Originally published in Economy Lab section of the Globe and
Mail December 14, 2011.
A few years ago, a World Trade Organization Ministerial meeting
would have been the focus of global attention. But with the Doha
Round stalled, trade minister Ed Fast and the other 152 delegates
at this week's gathering in Geneva (Dec. 15-17) are already in
general agreement that it will "not be a negotiating
meeting." The outcome has been largely precooked.
So, why make the trip? Well, for one key reason -- the WTO is
still the biggest game in town.
Here's what's on the agenda and why it's
As the global economic slump continues, the WTO is on the front
line, monitoring trade measures taken by its members. This is a key
function, alerting the world to protectionist dangers. Ministers
will underscore the WTO's role in keeping markets open and
pledge to "resist protectionism in all its forms".
The Doha Development Agenda may by at an impasse but ministers
will, however, discuss whether some elements of the package (like
trade facilitation) could be provisionally agreed while work
continues on the broader outcome. Unfortunately, there is no common
agreement as yet as to which issues might be the subject of such a
Ministers will formally approve the accession of Russia to the
WTO, completing a marathon 18 years of negotiation. Second, they
may reach agreement on significant improvements to the WTO's
Government Procurement Agreement of which Canada and 41 other
countries are members.
Ministers will also discuss emerging challenges that will need
to be addressed in the years ahead. Prominent among these is to
make sure that border measures, used in conjunction with domestic
programs to reduce greenhouse gases, do not disrupt trade and
violate WTO rules. Another challenge is determining whether the
current trade rules need updating in today's environment of
global supply chains, where increasingly it is elements of
production rather than just finished goods that are traded across
Finally, ministers need to start thinking about how to
multilateralize all the regional and bilateral deals they are
negotiating. Most businesses prefer global rules to figuring out
how to operate with the myriad of regulations coming from these
arrangements. The WTO has a role in ensuring that all its member
countries and their businesses have the opportunity to compete on a
relatively equal footing. And we shouldn't forget that the
WTO's dispute settlement system is the default dispute
resolution system in international trade relations.
The real value of the gathering is that ministers will
personally take stock of the challenges and discuss the
implications with their colleagues from other countries. Messy and
cumbersome as it may seem, the WTO is still the best hope for
managing the chaotic process of negotiating trade rules and
liberalizing world trade. That is why ministers need to be in
Geneva this week.
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