Deal in Bali is critical for multilateral trading system

High-level Policy Dialogue on "Reviving Multilateralism: Road to Bali and Beyond"

Ahead of the forthcoming 9th WTO Ministerial Conference, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) convened a high-level dialogue yesterday entitled ‘Reviving Multilateralism: Road to Bali and beyond’. ESCAP works to assist member countries, in particular, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and small developing countries, to benefit from the multilateral trading system. The dialogue provided a platform for the Asia-Pacific member States to discuss and offer a regional perspective on the Bali Package.

The WTO is at a crossroads and with only two weeks to go before the Bali Ministerial Conference, the dialogue participants stressed the need for a deal in Bali which reaffirms the importance of the rule-based multilateral trading system. The WTO Conference is attempting to bring to a conclusion the Doha round of trade negotiations which started in 2001.

Moderating the event, Dr. Ravi Ratnayake, Director of ESCAP’s Trade and Investment Division, opened discussions with the issue of future prospects for multilateralism and the costs of a failure to reach a consensus on concluding the negotiations: “The multilateral system has proved its usefulness and the future of the WTO system depends crucially on the incorporation of developing countries and their concerns within the negotiating agenda.”

He further noted that the purpose of the day’s discussion was to explore what kind of deal in Bali is achievable and whether it will meet the expectations of the international community. Of particular importance for the ESCAP region will be a deal that reflects the needs of Asia-Pacific LDCs for greater market access, while also making progress on trade facilitation and food security.

Panellist’s included H.E. Dr. Nam Viyaketh, Minister of Industry and Commerce, Lao PDR, H.E. U Pwint San, Deputy Minister of Commerce, Myanmar, Mr. Thawatchai Sophasatienphong Chief Inspector General, Ministry of Commerce, Government of Thailand, Mr. Jonathan Kenna, Permanent Representative of Australia to ESCAP, Ms. Margaret Liang, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Temasek Foundation, Centre for Trade and Negotiation, Singapore and Adjunct Professor National University of Singapore Law Faculty and Dr. Biswajit Dhar, Director General, Research and Information System for Developing Countries, India.

In opening remarks, Minister Nam Viyaketh, Minister of Industry of Commerce, Lao PDR said: “WTO is the main multilateral forum for settling international trade disputes and limiting the introduction of protectionist measures during the global economic crisis, and serves as a forum for negotiations. The multilateral trading system is being challenged by the FTAs/RTAs and the role of the WTO is being reduced. Bali must address the issues relating to trade facilitation, food security and Least Developed Countries packages.”

Minister U Pwint San underscored the lack of progress in the Doha Round was due to a very wide and comprehensive agenda, as well as the large number of members which are negotiating at present. While reaffirming his belief in the WTO, he also felt that the level of expectations for the outcome varied from country to country which has also hampered negotiations.

Additionally, the panel felt that any agreement should address the development agenda of Doha, especially in the context of issues relating to LDCs. In particular, LDCs should be given expanded duty free access to developed country markets.

“Trade facilitation benefits all countries, especially landlocked countries, as it can address infrastructure support at borders and transit issues by changing landlocked countries to land-linked countries,” said Minister Nam Viyaketh.

The Minister also commented that Aid for Trade can play a valuable role in a country’s developmental agenda, especially in terms of building infrastructure, providing technical assistance and addressing supply-side constraints.

This sentiment was echoed by Minister U Pwint San who said: “Aid for Trade can be an effective tool to address several challenges that developing countries, especially LDCs, are facing. A proper balance between Aid for Trade and trade facilitation would be desirable in an outcome in Bali.”

In closing, the panel sent a strong message that a positive outcome in Bali is a must and that they are hopeful for a declaration even if it deals with a limited outcome. A positive agreement would become a building block for settling the remaining Doha issues.

The High-Level Dialogue was held as part of ESCAP’s Trade and Investment Week which runs from 18-22 November.

For more information on the event, please go to: http://www.unescap.org/tid/projects/rmbali.asp.