Circulated by Prince Adetokunbo Kayode
“On the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947, the objectives of improving people’s standard of living, achieving full employment, and increasing the production of and trade in goods and services remain every bit as relevant while at the same time contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,” the declaration says, which was read out by Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie.
The current signatories include Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Guyana, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Uruguay. Leaders in Buenos Aires urged others to join, with Vázquez arguing that doing so would be key “so this isn’t just on paper, but sees tangible actions and results that have benefits for the daily lives of our people.”
“Each of us needs to give way and look for the collective benefit, and as long as we do that, that will benefit all. International systems work when the national responsibilities of each government and peoples are balanced and consistent with international responsibilities,” said Macri. He also warned against falling prey to the “primacy of national interest,” adding that the problems of the global trade club can only be addressed with “more WTO, not less WTO.” Speeches from fellow regional leaders reflected similar sentiments.
Gearing up for negotiations
With formal negotiations set to get underway on Monday, General Council Chair Xavier Carim, South Africa’s WTO Ambassador, also updated the audience on the talks’ state of play prior to the ministerial, while Susana Malcorra, the Argentine official serving as the Ministerial Conference Chair, led the meeting with the adoption of the ministerial conference agenda and her own remarks.
At the ceremony, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo also called for backing the multilateral system, highlighting the organisation’s role in providing “stability and certainty” during the financial crisis, and noting that it “is essential, it works, and it’s the best we have.”
Earlier that day, Malcorra and Azevêdo gave an opening press conference in the Hilton, the hotel which is serving as the main ministerial venue, previewing the coming days and noting the challenges ahead. High-level plenaries and meetings on specific subject areas, led by “minister-facilitators,” are due to begin tomorrow as previously announced.
“There are still, of course, gaps between positions, and they are big, but that is often the case in ministerial conferences,” said the WTO chief, who also referred to the wider context, including public concerns over the effects of trade and trade policy.
Malcorra, meanwhile, reminded the audience that the sentiment coming out of an earlier mini-ministerial in Marrakech this year was that Buenos Aires is “just one step in the continuous negotiation process on the various issues which we have to deal with.” She added that WTO members will “have to try to set a timeframe or roadmap for future discussions,” and consider how to address new issues that have drawn growing interest from some members.
Both in the corridors and at the opening press conference, questions continued over how the US will approach the ministerial once the plenaries and negotiations get going on Monday. Regarding his planned meeting on Sunday afternoon with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Azevêdo told reporters that he would be asking him to show “political will” and “flexibility,” and also to hear his views.
“What I will tell him will not differ very much from what I tell every other member, which is essentially that we have to recognise the importance of the system for the world and global economy,” he said.
Coalitions gear up for agriculture talks
Ministers from different groups also staked out their claims in the fiercely contested area of agricultural trade, which also featured in various leaders’ statements during the opening ceremony.
The G33 developing country coalition, coordinated by Indonesia but also including China, India, and some 30 other nations, issued a joint declaration on Saturday. On the same day, farm leaders from the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters also met, ahead of a ministerial Cairns Group meeting slated for Monday. The two groups have often been at odds in the negotiations, with Cairns countries calling for rapid, far-reaching liberalisation of agricultural trade, and the G33 arguing for developing countries to benefit from slower market opening and special treatment to protect smallholder farmers.
The G33 advocates for a special safeguard mechanism (SSM) to allow developing countries to raise tariffs temporarily in cases of a sudden import surge or price depression, as well as a “permanent solution” to the constraints some developing countries say they face when buying food at subsidised rates under public food stockholding programmes.
“Members must make every effort to arrive at meaningful development-centred outcomes on the special safeguard mechanism and public stockholding at MC11,” said Enggartiasto Lukita, the Indonesian trade minister, at a press briefing on Saturday.
The G33 declaration said that WTO members ought to “refrain from making any linkages with other issues,” in a clear reference to the farm exporting nations’ stance. Meanwhile, conclusions released today by the Foreign Affairs Council of the EU stated that “domestic support in agriculture is closely linked to the question of public stockholding for food security purposes.
Prince Kayode (SAN, CON, FCIArb), Four-time cabinet Minister in Nigeria is the President of Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI). He is a Nigerian Delegate attending the Conference holding in Buenos Aires, Argentina.