Elpidio V. Peria
3 August 2013

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) General Council concluded its recent meeting in Geneva last 24-25 July by electing the officials of the 9th Ministerial Conference to be held in Bali, Indonesia in 3-6 December.

The well-known Swiss trade diplomat Pascal Lamy is stepping down as WTO Director-General after 8 years at the helm of the WTO and he is to be replaced by Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo, who will assume the same post in 1 September.

Given the consistent failure of WTO’s past Ministerial Conferences to come up with something concrete for the so-called Doha Development Agenda (DDA) set from way back in 2001, this forthcoming Bali Ministerial is expected to seek conclusion on only around 5 to 10 percent of the said Doha agenda, according to WTO Spokesperson Keith Rockwell, quoted in an online Business Mirror news report on the preparations for the Bali Ministerial.

The DDA is called the “development round” as it was meant to address the trade concerns of developing and least-developed countries, but given the complexity and difficulty of coming into compromise on its key deliverables, even the developing and least-developed countries have tried to address their trade interests through bilateral or regional free trade agreements.

The Bali Ministerial’s final list of agenda items will still have to be defined by the Members who will resume their work after the summer break, but some of these issues to be further worked on and refined was reported by Third World Network as the following : TRIPS non-violation complaints, E-commerce, the Work Programme on Small Economies, the extension of the LDCs’ transition period under TRIPS, the accession of LDCs, the LDC services waiver, and the Trade Policy Review mechanism.

The Philippines, in its latest Trade Policy Review done in the WTO last March 2012, identified its DDA concerns in the following areas : agriculture, non-agricultural market access, services, implementation issues particularly on the register for wines and spirits, rules, trade facilitation and dispute settlement understanding.

Having an economy with agriculture as one dominant sector that makes or breaks the country’s gross domestic product performance, the Philippines supports the importance of the inter-linkage of commitments in the three pillars (market access, export subsidies, and domestic support) to attain overall balance of reform commitments.

The Philippines believes that the general principles and disciplines, expressed in rules, should be laid down first, with the exceptions threshed out at a later stage. Likewise, the counter demands for flexibilities of the developed country members should be dealt with as exceptions.

The Philippines is committed to preserve the remaining tariff policy space for agriculture, specifically for strategic sensitive sectors. The Philippines believes that the biggest subsidizers should
commit to eliminate export subsidies with an end date of not more than five years from the conclusion of the DDA. It also supports the integration of effective and operational special and differential (S&D) treatment in all elements and outcomes to provide developing countries special flexibilities to even the playing field.

From the WTO website’s glossary page, special and differential treatment means the special treatment given to developing countries in WTO agreements, which can include longer periods to phase in obligations, more lenient obligations, etc.

The work of civil society organizations dealing with WTO issues based in the Philippines have their work cut out for them in the coming months.


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