Trade ministers are set to meet in the Indonesian island province of Bali from 3-6 December for the WTO’s Ninth Ministerial Conference, in a meeting that has been touted - for better or worse - as a turning point for the 159-member organisation. Yet on the eve of the conference, what will actually be on the agenda in Bali remains fluid.
Geneva-based negotiators have spent the last several months feverishly negotiating a small package of concessions [see my earlier post on it meager contents] that, if achieved, would mark the first multilateral trade deal since the WTO was formed in 1995. A deal in Bali, officials and observers alike had said throughout the year, would provide a major boost to the organisation’s credibility at what many have deemed to be a critical moment in its history.
Days before the ministerial, however, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo confirmed that, despite a “tremendous effort” on behalf of the membership and some significant advances, they had not yet agreed on a deal to present to their ministers - leaving the fate of the Bali conference hanging in the balance.Alike five years ago, India may play the spoiler by sinking the entire deal through kowtowing to its domestic agricultural lobbies:
Chief among those is India’s demand – affirmed at a cabinet meeting in New Delhi on Thursday – for a “peace clause”, intended to give another four years to negotiators to come up with new WTO rules for farm subsidies and the prices paid for staples bought as part of government programmes to supply food to the poor.Cautious optimism holds going into next week; no outcome would result in outright despair, while an outcome would result in a welcome development. Still, prospects for a wider Doha deal are remote twelve years after it began.
Other participants have accused India of backing down from an agreement struck earlier in November over that peace clause and thereby putting at risk a broader deal that would set about removing red tape at borders around the world and, advocates claim, add as must as $1tn to international trade.