Last week, trade ministers met on the sidelines of the Annual World Economic Forum in Davos. The result of their informal meeting? That members must take stock at Easter as to whether a “meaningful result” can be achieved in Bali in December.
The last ministerial meeting, held in Geneva in late 2011, declared the Doha Round at an impasse, but the upcoming meeting is being viewed as a chance to move some of the less controversial elements of the Doha talks forward. Ministers have agreed that the core of any Bali outcome should include trade facilitation, some agricultural components, and item of special interest to LDC members.
The aim of Doha was to produce a global accord that would reduce tariffs, eliminate regulations that restrict trade and cut farm subsidies. While tariffs have been falling steadily across the globe, regulations that limit trade in goods and services have become a rising source of friction. This, at least, is something that Bali will address as members have spent much of the last year trying to finalist the text of the Doha negotiations on trade facilitation.
This is one of a few negotiations that have been taken forward separately from the rest of the Doha package, and there are positive signs that members could reach agreement on the trade facilitation deal in December. The deal would harmonise customs procedures and provide money for developing countries to bolster their customs infrastructure.
This strand of negotiations has received enthusiastic backing from multinational corporations behind, who believe the agreement would help grease the wheels of global supply chains, and 5 of the candidates vying to succeed Lamy as Director-General of the WTO agreed last week that a trade facilitation deal in Bali would send a positive signal to the private sector. Addressing this area is of vital importance to developing countries, with border crossing today costing 10% of the value of trade.
Another area making good progress is a deal on free trade in environmentally friendly technologies – 21 member nations of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation have already signed an agreement to cap tariffs on these goods at 5% in 2015, compared with as much as 35% where they stand now in some nations.
Last week, trade ministers met on the sidelines of the Annual World Economic Forum in Davos. The result of their informal meeting? That members must take stock at Easter as to whether a “meaningful result” can be achieved in Bali in December. Lamy has said that, “Doha is not dead, because the problems which Doha was to address are still there.” While this is true in essence, it would seem that taking incremental steps is proving a far more effective way of producing “meaningful results” than the traditional ‘all or nothing’ approach to multilateral negotiations.