Trade ministers from around the world have gathered in Bali, Indonesia, for the Ninth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO). In meetings that started on Tuesday, WTO negotiators are working to find consensus on a trade facilitation agreement that would simply and streamline customs procedures – cutting red tape to boost the world economy by an estimated $1 trillion. A trade facilitation agreement could help revive the WTO’s broader Doha Round of trade negotiations, which have dragged for more than a decade without any tangible outcomes.
The NAM has been working USTR and others in the business community to secure a successful outcome on trade facilitation and information technology. WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo has also pressed WTO members to agree on a package of concessions on trade facilitation, information technology, least-developed country food issues and other topics. Earlier this year, the NAM organized a coalition letter in support of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, with 16 associations from around the world joining as cosigners.
A trade facilitation agreement would be the first multilateral agreement since the creation of the WTO. At the Opening Plenary Session yesterday, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman acknowledged that “leaving Bali this week without an agreement would deal a debilitating blow to the WTO as a forum for multilateral negotiations.”
WTO negotiators made significant progress on the customs text last week, but the difficult issue of limiting agricultural subsidies remains seemingly intractable. India has rejected an earlier, tentative deal to include a temporary “peace clause” that would shield agricultural subsidies that breach the WTO limits from any challenges for four years. Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma drew a hard line on his country’s food security program this week, saying yesterday that the food security issue is “non-negotiable” for his nation, which has recently enacted a food security law to provide $22 billion in grain subsidies, contrary to WTO rules.
Froman told CNBC yesterday that the package “we all reached in Geneva was a well-balanced agreement that dealt with the legitimate concerns about food security but also was designed to ensure that it didn’t cause greater food insecurity, and that’s the deal that was on the table when we got here in Bali.”
Formal and informal statements from a wide range of WTO members have cited the importance of reaching an agreement in Bali. In his opening statement on Tuesday, Director General Azevêdo noted that the future of the WTO and the multilateral trading system is at stake. “I believe that the package we have brought from Geneva – that is before you today – contains measures which are of great significance, both to Members individually, and to the world economy as a whole,” Azevêdo said. “It would enable the multilateral system to move forward – and it would enable the WTO to breathe again.”