Africa and other developing countries wants the Doha talks concluded while developed countries insist that it is time to take a new approach.
Representing the Africa Group, Lesotho Trade and Industry Minister Joshua Setipa said there would be no way WTO will remain credible if issues affecting developing countries are not dealt with at the negotiating table.
“The choices are clear. Reaffirm the Doha work program or condemn it. For Africa, turning away from the Doha work programme and the broader negotiations architecture, on African soil, is a highly unacceptable preposition,” Setipa told Wednesday’s ministers’ plenary session.
“In fact a preposition of this nature devastates trust in the sphere of relations among states and calls into question the credibility of members’ commitment within the WTO system,” he added.
The DDA Agenda being pushed by the developing countries for the last 14 years, includes major reforms in agriculture, particularly reduction in subsidies and tariff provided by developed countries, Least Developed Countries (LDC) special treatments and Trade facilitation Agreements among others.
“In the remaining 48 hours of this conference, we must all sieve through a number of alternatives at our disposal with a view to charting the way forward for the WTO negotiation function,” Setipa said.
But his counterpart from Canada, the Minister for international Trade Chrystia Freeland differed, arguing that the push for conclusion of Doha talks should not be the issue but rather how to seek new approach and allow other more important issues that would even be more beneficial to all members.
“There has been a lot of debate of ‘do we save Doha or is Doha over?’ I don’t think that is the point. I think the point that we need to focus on is that we all need the WTO to continue to function, and be effective,” she said.
She suggests that one of the best approaches to remove this stalemate is for all the Trade Ministers to go back to their countries and get to know what their citizens want to gain from WTO before they come back on the negotiating table.
“We must go back to the grassroots; back home,” she says.
Indian Minister for Commerce and Trade Nirmala Sitharaman is also for the idea of dealing with Doha issues first if WTO is to be taken seriously.
“We should resist the temptation of overloading WTO Agenda with new issues before we complete the DDA. History will judge us poorly if we fail to deliver on DDA,” she said firmly.
WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell acknowledges that so far, no side seems to loosen up but members are willing and optimistic of the outcome.
“We have been negotiating on these frameworks for the last 14 years and I have not heard a suggestion as to what another approach to this might be. And because of the fact that a very large number of countries wish to admire to the existing Doha framework, there is no agreement by any means what will happen next. This is a big question and how it is going to play out, I really don’t know,” Rockwell said during a press briefing on the sidelines of the conference.
German Foreign Affairs Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier however seemed to stand in the middle of the debate urging members to be flexible as so far, they only remain with two options.
“Either unite or perish.”