Geneva — The "fragility" of the World Trade Organization's 'Bali package' was brought into the open at the weekend meeting in Sydney, Australia, of trade ministers from the world's 20 major economies (G20).
The Bali package is a trade agreement resulting from the 9th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Bali, Indonesia, in December last year, and forms part of the Doha Development Round, which started in 2001.
The G20 group of countries includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.
"... the Bali package is not just about trade facilitation and it also includes other issues ... That was the premise on which the developing countries agreed to trade facilitation and it has to be self-balancing" - South African trade minister Rob Davies
During the Sydney meeting, India and South Africa challenged the industrialised countries present to come clean on implementation of the issues concerning the poor countries in agriculture and development, according to participants present at the two-day meeting.
Ahead of the G20 leaders meeting in Brisbane, Australia, in mid-November, Sydney hosted the trade ministerial meeting to discuss implementation of the Bali package, particularly the trade facilitation agreement (TFA). The TFA has been at the heart of the industrialised countries' trade agenda since 1996.
More importantly, Australia, as host of the November meeting, has decided to prepare the ground for pursuing the new trade agenda based on global value chains in which trade facilitation and services related to finance, information, telecommunications, and logistics play a main role.
"I said the Bali package is not just about trade facilitation and it also includes other issues," South Africa's trade minister Rob Davies told IPS Monday. "That was the premise on which the developing countries agreed to trade facilitation and it has to be self-balancing."
Davies said that "the issue is that while South Africa doesn't need any assistance, many developing and poor countries have to make investments and implement new procedures [because of the TFA]. What was there in the [TF] agreement is a series of best endeavour provisions in terms of technical and financial support together with best endeavour undertakings in terms of issues pertaining to least developed countries in agriculture and so on."
Over the last few months, several industrialised countries, including the United States, have said that they can address issues in the Bali package concerning the poor countries as part of the Doha Single Undertaking, which implies that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
The specific issues that concern the interests of the least-developed countries include elimination of cotton subsidies and unimpeded market access for cotton exported by the African countries, preferential rules of origin for the poorest countries to export industrial products to the rich countries, and preferential treatment to services and services suppliers of least developed countries, among others.
"Even if there is an early harvest there has to be an outcome on other issues in the Bali package," the South African minister argued.
There is lot of concern at the G20 meeting that if the trade facilitation protocol is not implemented by the end of this month, the WTO would be undermined.
"What we said from South Africa is to commit on the delivery of the outcomes in the Bali package," Davies told IPS. "And a number of developing countries present at the meeting agreed with our formulation that there has to be substantial delivery of the outcomes in the Bali package."
At the Sydney meeting, the industrialised countries pushed hard for a common stand on the protocol for implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement by July 31. The TF protocol is a prerequisite for implementing the trade facilitation agreement by the end of July 2015.
The United States also cautioned that if there is no outcome by the end of this month, the post-Bali package would face problems. "Talking about post-Bali agenda while failing to implement the TFA isn't just putting the cart before the horse, it's slaughtering the horse," U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman tweeted from Sydney.
The industrialised countries offered assurances that they would address the other issues in the Bali package, including public distribution programmes for food security, raised by developing countries. But they were not prepared to wait for any delay in the implementation of the TF agreement.
Over the last four months, the developing and poorest countries have realised that their issues in the Bali package are being given short shrift while all the energies are singularly focused on implementing the trade facilitation agreement.
The African countries are the first to point out the glaring mismatch between implementation of the TFA on the one hand and lack of any concerted effort to address other issues in the Bali package on the other. The African Union has suggested implementing the TFA on a provisional basis until all other issues in the Doha Development Agenda are implemented.
The industrialised countries mounted unprecedented pressure and issued dire threats to the African countries to back off from their stand on the provisional agreement. At the AU leaders meeting in Malibu, Equatorial Guinea, last month, African countries were forces to retract from their position on the provisional agreement.
However, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Uganda insisted on a clear linkage between the TFA and the Doha agenda.
India is fighting hard, along with other developing countries in the G33 coalition of developing countries on trade and economic issues, for a permanent solution to exempt public distribution programmes for food security from WTO rules in agriculture.
New Delhi has found out over the last six months that the industrialised countries are not only creating hurdles for finding a simple and effective solution for public distribution programmes but continue to raise extraneous issues that are well outside the purview of the mandate to arrive at an agreement on food security.
India announced on July 2 that it will not join consensus unless all issues concerning agriculture and development are addressed along with the TF protocol.
India's new trade minister Nirmala Sitaraman, along with South Africa, made it clear in Sydney that they could only join consensus on the protocol once they have complete confidence that the remaining issues in the Bali package are fully addressed.
Against this backdrop, the G20 trade ministers on Saturday failed to bridge their differences arising from their colliding trade agendas.
The developing countries, particularly India, want firm commitment that there is a permanent solution on public distribution programmes for food security along with all other issues concerning development, an Indian official told IPS.