After 12 Long Years, a WTO Deal in Bali?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 11/22/2013 04:42:00 AM
For obvious reasons--nothing much happening in Geneva--I have devoted very little attention to the conclusion of the WTO Doha Round, having given it up for lost. For all intents and purposes, the Doha Development Agenda as it is officially referred to is still on the back burner. But, there was activity stirring a week ago causing its new Brazilian Director-General Roberto Azevedo to remark "We are too close to success to accept failure but it is all or nothing now." Latin brio aside, they have taken some more "salable" items on the negotiating table to hopefully use in demonstrating that WTO negotiations are not yet dead by concluding a smaller multilateral deal during end-of-year gatherings of its members in Bali (3-6 December). 

What exactly is inside this "Bali package," then? Supposedly there are three pillars: (1) trade facilitation to reduce red tape among international customs authorities; (2) development in better operationalizing what kinds of special and differential treatment [SDT] are afforded developing countries; and (3) agriculture permitting developing countries more leeway in doing things such as helping feed their destitute members:
WTO ambassadors resumed consultations on Section II of a draft agreement on trade facilitation. This section provides the basis for special and differential treatment and for technical assistance and capacity building needed for the implementation of the agreement.

In agriculture, members are focusing on proposals about reducing export subsidies and related policies known collectively as “export competition”, reducing the chances that the methods used to share out a particular type of quota among traders become trade barriers in their own right, on how to deal with developing countries’ food stockholding for food security when the purchases could distort trade, on adding a number of environmental and development services to the list of programmes considered not to distort trade and therefore allowed without limit, and on cotton produced by least-developed countries (LDCs).

On development, members have agreed proposals by LDCs on preferential rules of origin and on operationalization of the services waiver for them. Work continues on duty-free, quota free treatment for LDCs. Members are also consulting on a monitoring mechanism for special and differential treatment for developing countries under WTO agreements. 
From my perspective, it's a bunch of giveaways from industrialized for developing countries which do not require substantial concessions from the former that the latter find reasonably attractive. They do not move the game on a whole lot. Still, the hope is that this "Bali package" is useful for demonstration purposes in showing the world that the WTO still matters. Yes, it's akin to shooting fish in a barrel, but the prospects are at least better than Doha. Ladies and gentlemen, a deal is now imminent...
Roberto Azevêdo, the recently appointed head of the WTO, is expected to present a finished draft of the agreement to the body’s highest organ, the general council, in a meeting as soon as Sunday or Monday.

Barring any unforeseen problems – and negotiators gave warning on Thursday that they could still emerge – the agreement would be signed by trade ministers from the WTO’s 159 member countries in Bali next month. “They have crossed over the threshold,” said a senior trade official in Geneva. Sealed, the deal would be a victory for Mr Azevêdo, who warned that the WTO risked irrelevancy if it did not deliver something substantive in Bali when took over in September.
For a guy who just came into office in September, it's certainly an auspicious beginning. And all it took was for a D-G from a developing country to do it?! We could have had something much earlier if so, but I think there's also an air of desperation that crept in which is making this deal more palatable all around. Believe it or not, trade negotiators probably got tired of attending these shindigs just to twiddle their thumbs year in and year out.