By Jacqui Fatka
World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevêdo told a meeting of ambassadors to the WTO on Sept. 15 that “we must begin a period of intensive and comprehensive consultations, starting now” on taking the Bali package forward.
Emphasizing the importance of this coming work, he said that “we are in a very precarious position…and at a present I am not sure that the scale of the risk is fully appreciated by all.”
WTO talks again hit a roadblock this summer when it missed a self-imposed deadline to implement its Trade Facilitation Agreement reached in Bali last year. Azevêdo said then that negotiators would need to return to their home countries and reflect on how to advance trade talks.
In his speech to the members Azevêdo said there is a clear interplay between concerns relating to the negotiations on public stockholding for food security purposes and the adoption of the protocol of amendment on the Trade Facilitation Agreement.
Azevêdo recognized that negotiators must “find a way of providing comfort for those with outstanding concerns on food security.”
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, explained that some countries want greater freedom to subsidize and stockpile food.
“The Trade Facilitation Agreement reached in Bali came about only after negotiators agreed that some countries should be allowed to subsidize and stockpile food for citizens who have difficulty paying for it. Now, it seems, India wants a final agreement on that issue before they will move forward with customs reform. We understand their eagerness to settle that issue, but this intransigence represents a failure to honor previous promises,” Stallman said after the missed deadline earlier this year.
Azevedo said there is a need to move quickly to see if the member countries are able to restore momentum to its work. He has called on the chairs to restart the process of consulting with members on differing issues with immediate effect.
“Now I think it is time to reduce that uncertainty by bringing some clarity to the assessment of the situation and testing whether there is a way forward,” he said.
He urged the members to listen to and engage with each other, and do so with a sense of real commitment and urgency. “In my assessment, this can’t simply be business as usual,” he noted.
He said there will be a meeting of the Trade Negotiating Committees on Oct. 6 to report on the outcome of the consultations and he hopes it will be “to report collectively that we have found a way to move forward.”