Trade Ministers Fail to Resolve WTO Issues at G20 Meeting

The Trade Ministers of the G20 countries met on Saturday in Sydney to discuss measures to bolster growth with trade and to strengthen the ability of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to address modern trade issues.

The meeting was held in a climate characterised by a lack of trust related to the current split at the WTO. Some developing countries are trying to link the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement to progress on all other items of the Doha Development Round.

The Doha Round of WTO negotiations started in 2001 to address issues related to trade and development. Before the Round started, developing countries had voiced concerns over the development impact of current trade policies, including agricultural subsidies of developed countries. The implementation agenda of the Round was never agreed upon, and soon developed countries put their priorities on the negotiating table. Among other things, the priorities of developed countries included investment, market access, government procurement and trade facilitation.

In December 2013, WTO Trade Ministers concluded a Trade Facilitation Agreement in return for a temporary solution for India’s agricultural subsidies.
Developed countries promised a full solution on agricultural markets soon; however, developing countries believe that the developed countries are not genuinely interested in addressing the developmental dimension of trade.

Reflecting the WTO’s “single undertaking” principle, India and other developing countries support the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement being dependent on whether there is sufficient progress in all other areas of negotiations. The single undertaking is the method of negotiations that necessitates agreements to be reached in different areas (agricultural, manufactured goods and others) so as to enable trade-offs between areas that would lead to the balanced conclusion of the Doha Round.

The Ministers committed to the “full implementation of all elements of the Bali outcome agreed at the 9th WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2013, including the Agreement on Trade Facilitation” but the battle will continue at the WTO, as this statement is the Chairperson’s summary and not a joint statement.