The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) first Ministerial Conference in Africa began here on Tuesday with leaders from the continent and the WTO chief Roberto Azevedo exhorting the 162 member countries to be inspired by 195 nations recently inking the ‘historic’ Paris agreement on measures to curb global warming, and reach a similarly ambitious pact in a few days to liberalise world trade for lifting millions of people out of poverty.
The ministerial conference (the WTO’s highest decision-making body) is taking place in the Kenyan capital at a time when the global trade body is celebrating its 20th anniversary, but in the backdrop of sluggish world trade and tepid global economic growth.
However, persisting deep differences between the developed and the developing world on market opening commitments and their entrenched positions are expected to make the job of the Ministers difficult in reaching a consensus, especially to remove the distortions in world trade.
Developed countries, citing the slow progress of the ongoing Doha Round negotiations (which began in 2001), want the Round to be either brought to an end during this ministerial conference, or its ambit to be expanded by including ‘new’ issues of their interest and what they call are the latest challenges facing global trade. These include global value chains, e-commerce, labour, environment, competition policies, investment pacts and state-owned enterprises.
However, developing countries including India want elements of their interest — including protection of the interests of poor farmers and a permanent solution for the issue of public stock-holding for food security purposes — to be addressed on a priority basis.
They do not want any dilution of the ‘development’ dimension of the Doha Round through incorporation of ‘new’ issues of interest to the rich world, and want all the elements of the Doha Development Agenda to be addressed before the conclusion of the Round.
They want developed countries to drastically reduce their huge trade distorting farm subsidies, something the rich countries are not keen on addressing unless they get in return more market access in the agriculture sector in the developing world through reduced duties.
Mr. Azevedo talked about the power of trade to change people’s lives for the better and said the Paris Agreement has shown that seemingly unbridgeable gaps could be closed if there was political will.
The WTO member countries should be inspired by the Paris Agreement, lift their sights and aim higher to reach an agreement during this conference, he said.
However, he indicated that the final agreement on the Doha Round talks may not be as ambitious as it was set out to be when the talks began.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said countries this year (2015) had displayed unparalleled cooperation in addressing some of the most pressing problems facing humanity, and therefore the same spirit of cooperation should be present to achieve a successful conclusion of the Nairobi Ministerial Conference.