Guest editorial: The #WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali– Will the Doha-Round overcome its impasse?

Angela GeckFor blogpost #100 I was able to invite political scientist and WTO-expert Angela Geck (pictured) to contribute a guest editorial. Why is this contribution of high relevance for a blog on migration and development? For once, the WTO will be met by two weeklong counter-events, not unlike the ones at  the UN-HLD, GFMD etc. I reported from. Unlike those, in Bali migrant organisations will be only part of larger cross-sectoral networks, but still play an important role (more on that here and in an upcoming post).

In addition, when discussing the WTO with Angela Geck, who is my colleague at the department of International Relations at the University of Freiburg, we often notice that we come from two fairly different perspectives: While the Civil Society organisations I research paint the organisation basically as one of the sources of all evil, WTO-researchers like her rather see a inefficient organisation that does not get its act together. No matter the perspective, it is important to learn what will be on the agenda in Bali:

The WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali– Will the Doha-Round overcome its impasse?

By Angela Geck*

The current negotiation round of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Doha Development Round, was launched in 2001, but has been more or less in a deadlock since 2008. At the last Ministerial Conference, which took place in December 2011 in Geneva, Switzerland, then Director-General of the organization, Pascal Lamy, officially declared that the round was at an impasse. Since then, member governments have scrambled to pick up the pieces and save the WTO’s mission of liberalizing world trade. They have unraveled the Doha Agenda, which included further liberalization steps in trade in goods, agriculture, and services as well as numerous rule-making issues, and are now trying to tie smaller packages containing issues which they might then actually be able to adopt.

Trade ministers of the member states will gather for the 2013 WTO Ministerial Conference 3-6 December in Bali, Indonesia. As of today, their diplomats at the headquarters of the organization in Geneva are still struggling to put together a package of decisions to be concluded at the Ministerial. The success of the Ministerial depends on their agreement, as Director General Roberto Azevêdo has made it clear that the Bali Ministerial is not to be a “negotiation conference” which would run the risk of another public failure like 1999 in Seattle and 2003 in Cancún. Only if negotiators can reach agreement on a “Bali Package” before the conference is officially opened by Gita Irawan Wirjawan, the Indonesian Trade Minister chairing the Ministerial, will decisions be tabled in Bali.

The envisaged Bali Package consists of three components: 1. an agreement on trade facilitation, 2. some smaller issues in agricultural trade, and 3. some so-called development issues. Trade facilitation is the last of the Singapore Issues, which has remained on the Doha Agenda after many developing countries have voiced strong concerns against the introduction of these new issues into WTO rules and the other three (Trade related aspects of Investment, Competition Policy, and Transparency in Government Procurement) have consequently been taken off the table in 2004. All of the issues in agriculture considered for inclusion in the Bali Package, on the other side, are proposals by groups of developing country. They are concerned with eliminating export subsidies, ensuring thate distribution procedures of import quotas do not constitute trade barriers in their own right,  exempting developing country food purchases for stock-holding as well as some other development related policies from subsidies disciplines, and with eliminating subsidies in the cotton sector. Under the category of development issues a number of measures, mainly in favor of Least Developed Countries (LDCs), are discussed: Preferential Rules of Origin, the operationalization of the LDC services waiver and Duty-Free Quota-Free market access for LDCs as well as the establishment of a monitoring mechanism for Special and Differential Treatment of developing countries in the WTO.

While the rules of the WTO certainly have consequences for the economic wellbeing of people all over the world and might thus influence migration patterns, the issue of migration plays only a marginal role in the WTO negotiations. It is touched upon when the liberalization of trade in services is discussed. The WTO distinguishes four modes of trade in services, one of which (mode 4) is concerned with the movement of persons across borders for the purpose of supplying services, i.e. temporary labor migration in the services sector. At the Ministerial Conference in 2011, a waiver was adopted that allows member countries to deviate from the WTO rule that discrimination between members is prohibited in order to give preferential access to service providers from LDCs. The document states that the purpose of the waiver is to promote LDC trade “in those sectors and modes of supply that are of particular export interest to the least-developed countries”, which includes mode 4. It has since been criticized, however, that it remained unclear how the waiver was to be put in practice. Therefore, an agreement on the operationalization of the waiver is planned for this year’s Ministerial. The operationalization of the LDC services waiver is an element which member governments have reportedly already reached agreement on. Since it is not clear yetwhether a Bali Package will be put together, no draft decision has been made public so far. The content of the agreement can thus not be judged at the moment.

Many observers hold that developing countries have considerably gained in influence at the WTO during the course of the Doha Round. A few emerging economies, namely Brazil, India and China, have ascended to the inner circle of WTO decision making. There has been a lot of talk about development issues. But whether the interests of smaller developing countries will also be considered and how development-friendly the organization – so far decried as one of the major forces of neoliberalism -, has actually become, remains to be seen. The results of the Bali Ministerial conference will give a first indication not only on whether the WTO will be able to revive the Doha Round negotiations, but also on whether the organizations emerges from its many crises changed.

*Angela Geck is a lecturer and researcher at the Department for International Relations at the University of Freiburg.


About Dr. Stefan Rother

Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institute at the University of Freiburg -- Freelance journalist -- You can find my CV at the links below:
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1 Response to Guest editorial: The #WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali– Will the Doha-Round overcome its impasse?

  1. Pingback: #EndWTO and Peoples’ Global Camp (#PGC): Migrant protest at the #WTO in Bali | The GFMD, Migration, Development and Human Rights

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