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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Amid uncertainty in sealing deal: All set for WTO ministerial talk

Asjadul Kibria

 NAIROBI, Dec 14: Immediately after arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, one thing becomes clear. The country is 'very excited' for a mega international gathering.

From immigration to exit points, all the staffs are especially alert for not only security, but also for those who have come to join the 10th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Young students are working as guides for the delegates.

Already the Kenyan government has estimated that the conference would create 'flow' of at least $21 million into the economy just in five days.

This is for the first time in 20 years of the organisation's history the highest decision-making conference is going to take place in an African country.

Kenyat International Conference Centre, where the four-day meet kicks-off today (December 15) and continues for December 18, appears quite vibrant, as delegates from more than 150 countries are busy with their 'final warm up' to seal a deal.

But sealing a deal is still very uncertain for several reasons.

Two mega regional trade arrangements already cast shadow on WTO. One is Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional arrangement of 12 countries (USA and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries) having 40 per cent share of global trade, finalised this year.

TPP contains 'WTO-plus' obligations for the member countries although Roberto Azevedo, director general of the organisation, said it is not against the multilateralism.

Another one is Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The mega regional arrangement is proposed between the US and the European Union (EU). There is, however, no formal agreement signed yet.

The recent terrorist attack in Paris is also in the backdrop. One can recall that Fifth Ministerial Conference of WTO took place in the Qatari capital Doha in 2001 immediately after 9/11 terrorist attack in New York. In that conference, members of the organisation adopted Doha Development Agenda (DDA) or Doha round of multilateral trade negation.

But after 14 years, successful completion of Doha round is at a stake. The developed countries have little interest for continuing the prolonged negotiation while the developing countries want to continue it for a successful completion. This rift will dominate Nairobi talk.   

Bipul Chatterjee, executive director of Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), an international research organisation, identifies the use of term 'Doha Development Agenda'  as major obstacle to reach a deal in Nairoi.

"The US wants it not to be in the Nairobi ministerial declaration, and if it is mentioned then it should be said that it is closed," Bipol told to FE. "But it is being opposed by India and many other developing countries."

The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are mostly in favour of continuing Doha negotiation although they are not obliged to make any commitment in this round.

Shameem Ahsan, Bangladesh Ambassador and permanent representative in Geneva, earlier said DDA issues are important and they are not dead.

Bangladesh, the group coordinator of LDC, already finds that the country has nothing to lose, if Nairobi ministerial ends without a deal. But this proposition is not applicable for the LDCs as a whole.

Commerce Minister Tofayel Ahmed is leading a 23-member delegation of the country, and has to play critical role for a common position of the LDCs.

In this connection, he met trade ministers and officials of other LDCs on Monday afternoon. It was actually 'LDC ministerial' where ministers discussed their common interests.

The climate summit (COP21) that ended in Paris on Saturday, also becomes an indirect barrier to Nairobi talk, as global leaders and their officials become exhausted.

Thus trade ministers and high-level senior government officials, representing different member countries, have to work hard in these four days, so that a deal could be sealed to prevail multilateral trade regime.  

Source: Bangladesh Newspaper- The Financial Express, 15 December 2015