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No Deal Expected at WTO Bali Conference

Monday, December 02, 2013
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevedo told WTO members Nov. 26 that negotiations toward an agreement on trade facilitation, agriculture and developing country concerns have come very close to producing fully agreed texts but a final deal remains “elusive” because members have “stopped making the tough political calls” over the past few days. While members were able to conclude negotiations in a large number of difficult and sensitive areas and the director-general even acknowledged that he had not seen such effort and engagement in Geneva since July 2008, there appear to be several substantial differences that make a final agreement impossible at the moment.

The main sticking point appears to be section I of the trade facilitation text, although Azevedo does not consider the outstanding challenges to be insurmountable. The problem, according to the director-general, is that “what remains to be negotiated is not something that can be easily managed by the ministers in Bali.” Azevedo added that while members can “discern the landing areas in most – if not all – of the pending issues, the bracketed areas are too many and too technical in nature.” He also said that the current deadlock does not represent a North-South divide but rather “specific, localized difficulties,” and stressed that a few more weeks of talks in Geneva would not change this outcome.

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Michael Punke observed that a small handful of members appear to be preventing the majority from reaching a consensus and agreed with Azevedo that the Geneva process has “run its course” and Bali cannot turn into a negotiating session. He added that the U.S. will use the next few days to “consider carefully the next steps” and confirmed that the country remains willing to look for answers with other forward-looking members. Press reports suggest that a large number of WTO members believe that they are too close to the finish line to abandon the current effort altogether, although the framework and potential timeline for wrapping up the talks post-Bali is very much up in the air. 

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