Under fire from the United States, wracked by disagreements over China and unable to kickstart stalled trade talks, the World Trade Organization meets under a cloud in Argentina from today.
The Buenos Aires Ministerial Conference (MC) will be the first in the era of US President Donald Trump, who has pummeled the 164-member body relentlessly since taking office, even describing it as a “disaster.”
The Trump administration had made the WTO a preferred target of its “America First” policy, threatening to pull America out of the trade organization it says is hampering its ability to compete.
Expectations of any kind of a breakthrough at the Buenos Aires meeting are low.
“There are several subjects on the table. On any of them, we may have some convergences on certain topics, or not, I don’t know,” was the underwhelming assessment of WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo at a briefing at the end of November.
Argentina’s Susana Malcorra, who will preside over December 10-13 meeting, was more upbeat recently, saying a deal was likely to end harmful fisheries subsidies, keenly of interest to developing countries.
Bangladesh should take advantage of the window of opportunity as an LDC in the WTO, and also to keep her future as a non- LDC in perspective. Bangladesh should peruse strategic coalitions and start building an alliance concerning both specific and systematic issues
She was also positives about the prospects of a EU-Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay) trade deal finally coming to fruition 18 years after talks first began.
“In a context where global trade has been called into question, it is fundamental that two such considerable markets announce they are ready” to seal a deal, she told AFP.
US blamed for holdups
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom hinted on Tuesday that talks between the two sides could continue into 2018, the key stumbling blocks being beef and the ethanol trade.
Washington has been blamed for blocking appointments of judges to the WTO’s dispute settlement system, saying it was ineffective and insisting on a more aggressive approach to defending its interests.
The dispute body arbitrates international rows over subsidies or tariffs, among other things playing an important role in the standoff between US and European plane-makers Boeing and Airbus.
“The appellate body will be down to four members from its regular seven-member contingent from the middle of next month,” lamented a Geneva trade official.
WTO critics say it has failed to shunt forward the so-called Doha round of trade talks, despite 15 years of effort, and point to the body’s apparent powerlessness in dealing with problems posed by China, which joined the WTO in 2001.
Beijing wants to be seen by the WTO as a “market economy” but the Europeans and the United States -- for once on the same wavelength on trade issues -- oppose any such recognition, a distinction which would entitle it to preferential economic treatment under WTO rules.
It is currently classed as a non-market economy, which allows the US and others to use a special recourse to levy anti-dumping duties against it if they decide that it is selling its goods -- chiefly steel and aluminum -- at unfairly low prices in other countries.
An European diplomat in Buenos Aires said protectionist US rhetoric may have motivational effects on negotiations between the EU and Mercosur.
As if to prove him right, the EU and Japan announced Friday that they have finalized a major trade agreement.
Bangladesh will raise LDC’s concerns
Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed will represent Bangladesh at The Ministerial Conference (MC), leading a 25-member delegation including government officials, people from think tanks and business persons.
He is already on his way to Argentina to strongly raise issues that will benefit the Least Development Countries (LDCs).
“WTO Ministerial Conference is very important for Bangladesh and other LDCs. Since, I represented the LDCs at the previous conference, I will speak more on implementation the previous declaration such as duty quota free market access for the LDCs,” Tofail Ahmed told the Dhaka Tribune.
“I will also will strongly advocate on some issues such as duty benefits, Rules of Origin, subsidies in the fisheries sector, waiver in service sector, e-commerce, investment and trade facilitation at the Ministerial Conference,” the minister added.
As per the WTO norms, if least developed countries suffer due to globalization and the liberalization of trade, developed countries were supposed to help them recover by providing duty free quota free market access. But not all developed countries complied.
Altough, the United State has already declined to implement the previous MC declarations, Bangladesh is determind to try and negotiate the implementation for the sake of LDCs, said Tofail.
The minister also said that Bangladesh will advocate against the closure of subsidies in agriculture and fisheries and to extend the transitional period for LDC countries to enhance their capacity.
Since Bangladesh is expected to graduate to a developing country by 2024, we will speak to the European Union delegation about availing the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) once we attain that status, the commerce minister said.
At a recent seminar, Mustafizur Rahman distinguished fellow at Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) said Bangladesh should take advantage of the window of opportunity as an LDC in the WTO, and also to keep her future as a non- LDC in perspective.
Bangladesh should peruse strategic coalitions and start building an alliance concerning both specific and systematic issues, he further said.
Once Bangladesh graduates from being a LDC to a developing country, the country will lose its special and differential status in trading system.
Rahman suggested the government place some important subjects including post MC 11 issues, as sometimes the WTO decisions come after the ministerial conference ends.
He also suggested the raising of the special and differential issues for getting duty benefits, Rules of Origin, subsidies in the fisheries sector, waiver in service sector, e-commerce and investment and trade facilitation at the MC in Buenos Aires.