It has been 12 torturous years. Free trade talks that encompass most of the world are now at the abyss.
At a Dec. 3 World Trade Organization meeting in Bali, 159 ministers started discussions trying to breathe new life into talks known as the Doha Round. At stake are hopes of a freer trading environment worldwide.
The biennial meeting is viewed by many in trade circles as a last hope for the multilateral deal. Many are skeptical of a breakthrough. The meeting’s host, Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Irawan Wirjawan, is among the optimists. He wants to rebrand the WTO talks “the Bali Round.”
“The 12 years of Doha talks have not had much success,” Gita told WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell in an online interview. He said that a fresh perspective was needed as well as a re-examination of the “all or nothing” approach of the WTO.
In the course of the talks, dynamics have changed. The presence of the U.S., the world’s largest and most influential economy, still looms. Other nations, however, now have more say. Attitudes and actions from Asia’s main and emerging economies — China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and India — now have more influence.
Doha, long condemned by many observers as “dead,” may have gained fresh impetus from the competing visions for regional trade blocs in Asia.
“I don’t agree with the assumption that the Doha Round of talks is dead,” Mei Xinyu, a senior researcher at China’s Ministry of Commerce, which directs the nation’s trade negotiations, told Nikkei Asian Review.
“Of course there has been dissatisfaction with the talks. Some advocate regional trade blocs, while anti-globalization voices prevailed for a while. But no country, especially the major ones, can really afford to be isolated from globalized trade and business.”
A major sticking point for the talks is agriculture, which represents about 8% of global trade. China, Japan, Indonesia, Brazil and a recently vocal India are among the countries concerned about the talks’ implications for agriculture.
Russia presents a new obstacle. It did not join the WTO until last year and is already involved in a dispute with the European Union over the alleged dumping of automobiles.
International norms for trade administration are another significant sticking point on which the views of developed and developing diverge.
Critics believe looking for a comprehensive global deal may be the wrong way to go. They claim the major economic gains from freeing up world trade have been made. Smaller improvements that will be much more difficult to agree on should rely on new multilateral deals, they say. Read more….
This story was originally published by Nikkei Asian Review, 5 December 2013