THE World Trade Organization Bali ministerial meeting is two months away and calls for agreements on trade facilitation, agriculture and development.
However, there is growing concern that WTO members may not be able to resolve outstanding differences on those issues by then.
WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo, in his inaugural speech to the WTO General Council on Sept. 9, said the multilateral trading system remains the best defense against protectionism and the strongest force for growth, recovery and development.
"Yet, as I take on this role, it is clear that the system is in trouble. Progress has stalled," he said.
Azevedo said the world has defined WTO by what it has been doing on the negotiating front, which is struggling.
"People only see us as good as our progress on (the Doha Round). That is the reality. And the perception in the world is that we have forgotten how to negotiate. The perception is ineffectiveness. The perception is paralysis. Our failure to address this paralysis casts a shadow that goes well beyond the negotiating arm, and it covers every other part of our work," he said. "It is essential that we breathe new life into negotiations. We must send a clear and unequivocal message to the world that the WTO can deliver multilateral trade deals."
Azevedo said he will be as active and inclusive as possible in the effort to reach an agreement and pledged to "roll up my sleeves" and "be by your side at the table."
The director-general has started the process of intensive consultations on three potential deliverables for the Bali meeting in December: trade facilitation, agriculture and development.
In a Sept. 23 speech at the Trade Negotiations Committee meeting, he said regarding agriculture, issues covered included the G-33 proposal on public stockholding for food security and domestic food aid purposes, tariff rate quota administration and export competition.
Azevedo reported that these discussions have been focused, precise and businesslike where members were negotiating and interacting in a constructive manner.
"Delegations are in a solution-finding mode, and I am encouraged by the new tenor to the discussion. If we keep this mood and attitude in the upcoming weeks, I believe Bali will be within reach," he said.
Recent discussions confirmed the sensitivity and seriousness of the export issue, Azevedo added. WTO members agree that the parallel elimination of all forms of export subsidies for agricultural products and disciplines on all export measures with equivalent effect is a key objective — and, for some members, the priority — of the Doha Round.
A number of countries are concerned that some members' stockholding of food and other agricultural products could depress prices and affect their exports, the WTO Agriculture Committee heard on Sept. 26. The concerns were particularly about stockholding of rice in Thailand and India, wheat in India, soybeans and other products in Indonesia and cotton in China.
Azevedo noted that there is a "clear willingness to search for a landing zone," although he didn't want to prejudge what that landing zone would be.
Some useful suggestions have emerged from the debate, he added, including the recognition that the use of export subsidies has decreased significantly in recent years. There is also agreement on the need to improve transparency in regard to the use of some export measures with equivalent effect to export subsidies.
In a follow-up meeting Sept. 30, Azevedo said he was encouraged by the level of engagement and the actions being taken to move the trade discussion forward, "but we are not moving fast enough, and things will need to change — and change quickly — if we are to achieve our objective of success in Bali."
Azevedo called on the negotiating committees to conclude the main part of negotiations by the end of October. "By then, we should be able to see the landing zones for Bali," he said.