WTO Roundup

9 December 2011

G-20 calls for new, "credible" approaches on Doha

Leaders from the Group of 20 major economies met in Cannes, France, on 3-4 November and reaffirmed their commitment to resolving the impasse in the WTO's Doha negotiations. They have instructed their trade ministers to redouble one's efforts by pursuing "fresh, credible" approaches in order to overcome current talks' struggles. "It is clear that we will not complete the [Doha Development Agenda] if we continue to conduct negotiations as we have in the past", leaders noted. In particular, they asked that such approaches should be geared toward issues relevant to least developed countries (LDCs) and, "where they can bear fruit, the remaining elements of the [Doha] mandate".

Meanwhile, with the past several months seeing tensions ramp up over China's currency valuation, many were watching to see how China would respond to criticism of the yuan at the summit. Prior to the G-20 meeting, China's yuan valuation has been the subject of intense debates in the US, leading to the US Senate's vote in favor of a bill targeting countries practicing currency undervaluation, which could possibly provoke a trade war between China and the US, should the bill eventually become law. Nonetheless, G-20 leaders praised China's recent decision "to increase exchange rate flexibility consistent with underlying market fundamentals". "This is something we've been calling for some time, and it will be a critical step in boosting growth", US President Barack Obama added after the summit.

The G-20 also promised to mobilise additional funds for the IMF, in order to ensure that the institution would "have resources to play its systemic role". Leaders agreed that the IMF and the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF), more commonly referred to as the euro zone bail-out fund, could work in concert.

Concerning the widening use of protectionist measures and export restrictions in G-20 countries, as pointed out by a WTO report released in late October, leaders at the Cannes Summit committed to refrain from raising or imposing new barriers to trade and investment in goods and services. They also endorsed a decision taken by G-20 agriculture ministers in June 2011, agreeing to remove export restrictions on food destined for humanitarian purposes via the UN World Food Programme.

Russia quickly closes in on WTO Entry

After an 18-year process, Russia now appears set to join the WTO; negotiations led to the definition of an accord on which trade ministers will vote during the upcoming December ministerial conference. WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy praised the completion of negotiations, declaring: "In acceding to the WTO, Russia embraces a series of rules and commitments that are the foundation of an open, transparent, and non-discriminatory global trading system".

After years of stop-and-go negotiations, WTO members and Russia finally agreed on "an unprecedentedly detailed" accession package, according to one Geneva-based trade expert. Russia has committed to fully apply all WTO provisions, and will be provided with a few transitional periods in some areas. The accession package includes 30 bilateral agreements on market access for services and 57 on market access for goods. Export duties have been bound for over 700 tariff lines. Regarding agriculture, the accord states that all agricultural export subsidies will be reduced to zero. And with regards to the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS), the accession accord states that all WTO-inconsistent measures, including preferential tariffs or tariff exemptions, will be eliminated by 1 July 2018.

Russia's accession has gained strong backing from the US and the EU these past few months. Barack Obama's administration has been supporting the accession bid as part of a larger effort to "reset" its relations with Russia. Karel de Gucht, European commissioner for Trade, reminded that the EU played a "crucial role" towards achieving this goal, which is seen as "important step for Russia's economic development and for the multilateral trading system".

Now that Russia and already-WTO-member Georgia have reached a compromise resolving their differences over trade-monitoring in the disputed regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on 2 November, nothing stands in the way of Russia's accession bid, which will be voted on at the upcoming WTO Ministerial Conference, along whit Vanuatu's, Samoa's and Montenegro's.

Cotton: African exporters seek subsidy freeze

In a recent WTO proposal, West African exporting countries have advocated for the freeze of trade-distorting support applied by the US and EU on cotton. The C-4 group, representing Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, argued that a "standstill principle" should be applied on support payments while a final negotiated solution is being reached on the cotton issue. The joint proposal has been sent to trade ministers, in order to ensure that the issue is tackled at the WTO's eighth ministerial conference. The text calls for members to finally implement agreements on cotton that were reached six years ago in Hong Kong, at the global trade body's fifth ministerial conference. However, the US has demonstrated no will in reducing subsidies in the last few years. At a June meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee, The US government insisted that all of the major developing country cotton subsidisers, such as Brazil and China, should also commit to reducing their distortions in order to join a consensus on the cotton issue.

This information has been summarized from Bridges Weekly

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