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WTO meet in Dec '13 to break Doha deadlock

The upcoming meeting assumes significance as it would be held after the US Presidential elections in November this year

Nayanima Basu  |  New Delhi 

Trade ministers from the 155 member countries of (WTO) have decided to meet once again in December next year in a last-ditch effort to bring in the much-awaited consensus to conclude the Doha round of global trade negotiations that has been languishing since 2001.

The last meeting, the eighth so far, was held in Geneva in December 2011. Like all other previous meetings, the 2011 meeting, too, failed to arrive at any consensus.

Unlike earlier ministerial meetings that have seen heated exchanges and harsh arguments among the countries, this time the mood is expected to be much sober, and the talks would take place in the exotic Indonesian island of Bali. It remains to be seen whether this ministerial meet could agree to close the deal for the benefit of all or declare it to be over.

Ministerial Conference is the topmost decision making body of WTO. These meetings usually take place in every two years. Ministerial Conferences, including the one that is slated, are given as follows in chronological order:
BALI: First week of December 2013
GENEVA: 15-17 December 2011
GENEVA: 30 November - 2 December 2009
HONG KONG: 13-18 December 2005
CANCÚN: 10-14 September 2003
DOHA: 9-13 November 2001
SEATTLE: 30 November – 3-Dec-99
GENEVA: 18-20 May 1998
SINGAPORE: 9-13 December 1996

The ministerial meetings are generally held in every two years. The coming meeting, which is the ninth so far, assumes significance as it will be held after the that is taking place in November this year.

“The attempt this time is definitely going to be on how to close the talks. Signing the deal is a distant dream, though 2013 would mark the 12th year of the Doha round. The fact that all the members have agreed to a formal ministerial meeting shows the political will to finish the round,” a senior commerce department official told Business Standard.

In the last meeting, the members had agreed to chalk out a benefit package for the least developed countries (LDCs), as it would help them export more by getting bigger access into rich markets. But the main deal is stuck for the last 11 years over US and Europe refusing to cut farm subsidies, and over greater access to the markets of emerging countries like China, India and Brazil.

Another important milestone that was achieved during the eighth ministerial meeting was having an agreement on trade facilitation. The idea that an agreement could be reached in trade facilitation under the WTO trade talks received widespread political support at the OECD Trade Ministers meet held at Paris on May 23m 2012.

“Momentum appears to be gathering in favour of trade facilitation although Brazil, India and South Africa continue to oppose the proposal… Improvement in customs procedures and border measures is in the interest of all WTO members, and an agreement would lead to concerted action by all of them to facilitate trade. Economic operators in India will gain not only from the improvements in other jurisdictions, but also from the improvements in India itself,” said of ICRIER in a note.

The US has been insisting on changing the basis of the talks that forms the main agenda of the Doha Development Round. Key developing countries such as India, China, Brazil and South Africa have strongly warned against drifting of the provisions from the development agenda, based on which the present round of talks were kick-started in Doha.

During an interaction with Business Standard last month, WTO Deputy Director General had said he was hopeful of the deal coming to some conclusion by 2014.

Earlier, India’s Commerce, Industry and Textile Minister emphasised that the round can come to a meaningful conclusion only when countries start scaling back their ambitions and adhere to only what was agreed to in 2001, that had development as the core objective for poorer countries.

The Doha round is the longest of all multilateral trade negotiations. Prior to this, the Uruguay round went on for eight years under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

First Published: Thu, August 23 2012. 00:16 IST