks are getting stalled over issues including the concerns of the LDCs indicates an interesting development in that unlike in the past,even the LDCs are playing an important role in the talks. In the circumstances, the inability to conclude the Doha Round is not surprising. As some members had commented, the 10 year talks resembled a “soap opera”.
What is now at stake is the reputation of the World Trade Organisation which is the only global body which has a membership covering countries across the globe and provides equal say to every country irrespective of size or stage of development. The developed and the least developed have the same platform without discrimination. What most fail to comprehend is that even 10 years ago, the writing on the wall was slowly getting clearer and that the future belonged to Asia and the rest of the developing countries was beginning to emerge. This was why the Doha Round was expected to deliver tangible results to the developing world. But the developed countries may not have expected that the changes would come this fast throwing their past importance into disarray. Although it would not be correct to say that the failure of the Doha Round is the failure of the WTO, the Doha Round has been publicised so much that the other good work done by the organisation in creating a rule based global trade world has been eclipsed creating an impression of failure of the organisation. It is now time to decide whether to go on dragging the talks or to have a face saving watered down conclusion and end the talks this year.
(Manel de Silva holds an Honours Degree in Political Science from the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya and has engaged in professional training in Commercial Diplomacy at ITC and GATT. She has served as a trade diplomat in several Sri Lankan Missions overseas and was the first female Head of the Department of Commerce as Director General of Commerce.)