Introduction:

The Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations “commemorated” their twelfth anniversary in November 2013. Policymakers in industrialized nations seem to be both distracted (by  the  effects  of  the  financial  crisis) and more intrigued by preferential trade agreements (PTAs) and plurilaterals (e.g., the Trade in Services Agreement, TISA) than by the multilateral approach. The large emerging economies continue to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, ready to fight for their agenda, but unwilling (or unable) to exert positive leadership in advancing the DDA. The private sector, in turn, seems increasingly frustrated with the multilateral trade system. There is a generalized  perception that the WTO’s disciplines and modus  operandi are outdated and cannot keep pace with globalization. In such an environment, it is not surprising that some observers are willing to pose the question: Is the WTO worth “saving”?

This is, of course, the wrong question. It associates the WTO with its most visible activity: the ongoing round of multilateral trade negotiations (the DDA). But the DDA is just the tip of the “iceberg” that encompasses all WTO functions. Even if the DDA were to fail, the WTO would continue to play an  important role with respect to transparency in trade practices, monitoring and enforcement of existing  multilateral rules and agreements, and dispute settlement procedures. Indeed, a fact often forgotten in  the debate is that even amid the difficulties of  the DDA,the WTO has made a major contribution to the  world economy by disciplining trade protectionism and helping to avoid the possible metamorphosis  of  the Great  Recession into a Great  Depression, like the one in the 1930s. Moreover, the multilateral   setting provides the best hope for the implementation of disciplines for agricultural trade, the subject of this paper.

The 9th WTO Ministerial Conference concluded in Bali on December 7, 2013,and its results were  a  cause of  great relief for those members and stakeholders that still believe in  the multilateral trade  system. The Bali Package, put together under the leadership of the new WTO Director General, Roberto Azevêdo, is the first significant sign of movement in the long and, so  far, unhappy  story  of  the  DDA.1 The  negotiations at the Ministerial, however, underscored not only the potential of the WTO to make a difference but also the difficulty of obtaining results in a multilateral setting.

As I have discussed elsewhere, WTO members and the new Director General face an uphill struggle  to revitalize the organization.2 The need to dispel the impression that  the DDA “coma” was terminal was in everybody’s minds in Bali. Against this background, the Bali Package is an important step in the right direction. Its main pillars (the Agreement on Trade Facilitation,  the  decisions  on  agriculture,  and  the decisions  focusing  on  least-developed countries  [LDCs])  are  the  first  concrete  results  after  twelve  years  of  negotiations. In  short, Bali  will  probably  be  remembered more as an important  moment  for  the system  (showing that the multilateral trade system can still deliver results) rather than as a trade package that will immediately impact major economic trends.

In this paper, I will focus on the role of agricultural negotiations in the context of the DDA. Section 2 provides a brief summary of the history of how agricultural trade was dealt with in the multilateral trade system up to the DDA. Section 3 describes the evolution of agricultural trade negotiations in the current round. Section 4 analyses the results for agriculture at the Bali Ministerial. The paper concludes with a discussion of the opportunities and challenges ahead for concluding agricultural trade negotiations with special reference to Brazilian negotiating interests

 


1- Not all is doom and gloom at the multilateral level. The selection of the Brazilian WTO Ambassador Roberto Azevêdo as WTO Director General (DG) occurred in a timely and efficient manner in 2013. It may have been a “photo finish,” but WTO members should be congratulated for avoiding the  confrontations that often accompany these procedures. The outcome is also a testament to the “democratic” approach adopted for the selection. In the Bretton Woods institutions, for example, a candidate who was not the first choice of either the US or the EU –as was the case with the Brazilian candidate for the DG post –would never have been selected. For a description of the WTO selection procedures see Primo Braga (2013a).

2- See Primo Braga (2013b).