World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said recently that prospects for achieving a package of trade liberalization measures at the WTO ministerial meeting to be held Dec. 15-18 in Nairobi, Kenya, remain uncertain. Regardless, he added, the WTO is continuing to perform important work in today’s globalized marketplace.

The chance of finding solutions that “can bridge the gaps in the most problematic areas” of the long-running Doha Round negotiations “appears to be diminishing,” Azevêdo told WTO members in Geneva, but the emerging view is that “a set of deliverables is within reach which has the potential to make the ministerial a success.” These deliverables could include benefits for lesser-developed countries, a ban on agricultural export subsidies, and greater transparency. He therefore called on WTO members to decide within the next month on “the shape and scope of the outcome that they want to achieve in Nairobi.”

In a separate speech in Washington, D.C., Azevêdo acknowledged that the WTO’s “underperformance on the negotiating front … is something we cannot ignore if we are seeking to improve the overall health of the organization.” If a major advance on key issues such as domestic support in agriculture and market access in agriculture, manufacturing and services is unlikely, he said, “members will need to … think about what they want the WTO to be and how it should work in the future.”

At the same time, Azevêdo added, members should bear in mind that the WTO is more than just a negotiating body and that it makes a “significant contribution … to global economic governance.” The day-to-day work of the WTO “is vital in administering the global trading system, and keeping commerce flowing,” he said. This work includes monitoring country practices and regulations to ensure that agreements are being observed and help prevent protectionism, raising concerns and suggesting new approaches on standards and regulations affecting a wide range of goods, and resolving trade disputes among members (nearly 500 since the WTO was created in 1995) in an open and transparent manner.


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