The 2013/12/04 at 11:50
“It’s now or never,” remarked the WTO Chief Roberto Azevedo in Bali at the opening of the ministerial meeting that gathers at least every two years to make decisions on all questions concerning multilateral trade agreements.
This meeting may well be the swansong of a WTO that has failed to demonstrate efficiency ever since its creation in 1995. Aiming to work towards “trade openness”, with an annual budget that has been stable for a number of years, consolidated at 197 million Swiss francs for 2013, the organisation has not really proven its mettle.
Drawing 125 ministers of trade, and 3,000 delegates at Bali’s Nusa Dua Convention Centre, the 9th ministerial conference got started with words expressing great hopes. “We’re so close to the finish line,” declared Indonesian Trade Minister, Gita Wirjawan, Chairman of the ministerial meeting and the G33, the group of developing countries.
The first day yielded contributions from different countries: $ 200,000 from Chinese Taipei and 40,000 Swiss francs (CHF) from Liechtenstein to help developing countries to take part in the Doha Round, $ 400,000 from China to facilitate access to the WTO for less developed countries, and 540,000 Australian dollars from Australia for programmes in favour of developing countries.
At around nine o’clock wednesday, 4th december in the morning, conflict broke out between the United States and India. “After two decades of collective frustration, a deal is right in front of us,” signalled US Trade Representative Michael Froman during the first plenary session of the WTO ministerial meeting in Bali.
And yet India, at the head of the G33’s 46 countries, remains firm. New Delhi has hardened its demands on agricultural subsidies. Indeed, this champion of poor countries intends to pursue a national programme to distribute cheap food to two-thirds of its population, in other words 800 million individuals. In doing so, it envisages paying its farmers healthy prices in order to stimulate their production while maintaining food prices at artificially low prices. A proposal that clashes with the restrictions (10 % ceiling) imposed by the WTO in this area. As a result, food-security preoccupations have been hurled to the centre stage of discussions in Bali.
In response to the United State’s appeal for more flexibility regarding a compromise despite the imperatives of domestic policy, India has stuck to its position. And in quite a feisty feisty manner. Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma insists that the packet of measures under discussion in Bali “cannot be accepted”. The Indian minister, who expects nothing but a perpetual moratorium regarding his programme of agricultural subsidies, illegal according to WTO norms, is attempting – vainly, it seems – to win over a maximum of the least advanced countries to his cause.
According to French newspaper Libération, the WTO’s survival depends on this meeting, while Media Part argues why the WTO should be abandoned today.
“We must not forget that coming out from Bali with some tangible results is important for the longevity and the sustenance of our belief in the multilateral trading system,” declared Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan.
The organisation setting out to police international trade has nonetheless not yet played its last card. At 11 o’clock wednesday morning, Yemen – whose joining of the WTO was finally approved after 13 years of negotiations – is only waiting upon its Parliament’s ratification before becoming the organisation’s 160th member country. And the programme continues all this week.