“The Member countries of the World Trade Organisation will need to show better political leadership, more pragmatism and a spirit of realism to break the deadlock hampering the progress toward concluding the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations,” said Pascal Lamy, Director-General, WTO in New Delhi on 6th September at a function organised by CUTS International. He delivered his address on “the multilateral trading system of the future” which will have to address a number of global challenges, including “the blurring of the edges between trade policy and others such as exchange rate policies, climate change policies, food security policies or energy policies.”
More than 60 distinguished guests from among the Indian polity, government officials, country missions, inter-governmental organisations, business associations, non-governmental organisations and other institutions took part in the function.
Welcoming Mr. Lamy and other distinguished guests, Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS International set the stage by underlining the importance and the role of the WTO in the future of the multilateral trading system. As the ‘single undertaking’ nature of multilateral trade negotiations is attributed by some experts to the current Doha impasse, he reminded the participants the historical significance of this tool during the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations (1986-1994) and why developing-country members of the then General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT, the predecessor to the WTO) felt its need. In respect to the multilateral trading system and its negotiations ‘single undertaking’ means “nothing is agreed unless everything is agreed”. Mehta posed a question: what would be an alternative to ‘single undertaking’ nature of multilateral trade negotiations?
Mr. Lamy expressed that the global economy is going through a ‘stormy period’ and is likely to witness further slowdown in growth, unsustainable fiscal deficit and high unemployment. The multilateral trading system of the future is, therefore, likely to continue to feel the pressure of protectionist tendencies. He said trade protectionism would be a recipe for disaster but continued support for more open trade will require other forms of support: in the form of better social safety nets, investment in technology, in education, and in infrastructure.
He explained the difference between trade in goods and trade in tasks, and underlined the importance of the latter by citing examples from some Asian developing countries.
Commenting on the subject G K Pillai, former commerce and home secretary, Government of India and a Distinguished Fellow, CUTS International said that while broad modalities for negotiating a Doha deal are there it is time to put specific numbers to them so that political leadership is clear on specific calls that are to be made. He added that it is time for the developed countries such as the US to not to resort to protectionist measures and demonstrate leadership in taking multilateral trade talks further for the benefit of the world.
Ajit Ranade, chief economist, A V Birla Group highlighted the importance of trade openness for developing countries such as India. He mentioned that despite global slowdown it is due to trade openness that India has registered an annual growth of eight percent. Though the Doha Round of negotiations is in a stalemate the multilateral trading system under the aegis of the WTO will stay and continue to foster development via trade, said Ranade.
Mr. Lamy concluded his address by saying “A bit of food for thought! That is, after all, what CUTS is about. I look forward to a fruitful dialogue with you.” He lauded “the vital role CUTS has taken in fostering a better undertaking of trade and economic issues, in particular in developing countries.” “Your work in providing intellectual inputs and fostering a debate on trade matters is enormously helpful in allowing countries to make the case for more open trade.”
Mehta concluded the event by highlighting the distinction between the Doha Round of trade negotiations and the WTO as an institution, and underlined the work that CUTS International is doing toward strengthening a more balanced, (better) rules-based multilateral trade regime. For almost two decades, the organisation is doing policy research and advocacy on trade and regulatory issues with emphasis on challenges faced by developing countries in a more open international trade regime and particularly keeping in mind India’s national interests. .
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