WTO backs agricultural reforms, split on Doha

The WTO’s director-general, Roberto Azevedo, and Kenya’s cabinet secretary for foreign affairs and international trade, Amina Mohamed, close the fifth day of the WTO ministerial conference in Nairobi. (Photo courtesy Admedia Communication, copyright WTO)

Nairobi | Reuters — The World Trade Organization reached deals on agricultural export subsidies, food aid and other issues on Saturday, capping a ministerial conference in the Kenyan capital where rich and poor countries had been split over the path of trade reform.

Members said the Nairobi deal had drawn a line under years of stalemate over the direction of global trade negotiations.

“Our work in Nairobi marks a turning point for the World Trade Organization,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a statement. The negotiations “started a new phase in the WTO’s evolution” and showed “what is possible when the multilateral trading system comes together to solve a problem.”

The Geneva-based WTO, which invited Liberia and Afghanistan to become its 163rd and 164th members, has been trying and largely failing to agree on a worldwide package of trade reforms since a meeting in Doha in 2001 hatched an ambitious plan for knocking down trade barriers.

The four-day Nairobi conference was extended by a final non-stop 24-hour negotiation between the major trading powers, who agreed on a package that included phasing out agricultural export subsidies and restricting agricultural export credits.

But they agreed to disagree about the potential for success in the Doha round of talks.

Both India, which had insisted on completing the existing Doha talks before any further negotiation, and the U.S., which wanted to move on from Doha, had had to give ground, an EU official said.

The compromise means that more issues can be loaded onto the negotiating agenda, the EU official said.

Trade experts greeted the deal on the talks, also known as the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), with scepticism.

“DDA = Doha Dead Again?,” Richard Baldwin, professor of international economics at Geneva’s Graduate Institute, said in a tweet.

Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed, who had described the WTO’s negotiating function as broken at the summit’s opening, said she was confident that the Nairobi talks had actually “strengthened” the body over the week.

“For me, Nairobi will be remembered as having made that leap from a time when we were divided along this developed and developing divide,” she said.

The meeting, the first ministerial meeting to be held in Africa, had earlier hailed an agreement to remove import tariffs on 201 information technology products, marking the first major global tariff-cutting deal in 19 years.

In addition, more countries signed on to the Trade Facilitation Agreement, which eases the passage of goods between countries.

Reporting for Reuters by Edith Honan in Nairobi; additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva.

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