Doha, Qatar, April 24, 2012

The stalemate in Doha Round is leading to protectionism and proliferation of free trade agreements. Hence, the international trading system must be preserved and strengthened to provide stable and predictable trading environment in the face of global economic crisis. This was the main message of the Round Table discussion titled “Reflections on the international trading system and inclusive development”, organized on the 4th day of UNCTAD XIII.

Pascal Lamy, Director General of the WTO stated that tariff escalation, trade-distorting subsidies, and customs procedures are still a problem. The list of issues which we had 10 years ago and the list of issues which we have now are the same.

He also argued that the multilateral trading system is in no need for reform as the WTO has necessary expertise and procedures. His advice to countries – in view of the increasing import content of exports – was to focus on what they need to import so that their comparative advantage translates into larger value addition.

According to Rob Davies, Minister of Trade and Industry of South Africa, global value chains are not a new phenomenon. What has changed is the magnitude of global value chains but the concept remains the same.

Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary General UNCTAD was of the view that we need to address the 21st century issues and economic challenges like trade and climate change, trade and food security, and trade and exchange rates. He raised the question: what is the scope and appropriate composition of the trading system to accommodate 21st century economic challenges?

He also cautioned that a very broad-based agenda with Single Undertaking may be overloading the negotiating capabilities of countries.

Round Table participants raised and discussed many other issues of relevance to the health and strength of international trading system and the ways in which it can and should contribute to inclusive development.

It was felt that means should be found to make RTAs contribute to economic and sustainable development. The focus should also be on strengthening South-South cooperation, and also on integrating EAC, COMESA & SADC for development cooperation in Africa.

Trade and employment is also emerging as an important 21st century issue.

“The trading system is indeed at a cross road. Both WTO and UNCTAD are facing crisis in one way or the other and need to be protected and promoted”, said Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General CUTS International. “Trade is the engine of growth and alleviate poverty-Therefore the international community must live upto expectations of people to enable them to get jobs and raise their living standards”.

A major challenge facing the Multilateral Trading System is unequal trade barriers. Pradeep Mehta pondered why we can’t address these inequities on negotiating tables. He also suggested a neutral panel of scientists to work on rule-making on SPS measures.

According to him, the whole geopolitical and geo-economic system has changed since the collapsed WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico in 2003. BRICS have emerged as powerful members of the world trading system. This is causing much of differences, which can also be witnessed in the contentious dialogue on the Outcome Text of the UNCTAD XIIIth event, which is ongoing.

For more information, please contact:

Kshitiz Sharma, Assistant Director CUTS International, +974-55004828 (Doha, Qatar),