WTO must deliver trade deals or change role-Kenya

Ministers meeting this week should decide whether the World Trade Organization continues to negotiate major trade deals that have proved elusive or find it a more modest mandate, like arbitrating trade rows, the summit host Kenya said on Tuesday.

The Geneva-based WTO, which has more than 160 members, has been trying and largely failing to agree on a worldwide package of trade reforms since a meeting in Doha in 2001 hatched an ambitious plan for knocking down trade barriers.

A goal of the Nairobi meeting is to determine how the WTO moves forward after years of talks without any major successes.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said the body had offered members “very little value” so far, voicing frustrations particularly of developing nations who stand to gain most from gaining access to markets in more industrialised nations.

“A decision clearly needs to be made in Nairobi on what to do with this organisation,” said Mohamed, speaking at a news conference to open the four-day meeting, the first WTO ministerial meeting to be held in Africa.

She said a failure to reach a major trade deal, which must secure the agreement of every member to pass, would prove that the “negotiating function of the WTO is broken.”

“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,” she said.

Talks in Bali two years ago were seen as more successful, resulting in several agreements, including one to standardise and streamline customs procedures. This was hailed as good for global business, but it has yet to be adopted by many countries.

The idea of scrapping the existing round of WTO negotiations has been backed by the United States, but others, led by India, are staunchly in favour of perservering. Kenya‘s comments suggest some developing nations are growing weary of stalemate.

The United States and other wealthier economies have increasingly focused on reaching trade deals with other regional blocs, rather than seeking global consensus.

India has been at the forefront of calls for richer nations to offer more trade concessions. African countries in particular have urged wealthy states to reduce their farm subsidies which make African products less competitive. [ID:nL1N1430X7]

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said last month that talks were deadlocked before the Nairobi meeting, but was more optimistic in his comments on Tuesday, saying he saw “fundamental changes” taking shape within the WTO.

He said the WTO members had to “regain the habit of negotiating, regain the habit of delivering. And that has been missing.”

“We took 18 years to deliver our first multilateral agreement in Bali. That’s way too long,” he said.

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