2. G-8 Endorses Doha Deadline, More Support for Agriculture

7 September 2009

Three issues stood out at the conclusion of the July G-8 summit held in L'Aquila, Italy: the need to broaden the group, a new focus on food security and a call to wrap up the Doha Round by 2010.

The most significant development at the summit may have been the growing acceptance that the G-8, which consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the US, is no longer an adequate forum for economic policy-making. In L'Aquila, the major emerging developing countries - Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa - were already associated with many of the statements adopted by the summit, as was Egypt. It looks likely that at least these countries will be folded into the G-8, making it the G-14. President Nicolas Sarkozy has made this his goal for 2011, when France will host the group.

Some argue, however, that the entire process should be replaced by the G-20 group of major economies, which emerged in the wake of the global financial meltdown and has since taken the lead in seeking to contain and overcome the current recession. Speaking at a news conference at the close of the L'Aquila summit, President Barack Obama said he expected that "over the next several years you'll see an evolution and we'll be able to find the right combination. The one thing I will be looking forward to is fewer summit meetings."

To Pittsburgh via Delhi: Re-engament on Doha

At their London summit in April, the leaders of the world's 20 major economic powers shied away from endorsing a deadline for concluding the round (Bridges Year 13 No.2 page 11). In L'Aquila, however, sixteen of them (the G-8 plus Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa, as well as Australia, Indonesia and South Korea) pledged to "seek an ambitious and balanced conclusion to the Doha Development Round in 2010."

The sixteen also said that it would be necessary to enhance the ‘transparency and understanding' of the negotiating results to date to facilitate conclusion. US officials in particular have stressed that they cannot sell a Doha deal to a largely trade-sceptical Congress unless there is greater clarity on how far other Members would open their markets to US farmers, manufacturers and service providers. In July, agriculture and industrial market access negotiators in Geneva started a technical process aimed at facilitating the calculation of their final tariffs on specific products, but much work lies ahead, and not all are convinced of the value of the exercise (see page 5).

In addition, the L'Aquila participants reiterated the G-20's London commitment to "refrain from measures that that would introduce barriers to trade and investment and to rectify promptly any such measures" (see related article on page 4).

In early September, trade ministers of 30 countries agreed in New Delhi that their chief negotiators would meet in Geneva on 14 September. The informal gathering in the Indian capital focused on how to proceed with the WTO negotiations rather than the substantive issues that have stalled the talks. The next step in the process of re-engagement will be the G-20 summit, to be held from 24-25 September in Pittsburgh, where trade is expected to figure more prominently than it has so far.

Nevertheless, many remain sceptical. Deadlines have been set and missed countless times in the Doha Round's seven-year history, and no significant progress has occurred in Geneva for nine months. Neither have political leaders of any WTO Member states shown signs of changing long-held positions. It is undoubtedly easier to call for an ‘ambitious and balanced conclusion' by a date certain than to agree on what would constitute such an outcome.

Food Security: Shift toward Supporting Agricultural Development

The L'Aquila summit also saw a much-welcomed emphasis on tackling food insecurity through increased funding for ‘sustainable agriculture development' that would help "vulnerable countries and regions develop and implement their own food security strategies."

After years of declining support for local food production, the signatories pledged to mobilise US$20 billion over three years to promote productivity and rural economic growth through means such as access to better seeds and fertilisers, sustainable resource management, training and infrastructure improvements. "It is necessary to improve access to food through more equitable income generation and distribution, employment creation and income creation in developing countries," the summiteers stated.

The food security statement also noted the positive role played by open trade flows and efficient markets and called for ‘renewed, determined efforts' to bring the Doha Round to a ‘timely and successful' conclusion (see related article on page 15).

Reflecting the more inclusive nature of the event, the L'Aquila Food Security Initiative was endorsed by twenty non-G-8 countries, as well as an array of intergovernmental organisations, including the WTO.

Advocacy groups welcomed the change in focus from food aid to local production, but cautioned that previous donor pledges have rarely been fulfilled.

Climate Change

As expected, the L'Aquila summit made no firm commitment on climate change action. In the main declaration, issued by the G-8 alone, the leaders expressed their "willingness to share with all countries the goal of achieving at least a 50 percent reduction of global emissions by 2050" and supported "the goal of developed countries reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in aggregate by 80 percent or more by 2050 compared to 1990 or more recent years." The vague language - ‘willingness to share', ‘supporting the goal', or basing (possible) future commitments on emissions incurred in ‘more recent years' - speaks volumes on how far the richest countries still are from the robust collective engagement that large developing country emitters say is necessary before they will commit to binding targets.

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