Dodwell in 2013 SOM2 Surabaya - Post 14

April 22, 2013

While I was flying out from Surabaya over the weekend in search of a day of rest before work resumed in Hong Kong, APEC Trade Ministers and their senior officials toiled on through the weekend, haggling the Ministerial Statement and – perhaps surprisingly – a separate long statement in support of the WTO and multilateralism.

After all of the talk over the past two weeks on regional trade agreements – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the newly-cooked Pacific Alliance embracing the liberalizing economies of central and south America – the reassertion of concern to complete the Doha Round, and to reaffirm the importance of multilateralism, came out of left field.

The inspiration for this “commitment to strengthen a rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open and inclusive multilateral trading system and reiterate the value and centrality of this system as embodied in the WTO” was clearly China, whose officials had pointedly and repeatedly in preceding days reminded the gathered trade officials of the need to prepare the ground for the WTO Ministerial planned for Bali in December.

The statement on support for the WTO pulled no punches on the challenge faced ahead of the Bali Ministerial: the Doha round was “at an impasse”, and “the negotiation as it stands now is not on course to lead to a successful outcome” in Bali. “We are deeply concerned about the state of play in the negotiations and we call on WTO Members to change the quality and level of engagement in order to expeditiously and effectively advance our work… The continued viability of the WTO’s negotiating function is at serious risk.”

For those of us in ABAC, and in APEC, pressing for support for the Services Plurilateral currently being negotiated in Geneva, the call to the faithful complete the Doha Round is a bit of a blow. Most are now so convinced that this dead horse has been flogged as many times as realistically possible, that they are reluctant to waste still more time before making material progress on services liberalization.

But maybe there is after all a case to flog the horse one last time. In a couple of weeks we will have a new head of the WTO (the final shortlist of two candidates should be agreed this week), and I suppose the least we should do is give him/her and the Bali Ministerial one last chance to stir Doha to life. After losing 12 years in inconclusive negotiation, we surely cannot resent a last few months.

The statement in support of the Doha Round also, interestingly, made a plea for completion of the new Information Technology Agreement (ITA). The original was agreed in 1995, and the IT world has moved several universes in the meanwhile. The wording in support of a new ITA is a marvelous, cryptic patchwork, clearly accommodating many economies’ hobbyhorses: “A final ITA expansion outcome should be commercially significant, credible, pragmatic, balanced, and reflective of the dynamic technological developments in the information technology sector over the last 16 years.” One really does wonder why it is not enough simply to call for an outcome that is “reflective of the dynamic technological developments” since 1995: I wonder what the “code” is behind “commercially significant, credible, pragmatic, balanced”. The negotiators’ world is a mysterious and arcane one.

Meanwhile, back with the Ministerial Statement, ABAC’s main hobbyhorses were given disappointingly scant attention: for services, they simply welcomed liberalizing activity and called for “good practice regulation”; for investment, they called for intensified efforts to “address impediments to increased flows of investment”. There was passing reference to the need for good regulatory practices. On the supply chain, there was no specific reference to Global Data Standards: clearly we have much work still to do between now and SOM3 in Medan.

And as for Indonesia’s passionate and relentless quest for palm oil and rubber to be included in APEC’s 54-strong list of Environmental Goods that will have tariffs cut below 5%? All they achieved was that Ministers “Take note.” I suspect this is not the last we have heard about palm oil…

APEC Trade Ministers meet at Surabaya

* Read post from Surabaya


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