GENEVA: The World Trade Organization (WTO) remains deeply divided over its flagship global trade pact ahead of a key conference in Nairobi, with some members suggesting negotiations should “start from scratch,” the WTO chief said on Thursday.
The Doha round of talks aimed at liberalizing global trade has faced endless obstacles since the process began in 2001, and there is no prospect of reaching a deal at the WTO’s bi-annual conference in Kenya’s capital next month.
WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo told journalists that one of the most crucial questions facing the organization in the coming weeks was whether or not members-states even wanted to continue negotiating under the current system.
Azevedo spoke of two camps in the global trade body, with one side wanting to continue trying to grind toward a deal through the Doha framework, despite the evident lack of progress.
“Other members are saying, ‘forget it, at some point in time we took a wrong turn . . . This is never going to lead us to a successful conclusion of the Doha round. Let’s reengineer the whole thing. Essentially, let’s start from scratch,’” Azevedeo said.
The United States and European Union-members are thought to be in the latter group.
Azevedo added that he believes the WTO’s 161 member-states remain committed to the broad objectives of removing tariffs and freeing up global trade.
A package of benefits targeting the world’s poorest countries—possibly focused in the agriculture sector—will likely be agreed at the Nairobi meet, Azevedo said, noting that nothing was guaranteed.
The WTO has seen some successes in recent years, including a landmark deal agreed in late 2013 on overhauling global customs procedures as well as a pact struck in July on cutting tariff for IT products.
But, amid the continuing difficulties in the Doha round, some have pointed to regional trade deals, like the recently finalized Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), as a more effective way to liberalize trade.
Azevedo said that the TPP and other regional deals “have the WTO DNA,” and are often consistent with the organization’s goals.
But he warned that poor nations can be shut out of regional pacts, which does not happen when the WTO is guiding the talks.
Asked what about his best case scenario for an outcome at the Nairobi meet, Azevedo listed a meaningful package to help poor nations and general consensus “on some kind of path for the future.”
“I think that is very unlikely to happen though,” he said.