World Economy

Diverse Views Fuel Bleak Prospects for WTO Meeting

Diverse Views Fuel Bleak Prospects for WTO Meeting
Diverse Views Fuel Bleak Prospects for WTO Meeting

The World Trade Organization’s Buenos Aires meeting commenced amid concerns about support for anti-globalization, protectionism and bilateralism. But the odds of a breakthrough look grim against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ policy and discord over China.

A vast majority of the 164 WTO member nations—led by India, China and South Africa—are demanding that the final declaration of the WTO’s highest decision-making body reaffirms commitment to multilateralism and rules-based trading system as well as negotiations with development agenda at the center, PTI reported.

However, due to the divergent views of the WTO members on several issues, including the outstanding ones in the ongoing Doha Round negotiations, there is little expectation that the outcome of the December 10-13 ministerial conference in Argentina would be substantial.

Countries, mostly from the developed world, want what they call the ‘21st century trade issues’—such as e-commerce, investment facilitation, matters relating to small firms and gender equality—to be discussed for rule-making to enhance the relevance of the WTO.

Several countries mainly from the developing world, are against introduction of such ‘new issues’ into the Doha Round, saying it is important to first resolve outstanding issues such as the ones relating to food security and protection of poor farmers before taking up new topics.

Owing to persistent differences, barring a broad agreement on permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes, it is likely to be decided that issues such as ‘Special Safeguard Mechanism’, (which will allow developing nations to temporarily increase tariffs to counter import surges or price declines, and in turn protect poor farmers), ‘limiting harmful fisheries subsidies’, ‘possible negotiations on e-commerce’, as well as ‘services trade facilitation’ (including easing rules regarding movement of professionals and skilled workers across borders for temporary work or projects) will be addressed through separate ‘work program(s)’ post Buenos Aires.

On the Dispute Settlement Mechanism, an overwhelming majority of the WTO members have questioned efforts by the US to block the appointment of judges to the appellate body—a move that they say would undermine the DSM.

Beijing, meantime, wants to be seen by the WTO as a “market economy,” but the Europeans and the United States—for once on the same wavelength on trade issues—oppose this. Any such recognition would entitle China to preferential economic treatment under WTO rules.

Speaking on this occasion, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said “by any objective measure, the multilateral trading system has delivered,” adding that “the system has helped to build prosperity around the world. It has helped to lift a billion people out of poverty in a generation. It has been tested—and it has held firm,” he pointed out.



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