A news item issued by the World Trade Organization provides details of an informal meeting of the group’s Trade Negotiations Committee yesterday where WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy told ambassadors that member countries risk failing to deliver the breakthrough needed in April in order to conclude the Doha Round negotiations this year.
“Now is the time for all of you, and in particular those among you who bear the largest responsibility in the system, to reflect on the consequences of failure,” he said, and urged members “to reflect on the costs of the non-Round to the world economy as well as to the development prospects of Members, in particular the smaller and least-developed which are more dependent on an improved set of global trade rules.
“And above all, it is time to think about the consequences of the non-Round to the multilateral trading system which we have so patiently built over the last 70 years. It is the time to think hard about multilateralism, which your leaders, yourselves and myself preach at every occasion. In politics, as in life, there is always a moment when intentions and reality face the test of truth. We are nearly there today.”
Delegations broadly echoed his concern, some arguing that progress is still possible provided members show the political will to produce give and take.
Mr. Lamy said gaps remain too wide in a range of issues for the negotiating group chairs to produce the revised draft negotiating texts that members have agreed should be produced by Easter (the weekend of 24-25 April).
He identified one issue as the biggest stumbling block at this stage: “NAMA sectorals”. This is about proposals for major trading countries — including emerging economies — to allow duty-free or lower-than-normal duty on imports in particular sectors within the non-agricultural market access (NAMA) negotiations.
“The absence of progress in NAMA sectorals constitutes today a major obstacle to progress on to the remaining market access issues,” Mr. Lamy said. “However, let me be clear, this is not the only market access related problem area. There are other issues whether in agriculture or to a larger extent in services — which have not been resolved either.”
He said he will consult members privately in the fortnight starting on 4 April, “with a view to understanding the size of the gaps on the NAMA market access,” he said.
“Once I have done this I intend to report to the entire membership. Together — and on the basis of an across the board view of progress in all areas in the negotiation, including the regulatory part as well as market access — we will then decide on the next steps.”
Delegations reiterated the particular issues that concern them: agriculture, non-agricultural market access, services, the balance of ambition between the three, special treatment for developing and smaller countries, cotton and fisheries subsidies and so on.
Some developed countries called for more real access to markets; some developing countries said they were demanding too much, particularly when compared to what they were offering in agriculture. Some said focusing on single issues such as free or freer trade in a particular non-agricultural sector will not work at this stage since negotiators have to view this in comparison with other issues such as agricultural reform.
Some briefed the meeting on their attempts at a breakthrough bilaterally or in groups such as a group of 11 WTO members sometimes called the G-11.
Questions: What are the long-term ramifications of a failure to conclude a world trade pact?
Will countries be more inclined to negotiate bilateral or regional trade deals in its absence?
Would these be considered just a stop-gap measure until new broader negotiations could be initiated, or does failure of the Doha Round signal that there is a lack of will among WTO member countries to reach successful compromise on global trade rules?