As trade ministers from around the globe start their three-day meeting at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, Switzerland, on 15 December 2011, representatives from some of the most vulnerable economies, particularly those in the Commonwealth, are calling for concrete outcomes of a trade regime that will foster development, create jobs and improve livelihoods.
At a series of discussions organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat at the WTO in Geneva on 13 and 14 December to provide briefings and analyses to member states which have no permanent presence in Geneva, participants noted that the Eighth Ministerial Conference of the WTO can be more than a routine exercise and generate new thinking that provides direction aimed at strengthening trade talks.
The participants also said they hoped this year's ministerial meeting would bring new momentum to the stalled Doha Round, by examining what is blocking progress and coming out with clear steps going forward.
Chairing a session on 'Whither Doha and Development? The WTO at the Crossroads', Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Ransford Smith said that the association is committed to promoting a development friendly global trading system that creates greater trading opportunities for developing countries.
"We maintain that international trade can make an indispensable contribution to economic growth, which, particularly if equitable, is one of the most important factors in reducing poverty and achieving social progress," Mr Smith said.
He added that the Doha Round of trade talks have been an important area of the Commonwealth’s work, and that the Secretariat has followed the developments closely, undertaking analytical studies to support the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable economies.
Speaking at the event on 13 December, Professor Ngaire Woods, Director of the Global Economic Governance Programme at Oxford University, said that the current environment for multilateralism is hostile for developing countries, and pointed out that there is need for strong political push from the top to unblock the current impasse on trade talks.
Ambassador Shree Baboo Chekitan Servansing of Mauritius said that the prospects for a development outcome from trade talks were slim, partly because, according to him, the WTO “is not well tooled to deal with development issues”.
Bangladesh's former ambassador to the WTO Debapriya Bhattacharya also said that multilateralism as a means of dealing with global challenges was in crisis, as evidenced by problems of dealing with the financial and environment crises.