The head of the World Trade Organization warns that a ministerial meeting planned for late next year could be the last chance to revive the comatose negotiations.
WTO director general Pascal Lamy, who retires before the December 2013 talks in Bali, Indonesia, warned that the 11-year-old Doha round of negotiations is in jeopardy without progress next year.
“Recent engagement must be switched to a higher gear,” he told members of the WTO trade negotiating committee last week.
“One more housekeeping ministerial conference in Bali would not suffice to keep the Doha house alive.”
Trade and agriculture ministers attempted to make progress last year in Geneva by reaching deals on less contentious issues without waiting for an overall deal. The attempt foundered under the weight of disagreement and suspicion.
Agriculture remains one of the key stumbling blocks.
For example, Canada presses for more market access for exports but refuses to agree to open supply-managed markets any more than they are now.
However, the major agricultural issue is a split between the United States and developing countries over how much developing markets should open to imports in exchange for developed country concessions and how much U.S. subsidies and import barriers should be reduced.
As is his habit, Lamy claimed to see a growing willingness among WTO member nations to “engage” in the stalled talks.
“If I had to summarize in one sentence what I heard, I would say that members remain committed to re-energizing the WTO talks in a pragmatic and practical manner and to ensuring that 2013 is a productive year for the organization,” said Lamy.
However, he also conceded that expectations should not be set too high. No comprehensive deal will come from the meeting in Bali, but progress should be possible.
“We should be under no illusion about the breadth of what we can achieve in the short time frame between now and (the ministerial meeting in Bali),” he said.
“Nor should we create unrealistic expectations. The main stumbling blocks of (the negotiations) are still standing and many of the toughest nuts will likely not be cracked by the time ministers meet in Bali.”
The last WTO deal, which was then called the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, was reached in 1993 and signed in 1994. Implementation started in 1995.
This round of negotiations was launched in Doha, Qatar, in 2001 as a development round after two previous attempts to launch in Seattle and Cancun, Mexico, collapsed.
Whatever the prospects in Bali, dozens of Canadian farm lobbyists will travel to the talks as they have to every significant trade negotiation: exporters to press the Canadian government to oppose protection and supply management representatives to urge no concessions on their tariff protections.
Those tariff protections were in the spotlight in Auckland, New Zealand, last week as Canada attended its first meeting of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks as a member.
The Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance joined farmers and food processors from Australia and New Zealand in calling for negotiators to reach a deal that “eliminates all tariffs.”