ON Sunday January 3, 2016, David Jesopp penned his column in this newspaper, under the caption, “Is the Doha round at an end?”.
It was a remarkable question coming so soon after the World Trade Organization (WTO) concluded its 10th Ministerial Conference weeks earlier (in December 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya) with little or no headway on benefits for small WTO members.
He wrote at the time that unlike the then recent climate change talks in Paris, or the late September (2015) global agreement on Sustainable Development Goals at the UN… the developed and developing countries parted ways over the Doha development agenda.
It all amounted to what he figured was the end of the round with several of the demands which developing and more so small states were pressing for having gone up in smoke.
Believing that the Doha Round of Trade talks was going to be based on a development agenda only to hear what Mr. Jesopp had said and now admitted by Mr. Lamy, must be a heartbreaker for small countries.
Lamy is a former Director General of the WTO as well as a previous EU Trade Commissioner. His thoughts on these issues will carry some weight.
Jesopp recalled that by way of background, in Doha in November 2001, all WTO member states agreed to negotiate new world trade rules in a manner that would see in a single agreement, tariffs and other trade barriers reduced in ways that particularly helped developing nations.
Since then much has changed as new global and national economic and political imperatives have emerged.
This has meant that despite progress being made on the detail, every WTO Ministerial meeting from 2008 on has ended without any consensus on how to achieve an all-embracing single agreement that would meet the requirement of all developed and developing countries.
As for the SDT, this facility offered small countries many benefits in terms of market access to developed country markets, longer phased in time for liberalising, aid, and other preferential provisions.
It had its origin in a view of trade and development that questioned the desirability of developing countries liberalising border measures at the same pace as industrialised countries.
The popularity of this approach, according to a paper made available to us, was in decline in many developed countries as far back as the negotiations during the Uruguay Trade Round (1986 to 1993).
Confirmation of this seemed to have come from Pascal Lamy who recently gave a lecture on the Doha and the way forward for small states especially.
He told his audience not to hold out hope for the Special and Differential Treatment (SDT) which topped the agenda of small states in the future negotiations.
He said that SDT has limited relevance going forward and that Caribbean countries must adjust their trade policy to deal with these new elements of trade.
Compared to earlier times, Lamy went on, when protectionism was a major issue for states, “precautionism” is now the watchword. As such new trade talks will hover around this subject.
There is supposed to be a WTO Ministerial later this year and if they want to be part of that process small countries have to be ready and be prepared.
Let’s hope they will be.