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The last petrol station before Bali

June 20, 2013 13:58 IST

The last petrol station before Bali

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The success of the Ministerial meeting depends on the WTO members putting together the broad contours of a deal by August.

Pascal Lamy, the outgoing director general of the World Trade Organisation, has urged the member countries to gird up if they hope to deliver a result at the Bali Ministerial meeting this December.

Speaking in the first week of June, he said, “We have 40 working days left before the end of July, which I see as the last petrol station before the Bali highway. We must make substantive advances in this period if we are to have any chance of successfully delivering in Bali, and preparing a post-Bali road map.”

But then, progress is not going to be easy.

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Image: Pura Taman Saraswati temple, devoted to Dewi Saraswati, the goddess of learning, literature and the arts, is framed in lotus ponds in central Ubud, in Bali.
Photographs: Bob Strong/Reuters

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The last petrol station before Bali

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The member nations have chosen three main themes as deliverables for the Bali Ministerial - agriculture, development and trade facilitation. On agriculture, there are three proposals on the table - two from the G-20 group of developing countries, and one from the G-33 group of developing countries.

The G-20 proposals are on disciplines for administering tariff rate quotas and elimination of export subsidies and controlling export credit to reduce the chance of the credit being subsidised.

On the other hand, the G-33 proposal deals with stock holding and food security concerns for developing countries. On trade facilitation, there are several areas of concern, and the chair of the negotiations has been trying different methods to clear the differences that exist.

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Image: Peak of Gunung Agung rises above the clouds in eastern Bali.
Photographs: Bob Strong/Reuters

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The last petrol station before Bali

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However, it must be noted that there are at least 500 points in the text that need to be addressed to move forward. Therefore, consultations on trade facilitation were first being held under a “facilitator-led process” - involving facilitators from 17 WTO member countries to review the text, section by section, to find areas of agreement.

However, owing to slow progress achieved, the chair Ambassador Eduardo Ernesto Sperisen-Yurt of Guatemala suggested that the members appoint four “friends of the chair” to supplement the facilitator method. The member nations have expressed hope of halving the number of contentious issues by July.

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Image: Morning sun illuminates boats near the Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, a 17th century Buddhist-Hindu temple on Lake Bratan, near the village of Candikuning in central Bali.
Photographs: Bob Strong/Reuters

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The last petrol station before Bali

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The key issue would be to build consensus, especially on those areas that require a higher level of political intervention, such as customs cooperation and transit, and on other issues such as pre-shipment inspection, customs brokers and consularisation fees.

On development, the group of least developed countries have submitted their proposal on an LDC package for Bali. The package they are proposing to form a part of the Bali outcome includes essentially four areas: implementation of the Hong Kong Ministerial decision on duty-free, quota-free access for their products; preferential rules of origin for LDCs; market access for cotton; and operationalisation of the LDC services waiver.

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Image: A private pool looks out over Jimbaran Bay from a villa in Bali.
Photographs: Bob Strong/Reuters

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The last petrol station before Bali

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The recent decision by the member countries to extend the transition period for LDCs to implement the WTO rules on intellectual property rights until July 2021, which was previously due to end next month, is a major shot in the arm on part of the WTO to support the developmental objective.

For the Bali meet to be a success, some movement is quickly needed over the next few weeks. As Lamy said at a recent trade negotiations meeting, “We are yet to see the kind of flexibilities that are needed in an endgame negotiation. We all know that process, however good, is not enough to deliver. It is substantive engagement that holds the key. And here time is turning against us. We are entering the red zone.”

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Image: Anglers fish at sunset off Legian beach on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.
Photographs: Darren Whiteside/Reuters

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This is a matter of concern for the member countries since trade ministers at recent meetings have pointed out that “not making progress in Bali would have damaging implications for the future of the round and the credibility of the multilateral trading system.

Therefore, something significant, substantive and credible had to be done as a building block for work after Bali to pursue the Doha Development Agenda”. Not only the Bali ministerial, but also the post-Bali road map is important to firm up.

If the member countries are unable to stitch together the broad contours of a possible outcome at Bali by August, the success of the meeting would be jeopardised. It is time for countries to engage seriously.

The writer is Principal Adviser at APJ-SLG Law Offices


Image: Boats rest on a beach in the fishing village of Jimbaran, Bali.
Photographs: Deurbon Chow/Reuters

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