“WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy’s proposal to convene a Panel of Multi-Stakeholders of the WTO is a welcome step to make the multilateral trading system more inclusive,” said Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS International. “Though the WTO is a member-driven organisation, such a Track-2 initiative will strengthen the Track-1 agenda of the WTO Members which is to gradually make the multilateral trading system more open, more rules-based and transparent,” he added.
In his report to the WTO General Council on 14 February 2012, Mr.Lamy said “I see the output of the panel as a pragmatic contribution to offer to you, the Members of the WTO, on what will be the driving forces of trade in the years to come.”
CUTS International, a civil society group working on trade and regulatory issues for more than two decades, supports Mr.Lamy’s statement to the General Council: that “the current political environment dictates that the most realistic and practical way forward is to move in small steps, gradually moving forward the parts of the Doha Round which are mature, and re-thinking those where greater differences remain”.
As reported to the General Council: “… there seemed to be emerging consensus that certain issues such as those pertaining to LDCs (least developed countries) and Trade Facilitation could be part of deliverables relatively soon.”
While such a deviation from ‘single undertaking’ nature of the Doha Round of negotiations is possible as per Paragraph 47 of the 2001 Doha Declaration of the WTO Members, some WTO Members such as Brazil, India, Pakistan and groups of WTO Members such as G-20 and G-33 have expressed their concern that while these issues are important they cannot be talked about before issues on agriculture negotiations are resolved.
CUTS supports this concern because Paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration also states: “Early agreements shall be taken into account in assessing the overall balance of the negotiations.” While it appears that a new approach is needed to take forward the multilateral trading system, CUTS supports the concern of the Africa Group that any agreement on a new approach should be on a multilateral (not plurilateral) basis.
The report to the General Council also noted the concern expressed by many in the business community that proliferation of bilateral and regional trade agreements are undermining the value of the multilateral trading system.
Though on an average only 16 per cent of global trade is happening on account of preferential trade agreements, they are undermining one of the basic pillars of the multilateral trading system – that is, non-discrimination principles of doing trade – and also increasing the cost of doing trade due to non-coherence in their regulatory contents.