The 9th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Bali concluded recently with the ministerial declaration focusing on ‘development’ in trade negotiations, especially under the Doha Development Agenda (DDA). It has taken time as expected in any multilateral negotiations but the content is back in a substantive manner. Both the ministerial declaration and the negotiating processes to arrive at it present important insights.
One of the most contentious issues pertaining to the public stockholding for food security purposes stands resolved with the declaration taking cognisance of the developmental imperatives of the poor and the farmers in the developing world. This has been achieved by deciding that “in the interim, until a permanent solution is found, Members shall refrain from challenging through the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism, compliance of a developing Member with its obligations under the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) in relation to support provided for traditional staple food crops in pursuance of public stockholding programmes for food security purposes.” This was the stand taken by the developing countries and finally it was recognised that India was not just concerned over its own pro-poor food security programme but the poor residing in the developing world at large.
There is a visible shift from “what can be done” to “what ought to be done”. This is trade negotiations with a human face and for this the negotiators from both the developed and the developing worlds must be complimented as much as the WTO Secretariat through its new DG. In particular, India’s international relations with other developing countries, India’s steadfast leadership and positive disposition of India’s negotiating dynamics with both developed and developing countries stand out clearly. This has important beginnings for the entire gamut of issues relating to global economic governance and not just at the WTO.
There were several other dimensions of the DDA on which consensus was achieved. Some of the well-known ones include the Agreement on Trade Facilitation (AFT), and decisions pertaining to development and LDCs, along with some other decisions on tariff rate quota, export competition, cotton, etc. Of these, one of the rather overlooked subject of decision, which did not get adequate attention even in the media, is on the Preferential Rules of Origin for LDCs. Inherent in the ministerial decision on this aspect is a covert recognition of the developmental role that preferential rules of origin could play. This is embedded in the provision, according to