Saturday, December 17, 2011

WTO Ministerial - Australia's statement

As the 8th WTO Ministerial gets underway in Geneva the primary focus is resurrecting the "failed" Doha Development Agenda. The WTO website is praiseworthy as all the statements, speeches, videos are put up almost immediately. 

The videos of the various statements of the member countries are available on the WTO website here. While many member countries extolled the WTO and its importance, I thought Australia's statement was straightforward and pertinent.

The statement of Hon Dr Craig Emerson MP, Minister for Trade, Australia was as follows:

" Address to Plenary Session of the 8th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization 
Thank you Mr Chair.  I want to say at the outset that I am not a diplomat and therefore I will speak very frankly.  The Doha Round is blocked.  It is at an impasse.  Ten years of a business as usual approach has failed — has failed. 
This is deeply disappointing for all of us but most particularly for the poorest countries on earth.  This has been an abrogation of responsibility on the part of WTO Members to the poorest countries on earth. 
We have, particularly in the northern hemisphere, very slow economic growth.  We need a new sustainable source of stimulus to ensure there is a global economic recovery and the only sustainable source of stimulus is through trade liberalisation. 
At the same time, while we are we are seeking to liberalise trade, we must resist protectionism in all its forms.  
Mr Chair, there are many paths to the mountain top and Australia has been advocating a new pathway in recognition of the fact that the Round has stalled.
So, we strongly support the WTO General Council statement of 30 November, which has actually been agreed by all Members, and it has several essential features.
First, it embraces the notion of different approaches, of a new pathway. 
Second, it provides a focus on components of the Doha Declaration where we can reach agreement on a provisional or definitive basis earlier than full conclusion of the single undertaking.
And third, it says we fully respect the development component of the Doha Round. 
This argues for breaking the round into its component parts and it would allow the Least Developed Countries to benefit earlier instead of waiting for some grand bargain, magically, like a bolt from the blue, to strike us from the sky.  This is not going to happen.  It has eluded us for a decade.
So what are the sorts of priorities that we should consider?
Well, Least Developed Countries — it is obvious and Australia has committed to100 per cent Duty Free, Quota Free access for the Least Developed Countries of the world. 
Trade facilitation will be of benefit to all countries of the world, but including the Least Developed and other Developing Countries of the world.
As Chair of the Cairns Group, of course, we would advocate agricultural trade liberalisation in all its forms.
Other items that can be considered for priority and early harvest are services, environmental goods and services, non tariff barriers, strengthening anti-dumping disciplines, fisheries subsidies and, we would argue, for Regional Trade Agreements to ensure that they are of high quality and contribute to the multilateral system.
We need a strong statement on resisting protectionism.  We will be making a strong statement on resisting protectionism after this meeting.  
We are very concerned about statements such as policy space if that means an excuse to increase tariffs and non tariff barriers."

The statement of Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela at the Ministerial spoke about "policy space" :

"Therefore, in seeking to achieve prosperous, more egalitarian and stable societies, our countries, as developing countries, should have sufficient space for the application of such policies, and that space should be guaranteed in the multilateral trading system."

This brings us back to the question - What is the "domestic policy space" that States have within the multilateral trading system? Are all domestic policy choice per se signs of "protectionism"? Is the domestic policy space limited to the "exceptions" provided in the various WTO agreements? If not, who decides to what extent the policy choice can be exercised? Does this question the very credibility of the multilateral trading system?

The European Union statement touched on this:

"Protectionism continues to be a significant threat for the world economy. The WTO as an organisation has contributed to keeping markets broadly open through its valuable transparency and monitoring functions. But we are now witnessing a second wave of protectionism, which entails more sophisticated but not less damaging measures. WTO members therefore need to do more. We all must keep our markets open and resist trade restrictive measures, whether they are WTO compatible or not, both through domestic policy choices and the tasks and instruments we give to the WTO to exercise its legitimate oversight role. The EU has made proposals for reinforcing the monitoring function of the Trade Policy Review Body, and for ensuring that members respect their transparency and notification obligations. Transparency is not an area where Special and Differential Treatment for developing countries can be justified.  It is also imperative to roll back trade restrictive measures taken since the crisis broke out."

The debate continues ...

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