WTO Meeting Fails to Make Progress on Global Trade Negotiations

The World Trade Organization wrapped up its ministerial meeting without deciding how to revive global commerce talks, focusing instead on welcoming Russia to the fold and securing a government-procurement accord.

Efforts to reach an agreement during the Doha Round of trade talks have been blocked for years as the countries fail to make concessions on lowering agriculture subsidies and industrial tariffs. Ministers including U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk have said the round needs a new approach after a decade of unsuccessful attempts to bridge gaps among 153 nations.

The highlights of the three-day ministerial meeting that began in Geneva on Dec. 15 were the accessions of Russia, Samoa and Montenegro and a 42-nation agreement that opens up government-procurement contracts valued at as much as $100 billion to more foreign competition.

“We have set a good example in these three days,” said Nigerian Trade and Investment Minister Olusegun Aganga, chairman of the ministerial conference. “We have sent a strong collective message that the WTO is more than ever important to the world. We have seen constructive dialogue among ministers, which has improved the WTO’s atmosphere.”

Efforts to reach a global trade deal won’t progress until the negotiations address changes that have occurred since the round began, Kirk said. Exceptional growth, especially by China, “presents us with one of the biggest challenges confronting our work on trade and development,” he said.

‘Not the Same’

“A one-size-fits-all approach does not accurately reflect the realities of the world we live in,” Kirk told ministers. “Developing countries are not the same, and pretending that they are contributes to the deadlock in our discussion on many of these important issues.”

While a “meeting of minds” is important to advance the Doha Round, it’s not enough, said WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, 64, who said he won’t seek a third term as the trade arbiter’s head after his current term ends in mid-2013.

“We need a joining of hands so we can undertake the hard work required on a number of issues,” he told journalists.

The conference underscored the fact that the WTO must move the negotiating agenda forward to remain relevant and that such a move will be gradual, Lamy said.

“We leave this ministerial, which was not a high-ambition ministerial, with a better sense of priorities for the next years,” Lamy said. “That’s the sort of guidance we all needed.”

More Than Doha

“While the Doha Round is indeed stuck, it is important to recognize that the WTO is about more than Doha,” said Christopher Wenk, senior director for international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “All of the bad press over the years about the lack of progress on Doha has left a stain on the WTO, and that is a shame.”

Ministers also discussed the need to keep markets open and resist protectionism, “particularly in this challenging economic environment,” Aganga said. Some ministers pressed for the removal of all recent protectionist measures and a halt to any new ones, he said.

Cotton, within the context of the Doha talks and global trade security, was also discussed on the sidelines of the conference. Kirk and a European Union delegation led by Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos met separately with officials from Africa’s four main cotton-producing nations, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, which together account for about 15 percent of global exports.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer M. Freedman in Geneva at jfreedman@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net.

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