June 1st, 2011
“The main reason behind the non-progress of the Doha Round of negotiations by the WTO Members is that there is no clear, committed constituency behind it in most countries. Neither the political leadership nor the business is interested in concluding the Doha Round. On the other hand, there is a committed constituency in favour of the multilateral trading system,” said Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International.
“Unfortunately the latter has not strengthened the former. Now, there is a danger that the lack of commitment on the former seeps into the latter,” he argued.
Reacting to WTO Director-General’s yesterday’s presentation at the Trade Negotiations Committee on a possible Plan B to be delivered at the WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2011, Mehta said that it is not necessary to equate the Doha Round and its positive outcomes with the vitality of the WTO. “The success of this Plan B will depend on de-coupling of these two issues,” he added.
The crux of this Plan B is to deliver on some critical issues faced by the least developed countries plus a few others and also to agree to a plan to deal with the rest of the issues. There was general support from the WTO Members to this Plan B but that is no guarantee that it will work.
The US has already indicated its reservation on zero-duty market access on all products from LDCs and also on cotton subsidies. These two issues were specifically mentioned by the WTO Director-General while presenting this Plan B.
The ‘plus’ issues proposed by various WTO Members to be included in this Plan B include: export restriction, export competition in agriculture, fisheries subsidies, 28 special and differential treatment proposals (which were to be adopted at Cancun in 2003), transparency mechanism in regional/preferential trade agreements, horizontal mechanism in non-tariff measures.
WTO Members also presented some principles that should guide the selection of plus issues. They are: feasibility, doability, balance, development, etc. Unless there is a firm direction to deal with these issues they may degenerate into the mess as witnessed in the Doha Round of negotiations.
While an early and positive outcome of the Doha Round would have strengthened the WTO, should the opposite be necessarily true? The Doha Round should be taken off WTO’s back by putting it on a track that is not organically linked to WTO’s vitality.
According to CUTS International, a leading international NGO working on trade and regulatory issues, “The relevance, vitality and utility of the WTO are not wholly dependent on conducting rounds of negotiations. Mr. Lamy’s Plan B is in that direction and thus, it should be supported.”