Despite previous declarations to the contrary, Ministers keep attempting to solve remaining controversies on the Bali Package at the Ministerial. WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo had warned before the Bali Meeting that the unresolved issues were too complex to find a solution during the packed schedule of the Meeting but that did not keep the participants from trying. My colleague Angela Geck shares her observations from the 9th Minsterial Conference (“MC9”) in Bali:
One week before the start of the Ministerial Conference in Bali, on November 26th, the WTO General Council held a last meeting in Geneva. Director General Roberto Azevêdo told the assembled Members that while they had come very close to finalizing a package of decisions to be taken by Ministers in Bali, in the end they did not quite make it. The texts on the agriculture and development issues were more or less agreed upon, he said, but regarding the trade facilitation text some controversies remained that they had not been able to resolve in the Geneva process. Azevêdo warned against trying to conclude negotiations in Bali. The remaining issues were too many and too technical to likely be resolved by the assembly of more than 100 trade ministers attending the Ministerial, he explained, highlighting his commitment to an inclusive and transparent process.
But WTO Members were not willing to accept failure. Negotiations continued in the days before the Ministerial. Two days after Azevêdo’s pessimistic report to the General Council the group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) announced that they had been able in negotiations with key other Members to solve the remaining issues on special rules for LDCs in trade facilitation. Four days before the Ministerial a very large group of WTO members issued a statement that they supported any effort necessary to achieve a positive outcome in Bali and encouraged the Director General to continue his efforts. The next day Gita Wirjawan, the Indonesian Trade Minister who chairs the Ministerial, and his three Vice Chairs published a statement saying that they believed a conclusion of the Bali package at the Ministerial was possible and urged all WTO Members to come together over the next few days to make the necessary breakthroughs.
Just as Ministers started to arrive in Bali at the beginning of the week, however, the Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry, Shri Anand Sharma, declared at a meeting of the developing country group G33 that India could not accept the temporary solution for exempting its food stock holding program from WTO subsidies disciplines foreseen in the Bali package. Instead India was committed to seeking a permanent solution which would enable them to enact their recently approved Food Security Act without having to fear legal repercussions in the WTO at any time. With this, India reopened discussions on the agriculture issues of the Bali package previously believed to have reached a stable conclusion.
The first day of the Ministerial, Tuesday December the 3rd, saw presentations by the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Conference Chair Minister Gita Wirjawan, Director General Roberto Azevêdo, and the General Council Chair, Ambassador Shahid Bashir of Pakistan. All of them emphasized the importance of reaching agreement on the Bali Package in order to reestablish the credibility of the WTO, give new life to the Doha Round, and deliver the package’s benefits to the world population. Despite the rather limited content of the package – which only includes a fraction of the Doha Round issues – dramatic language was used: Failing to deliver the Bali package, Director General Azevêdo said, Members would fail the world’s poor and forfeit the WTO’s ability to support growth and development.
On Wednesday, in parallel to official statements by countries in the plenary, Members met for an informal Heads of Delegations meeting, where Director General Azevêdo presented the Bali package texts as they came out of the Geneva process and asked Members for directions on how to proceed. Most members reiterated their dedication to concluding the Bali package and gave the Director General the mandate to hold consultations with those members which had the biggest issues with the proposals on the table. The question of a permanent solution to enabling developing country food stockholding programs seems to take center stage in the discussion of the Ministerial for the time being. Should this question be resolved, however, further issues to be resolved loom in the area of trade facilitation. It remains to be seen whether the pressure build up by warnings of the severe consequences of no agreement will be enough to jostle Ministers into agreement in Bali. The possibility of nerve-stretching late-night session and last minute decision seems certainly given.
Angela Geck, Department for Political Science, University of Freiburg, Germany