NAIROBI - Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Amina Mohamed, who is chairing the World Trade Organization ministerial here, on Tuesday (Dec. 15) held open the possibility that WTO members could decide to eliminate the negotiating function of the organization altogether if they fail to reach a deal on a package of trade concessions by the end of the meeting.
"If we don’t agree [on a deal here], then we will see a change because obviously what the membership will be saying collectively is that the negotiating function of the WTO is broken," Mohamed said at the opening press conference of the ministerial. "We will need to either fix it, agree on a new way of negotiating, or agree to remove it so the WTO focuses on dispute settlement, on trade policy review and the other areas that do not have a negotiated element in them."
At the press conference, Mohamed and WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo signaled they believe it is still possible for members to reach agreement here on a trade package as well as a ministerial declaration, and urged delegations to show flexibility to help achieve that goal.
But other trade officials and observers here were more pessimistic, given the large gaps that remain in agriculture and other areas. One observer said this is the furthest from agreement negotiators have been in advance of any WTO ministerial.
Azevedo has convened an informal heads of delegation meeting for Tuesday afternoon immediately following the opening plenary meeting that kicked off at 3 p.m. local time. He is expected at the informal meeting to lay out a process for negotiations to take place at the ministerial, which may involve the appointment of some new facilitators, sources said. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is not slated to arrive here until Wednesday.
At the press conference, Azevedo acknowledged that WTO members have a long way to go to reach an agreement here, but said they were still committed to doing so.
"I think that there is still a real zeal among the membership to deliver meaningful outcomes, particularly for least-developed countries and for agriculture," he said. "However, even the issues where an outcome may be possible, there is still a long way to go in quite a short time. To succeed, all members will have to be flexible, realistic, and ready to engage."
Mohamed said her goal is to deliver a consensus ministerial declaration rather than a chairman’s statement issued on her own authority -- a possibility that some have floated given the inability of members to agree on language in the declaration on whether the Doha round should be reaffirmed.
"I think we are already way beyond a chairman's statement," Mohamed said. "What Geneva and the [Director General] provided was to us in draft form was a ministerial declaration. So we are going to try very hard, we are going to work all the time to make sure we get a ministerial declaration."
Developed members including the United States, European Union, and Japan have called for the round to end while developing countries are seeking to have language that would explicitly continue the single undertaking architecture of Doha.
In group meetings ahead of the official start of the ministerial, members appeared to dig their heels on controversial agriculture issues, including a special safeguard mechanism (SSM) and an outcome on public stockholding for food security purposes.
Agricultural importing countries including India and Indonesia have pushed for outcomes on SSM and public stockholding, but have received strong pushback from agricultural exporters including Brazil and Argentina.
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