WTO still better than any other int’l trade alternative: NZ trade minister
by John Macdonald
WELLINGTON, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) — There are certain issues in trade policy that no regional trade agreement can deal with adequately and the World Trade Organization (WTO) is still better than any other international trade alternative, according to New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser.
For small countries in particular, the WTO’s binding dispute settlement mechanism could level the playing field, and the WTO rules-based multilateral system was still relevant, Groser said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
With a record in international trade negotiations going back to 1979 and New Zealand’s trade minister since 2008, Groser said the WTO’s practice of consensus decision-making “is indeed a terrible system, but it is just better than any other alternative.”
“The fact that there was no wholesale recourse to protectionist measures during the global financial crisis was in large part due to the restraining influence of WTO membership. Moreover, the fact that countries are still lining up to join it is evidence that membership is still seen as something of significant value,” he said in the e-mail interview.
“And, to the extent that WTO members might be tempted to go down a protectionist path, there is incredible value in the binding commitments enshrined in the existing WTO rule set, combined with the huge body of jurisprudence built up on that basis over some 60 years.”
The 9th WTO Ministerial Conference will be held from Tuesday to Friday in Bali, Indonesia.
Director-General of WTO Roberto Azevedo told the last General Council meeting in Geneva on Nov. 26, before the Bali conference, that the council is not going to Bali with a set of finalized documents that could allow the ministers to announce to the world a set of multilaterally agreed outcomes – the first since the WTO was created. “At this point in time we cannot tell the world that we’ve delivered.”
According to Groser, negotiators were already working very hard in Geneva to achieve an agreement, which had a consensus among WTO members, as part of a “Bali package.” The pact should cover trade facilitation, with elements of agriculture and development.
“A trade facilitation agreement would reduce the cost of trade through improving transparency and efficiency around border procedures,” Groser said.
“As a major exporter of agricultural products, New Zealand has a particular interest in provisions of the trade facilitation agreement which relate to perishable goods. These will give priority to the release of perishable goods in order to minimize avoidable loss or deterioration,” he said.
“Agriculture and development issues also need to be included in the Bali package because of their centrality to an eventual outcome to the broader Doha Development Agenda negotiations.”
A successful outcome from Bali was important to avoid further erosion of the WTO’s negotiating function, but this had to be achieved without “cherry picking” those issues easiest to resolve in a way that might undermine efforts to conclude the fuller Doha agenda.
“We cannot just abandon the existing mandate, forget the term ‘ Development Round’ and start from scratch. After all the work that has been put into this negotiation, it would take years before parties would be prepared to sit down even to begin a formal discussion about a new mandate,” said Groser.
While multilateral free trade areas (FTAs) such as the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership would influence thinking and practice at the global level, they were no substitute for the comprehensive global results that only the WTO could deliver.
“An important characteristic of many of these regional agreements is that they are collapsing previous bilateral FTAs, or trade agreements by other names such as ‘closer economic partnership agreements,’ into larger and larger agglomerations of trade and investment integration,” said Groser.
“In the process, we are making progress in cleaning up the ‘ spaghetti in the bowl’ thus addressing the concerns of those who are worried about the problems of complex and overlapping trade rules resulting from the proliferation of FTAs.”
Commenting on China’s performance, the minister said that the continuation of the WTO would have been untenable without the 2001 accession of China, which accounted for a huge share of global trade and had been a responsible and constructive member.
“I would expect it to play an increasingly prominent leadership role in the WTO in the years ahead commensurate with what I have no doubt will be China’s continuing pivotal role in the global economy and global trade,” he said.