Representatives to the World Trade Organization’s General Council held the “most intensive” negotiations in Geneva since July 2008, but final agreements remain elusive in the face of the Bali Ministerial Conference on Nov. 26, said WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo.
“Over the last few days, we stopped making the tough political calls,” Azevêdo said on Tuesday. “We are not going to Bali with a set of finalized documents that could allow the ministers to announce to the world a set of multilaterally agreed outcomes — the first since the WTO was created.”
In recent weeks, the WTO General Council members completed more than 150 hours of negotiations, with the last meeting starting on Sunday at 10 a.m. and finishing Monday at 7 a.m.
Ten texts were negotiated as a package. Four texts were related to agriculture trade, including agriculture general services, public stockholding for food security purposes, export competition, and tariff rate quota administration; a draft trade facilitation agreement was reached; and five documents pertained to least developed countries (LDCs), namely a monitoring mechanism on special and differential treatment, duty-free and quota-free market access for these countries, preferential rules of origin, cotton, and operations of the waiver concerning preferential treatment to services and service suppliers for LDCs.
“Members made compromises and showed flexibility with the understanding that their contributions would be reciprocated in other areas of the negotiation,” Azevêdo said.
“I believe we achieved a lot, and we did so hearing all voices and allowing for a process where everyone knew what was happening and where the trade-offs were accessible to all. More than that, each one of you had a chance to defend your national interests to the fullest extent,” he told the council members.
Azevêdo said what’s on the table would deliver for the least developed countries in several areas:
- Improvement in market access schemes of duty-free-quota-free
- Simplified and more accessible rules of origin for their exports
- Improved market access for the services sector
- A renewed push for the cotton negotiations
He added that what was negotiated in terms of agriculture trade would:
- ”Set us on track for a reform of export subsidies and measures of similar effect”
- Provide better implementation of tariff rate quota commitments
- Offer a temporary shelter for food security programs and “put in place negotiations that would address concerns regarding the sustainability of legitimate food security and food aid programs”
“Nothing that is on the table requires any (WTO) member to go beyond what is doable. One may not get all that he seeks, but no unmanageable contribution is required from anyone,” Azevêdo said.
The WTO chief warned, however, that “what remains to be negotiated is not something that can be easily managed by the ministers in Bali,” and “holding negotiations in the short time we'll have in Bali would be simply impractical with over 100 ministers around the table. I don’t believe that small negotiating meetings behind locked doors would do the trick either.”