NAIROBI: Kenya and other poor countries left the grueling talks of the World Trade Organisation with major wins on agriculture despite stiff opposition from developed nations, including the United States.
When the conference ended late last evening, the delegations had agreed to eliminate production and export subsidies, which have been blamed for distorting market prices by keeping them artificially low.
In the process, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed — who chaired the conference — got a standing ovation over the major decisions that were reached.
“It was very intensive...tough calls had to be made, we did bite the bullet and we have a result,” Ms Mohamed said during the closing ceremony.
India and Venezuela were, however, disappointed that the ministerial statement issued did not expressly reaffirm the Doha Development Agenda. It came as a climax to days of intensive negotiations, which included the last 60 hours until last evening.
WTO Director-General Roberto Azedevo told the delegates at the closing ceremony that the outcome of the conference was not the best but good in the prevailing circumstances.
“When we came here, we were not looking for the best outcome but I can say we have delivered a huge amount of benefits for the poor countries,” Azevedo said.
It would turn out that the developed nations, which were demanding for the termination of the Doha programme, were handed a significant defeat in the marathon negotiations where trade ministers from around the world agreed to carry on with the Doha Development Agenda, a position that Kenya was in favour of.
“We recognise that many members reaffirm the Doha Development Agenda, and the Declarations and Decisions adopted at Doha and at the Ministerial Conferences held since then, and reaffirm their full commitment to conclude the DDA on that basis,” the final ministerial statement reads in part.
At least seven major decisions were reached at the stormy conference, including an agreement to remove taxes on electronic goods among 53 major nations and resolution on how much in food stocks different countries should hold in their reserves. It was a round of talks like no other on the basis that an alternative outcome could significantly weaken the WTO — the global body that seeks to promote trade through developing rules that member countries are required to play by.
Representatives from tens of poor countries were clear on their positions since the conference opened on Tuesday that it was only through the Doha programme that their voices could be heard and concerns relating to poverty addressed.
The US and the European Union led the rich countries in pushing their alternate agenda, citing fatigue and frustrations relating to the slow development since the rounds of talks that started in 2001 in Doha, Qatar.
In the end, the ministers only noted their views in a short acknowledgement. “Other members do not reaffirm the Doha mandates, as they believe new approaches are necessary to achieve meaningful outcomes in multilateral negotiations. Members have different views on how to address the negotiations.”
None of the proposals, known as the new issues among the negotiating teams, were incorporated in the framework moving forward as it was feared to shift the agenda from the concerns specific to poor nations.
“Nevertheless, there remains a strong commitment of all members to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues. This includes advancing work in all three pillars of agriculture, namely domestic support, market access and export competition, as well as non-agriculture market access, services, development,” the statement reads further.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman, backed by UK, Japan and Australia, said several times at the conference that time had come to free the WTO’s 162 member countries from the strictures of the Doha framework which he claimed added little value to the multilateral trading system.
In the alternate agenda, world trade would be fully liberal, eliminating preferential treatment of domestic companies in government procurement. Effectively, a UK company would be allowed to bid and compete for the supply on school equipment in public schools in Kenya, for example. While that is the ideal trading environment as envisioned by the WTO, the disparity in development among different economies could hand most tenders to more established companies from developed countries.
Civil society condemned the conference as total failure, citing that the ministers did not expressly reaffirm the Doha programme and that the US’ agenda had been sneaked in.
“Nairobi will be remembered as the place where the Doha Development agenda was dead and buried,” Prof Tim Wise, a representative of an American NGO said.
These new issues pushed by the US include global value chains which would open up all markets to international competition, commerce, competition policies, investment pacts and state-owned enterprises.
The fear among poor nations is that their richer counterparts had superior standards and products that would in effect stage new barriers to trade.