The World Trade Organization (WTO) meets for a crunch summit in Indonesia this week billed as a do-or-die attempt to salvage an elusive deal on global commerce and, with it, the 159-member trade body’s own relevance.
New WTO chief Roberto Azevedo will be seeking to defy the odds and push through an agreement that could lead to relaunching the “Doha Round” of talks on slashing world trade barriers.
But hopes for success are low after the WTO failed to agree on even a modest deal to put to trade ministers who will open the four-day gathering on the island of Bali on Tuesday.
At stake is the future of trade multilateralism as regional pacts are increasingly favoured by major trading nations, such as the Asia-Pacific-focused Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pushed aggressively by Washington, analysts said.
Sergio Marchi, Canada’s past trade minister and former WTO envoy, said “failure in Bali will be very unkind to the WTO after 12 years of missed deadlines and opportunities” on the Doha Round. “There will be a high cost to its credibility and relevance,” he said.
The Doha Round, launched in Qatar in 2001, aims for a wide-ranging accord to open markets and remove trade barriers, with a focus on helping poorer countries.
Azevedo, Brazil’s former trade envoy who took the WTO helm in September, has cited some estimates saying it could provide a $1 trillion boost to global commerce.
But the talks have stalled repeatedly as rich countries, emerging powers such as China and India, and the world’s poorest nations spar over the give and take needed to craft a deal.
Negotiators had long ruled out major progress in Bali, instead working on lower-level thematic accords that could be fed into a wider package later.
But despite an intense push by Azevedo and signs that diplomats were coming tantalisingly close on those accords, negotiations in Geneva stumbled last week over issues including food security and customs procedures. WTO diplomats engaged in last-ditch talks on Thursday however hailed a “breakthrough” on simplifying customs measures to facilitate trade, indicating that poor countries would be given extra flexibility.
India to press for right to food security at