Bali holds out hope for WTO

Ranabir Ray Choudhury | Updated on November 23, 2017

Roberto Azevedo: Trying to break the deadlock.

In exchange for leeway on food security, India could play ball.

Taking stock of the negotiations under way for the Bali ministerial meeting of the WTO (December 3-6) and the pronouncements of the new director-general of the organisation, Roberto Azevedo (a former Brazilian envoy to WTO), it looks like the end of the Doha Development Round is near.

Azevedo has openly declared that the “negotiating agenda” at Bali could extend beyond that of the Doha Round. On October 7, he told reporters in New Delhi: “Bali is in my view absolutely critical in establishing the conditions for moving forward in areas other than the deliverables we are looking for in December, not only in the Doha development agenda but also in other issues which are trade-related and also of interest to member-countries”.

Revealing similarity

The similarity between what Azevedo feels about the future of the Doha Round and the view of the US trade representative, Michael Froman, on the subject is, to say the least, revealing. Addressing the WTO Public Forum 2013 on October 1, Froman said that the focus now is to “set aside, for the time being, the most seriously deadlocked portions of the Doha agenda, and focus instead on a package of deliverables where we have the best chance of producing results”.

As he said, it can never be a happy thought not to arrive at decisions on issues such as industrial tariffs, multilateral services liberalisation and new market access for agriculture. But, he emphasised that “this is no time to focus on what we can’t do. We should focus instead on what we can do. A concrete result at Bali is still possible. And that means it’s time to work”.

Important goal

An agreement on trade facilitation has been chosen by Washington as an important goal for Bali. Relying on the principle that something is better than nothing, perhaps the WTO members would find it worthwhile to set aside the Doha Round stumbling blocks for the time being and travel down this road.

The Minister for Commerce Anand Sharma has already indicated that New Delhi is willing to play ball but only if the subsidy implications of the new food security legislation are prevented from falling foul of WTO rules (specifically Article 6(4b) of the Agreement on Agriculture).

Present indications are that some headway may be made on this score at Bali. For the UPA-2 Government this is good news mainly because of the immediate political implications.

But for the developing economies of the world generally, issues such as non-agricultural market access (NAMA) and special safeguard clauses, among others, are far more important as long-term tools for domestic growth. Clearly, this should not be lost sight of.

Published on October 09, 2013

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