Wednesday, February 15, 2012

WTO's future course - Small but pragmatic steps?

One had wondered as to the reason for the uncharacteristic silence of the WTO after the 8 MC. The general tendency in the media was to pronounce the decline of the multilateral trading system with the rise of regional trade agreements and increasing trends of protectionist announcements.

Finally yesterday, Pascal Lamy, Director General of the WTO made a statement that could signal the first steps that would be taken post-Doha to revive the near collapse state of negotiations. Lamy said,
"Let me now offer you my own views about how I see us moving forward.  The current political environment dictates that the most realistic and practical way forward is to move in small steps, gradually moving forward the parts of the Doha Round which are mature, and re-thinking those where greater differences remain.  I believe that non-prescriptiveness is the right thing to do in the present cool temperature.  Of course we can raise the temperature degree by degree as we progress, but for now, let us begin low which is where we are."
Essentially he envisages progress on the issues of Trade facilitation, dispute settlement mechanism and market access. Referring to the constitution of a Panel of Multi-stakeholders of the WTO he elaborated,
"Changing now my hat and speaking as Director-General and not as Chair of the TNC, you will recall that at MC8 I indicated my intention to convene a "Panel of Multi-stakeholders of the WTO" to look at the real drivers of today's and tomorrow's world trade, at today and tomorrow's obstacles to trade, at today and tomorrow's trade patterns, and, at how to keep transforming trade into development, growth, jobs and poverty alleviation.  I see these as the terms of reference for the panel, convened under my responsibility and comprising business leaders, trade politicians, civil society and academics with deep knowledge of the multilateral trading system.  I see the output of the panel as a pragmatic contribution to offer to you, the Members of the WTO, on what will be the driving forces of trade in the years to come.  I will keep Members informed about developments on this front. "
It would be interesting to see the composition of this panel. It should undoubtedly have diverse representation from different countries, ideologies as well as persuasions. The diversity of views would definitely help the multilateral organisation in redefining its goals, re-orienting its strategies and taking forward its critical role in the coming years. With countries re-establishing the need to exercise domestic policy dominance along with a wide array of regional trade agreements, the multilateral trade regime is in for a serious stress test. how it would fare in assessing the risks and accommodating views would play a crucial role in its increased relevance in the coming decades.

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