WTO Lite: November Ministerial But No Doha

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/28/2009 08:51:00 AM
For all the talk about waiting for Godot with the new Obama administration getting its trade negotiators in place, preliminary results are now in and are quite disappointing. In theory, the organization is mandated to hold ministerial-level gatherings every two years. Given the disappointment that was Hong Kong 2005 which failed to make much headway towards completing the Doha Round, no ministerial meetings have been held since then.

News out of Geneva is that there will be a ministerial meeting in November 2009. But, get this--global trade talks (i.e., Doha) are off the agenda. Hence, key issues concerning LDC access to agricultural sectors of industrialized countries and industrialized countries' access to manufacturing sectors of LDCs will be by and large glossed over. From Bloomberg:
The World Trade Organization scheduled its first ministerial meeting in four years in November, though global trade talks won’t be on the agenda. Under the Geneva-based WTO’s rules, ministerial conferences should be held at least once every two years. Negotiators had held off scheduling a ministerial meeting in the hopes they would be able to use the gathering to wrap up a global trade deal that would cap tariffs and farm subsidies.

“There is a strong and widespread feeling that a regular ministerial conference should take place this year, given that it has now been almost four years since the most recent ministerial conference in 2005,” General Council Chairman Mario Matus told the WTO’s 153 members yesterday. “I would like to stress the word ‘regular,’ as it has also become clear that this conference is not intended to be a negotiating session --- the Doha negotiations are on a separate track.”

The Doha Round of talks began in 2001 with a plan to cut agricultural subsidies in rich nations and tariffs on industrial and farm goods worldwide. Since then, the talks have stumbled, with a series of meetings of trade ministers from the U.S., the European Union, China, India and other nations ending in failure.

Talks to craft a deal before changes in the U.S. administration and the EU and Indian governments fell apart last July. The main sticking point, highlighted in a divide between the U.S. and India, was the trigger for a mechanism to allow developing countries to raise agricultural tariffs to protect their farmers from a surge in imports.

The theme of the seventh ministerial conference, which runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 in Geneva, will be “The WTO, the Multilateral Trading System and the Current Global Economic Environment.” A ministerial conference can make decisions on all matters under any multilateral trade agreement. The last ministerial meeting was held in Hong Kong in December 2005.
Ho-hum, another "how to deal with the crisis" theme involving trade. Aside from not being particularly timely, it's also besides the point of traditional ministeral gatherings. Talk about diminished expectations. Note too that the US (and EU) seems to be more interested in reinstating dairy export subsidies that, while under WTO limits, go against the spirit of free trade. Perhaps it's a sign of the dire straits the US finds itself: if it cannot even save itself, surely it cannot save Doha.