Friday, 29 November 2013 03:41
3 December 2013 will see the opening of the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference, which is held once in two years. This yearâ€™s meeting is scheduled to be held in Bali, Indonesia. Expectations on the outcome of this conference are mixed.
Hectic efforts by the WTO Chief and his staff to finalise what is called the Bali package in time for the Ministerial Conference have not yet fully borne fruit. The deadline for finalising such a package was 12 November, which has come and gone, compelling the WTO Chief to extend the deadline.
Although the general view is that they are far closer to a deal than ever before, it is still too early to confirm whether the package could be finalised before the ministerial meeting. The General Council of the WTO, which is the highest decision making body after the Ministerial Council, which was set to meet on 21 December and was expected to reveal a clearer picture of the current state of affairs was postponed to allow negotiators a little more time.
Much depends on outcome
Much depends on the outcome of the Bali meeting as this meeting is being held at a time when the WTO as an organisation faces questions over its role in a changing world trade climate. Preferential trade agreements have been growing steadily and high profile agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership, Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have become more newsworthy than the WTO Doha Package, the conclusion of which has been like â€˜waiting for Godotâ€™.
The Bali package is a watered-down version of the original ambitious Doha package. The package is now limited to a few issues, of which trade facilitation and agriculture stand out. With regard to agriculture, there appears to be some consensus among the negotiators and barring any unexpected developments at the Ministerial Conference, the new draft text is expected to be accepted at the meeting.
Trade facilitation is an issue which was not in the original Doha package, but was included in the Doha negotiating mandate in 2004. Some issues relevant to the developing and least developed member countries are also expected to be included. The issues are getting slowly whittled down in what appears to be a desperate effort to have some resemblance of a package to present to the ministers.
The WTO staff through the words of their DG have made it clear that some of the outstanding issues must be resolved in Geneva before the ministerial meeting and the December meeting cannot be a â€˜negotiatingâ€™ one.
Outcome may be positive
Even though the Doha negotiations started over a decade ago with great expectations, changing world trade conditions and changing world economic leaders which were situations not envisaged at that time may have contributed to the inability to see a speedy conclusion to the negotiations and a Ministerial meeting which ends the same way as it did in the preceding meetings with only politically correct statements on the need to conclude the negotiations would be a waste of money and time for all delegations. However, as of now, it appears that the outcome of this meeting will be positive to some extent.
(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.)