No timeline

It would have been unrealistic to hope for any forward  movement in the Doha trade negotiations at the World Trade Organisation’s eighth ministerial conference held in Geneva.

The ministerial conference is  the highest negotiating forum for the Doha Round and the Geneva meeting was being held two years after a similar meeting.  While the talks failed to make tangible progress, the only important outcome was the decision to admit Russia into the WTO. It was strange that major economic power like Russia had to wait for 18 years to gain entry into the WTO. The  difficulties were more procedural than substantial but they  speak of the slowness of the  decision-making process in the body. Russia’s entry should  strengthen the world trade body and make it fully representative of the world’s economy.

The failure to end the continuing deadlock over the development round has cast a shadow over the effectiveness of the WTO.  Various attempts have been made in the few months to bring the talks back to substantive  issues but they have failed. The Geneva meeting, apart from the decision of Russia’s entry,  reached  agreements  on some non-controversial issues like the procurement policy of member countries.  But there was no sign of setting a time frame for an overall agreement to emerge or on how the contentious issues are to be tackled.

It seems unlikely that any agreement will be reached any time soon as the gulf between the developing and the developing countries is as wide open as at any time in the past. The US Presidential election next year will make  an agreement impossible at least for the next one year. Earlier this year there was talk about  a Plan B. This proposed an agreement   on issues on which there were no major  differences of opinion.  But the proposal  has not been pursued since. One major problem is that the developed world does not consider some countries which were developing when the Doha process started 10 years ago as still  deserving of any concessional terms. The gap will widen with time and an agreement will become progressively difficult.

The failure to make any progress in trade talks should not be allowed to erode the role of the WTO.  It has a serious responsibility as an arbitrator of trade disputes and an agency to implement existing agreements. Any future agreement has to be within its framework. All countries should therefore support it.

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