Ministers from 159 countries agreed Saturday — after marathon talks at the World Trade Organization summit in Bali — on a package deal of market-opening measures worth an estimated $1 trillion to the global economy.
This story first appeared in the December 9, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“For the first time in our history, the WTO has truly delivered,” WTO chief Roberto Azevedo told delegates.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said, “The WTO has entered a new era. For the first time in its almost 20-year history, the WTO reached a fully multilateral agreement.”
Gita Wirjawan, Indonesia’s trade minister, and chairman of the conference, hailed Azevedo as the architect of the deal. “Your vision and leadership have made the Bali package possible,” he said.
The Bali deal is also seen as injecting political momentum toward reviving next year the broader, but stalled, segment of the 12-year Doha round talks that aim to slash duties, and other impediments, to trade, including in farm and industrial goods — valued annually at more than $18 trillion.
The WTO-sponsored talks had been in limbo since they dramatically collapsed in 2008 because of differences between rich nations such as the U.S. and the European Union, and emerging trading powers such as China and India.
The gridlock in Geneva had led the U.S., the EU and other trading powers in recent years to focus their priorities on pursuing bilateral and regional free-trade initiatives such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, and the U.S.-EU talks on Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Froman noted the trade facilitation accord is “a ‘win-win’ agreement. It is good for both developed and developing members alike.
“The potential cost reduction…measures in this agreement are estimated to be 10 percent for developed countries and around 15 percent for developing countries,” he said. “Studies indicate that for every one percent in cost reduction, worldwide income increases by more than $40 billion.”
Similarly, Harold “Terry” McGraw, chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce, said last week that a recent study commissioned by ICC estimated a WTO trade facilitation agreement “could boost global gross domestic product by $960 billion annually and increase exports of developing countries by $570 billion and of developed countries by $475 billion. It would also create 18 million jobs in developing countries and three million in developed countries.”
The facilitation pact allows for, among other things, the expedited release of goods, for the establishment of a single window enabling traders to submit documentation and/or data requirements for importation, exportation or transit of goods through a single entry point of the participating authorities or agencies, post-clearance, and for WTO members to apply common customs procedures and uniform documentation requirements for release and clearance of goods throughout its territory.
The Bali package also includes accords aimed to assist the world’s least-developed countries (LDCs), which includes apparel exporters such as Lesotho, Bangladesh and Cambodia.
This includes an accord to provide simpler and more transparent rules-of-origin to imports from LDCs including for textiles and apparel.
The accord is a best endeavours effort, and allows WTO members to ensure that only preference receiving LDCs and not others, benefit from the market access opportunities.
Senior trade diplomats said this would allow countries to provide preferential rules that apply, for example, only to poor sub-Saharan apparel producers and are not automatically extended also to more competitive Asian LDCs like Bangladesh.
Moreover, there’s an accord that calls for rich nations to provide duty-free and quota-free access “for at least 97 percent of products originating in LDCs” and also for developing-country members in a position to do so to also seek to provide duty-free access for LDC products.
In addition, the Bali deal calls for dedicated talks in the WTO on all forms of subsidies and tariff and nontariff measures applied to cotton in markets of interest to them. But it admits the WTO has yet to deliver on the trade-related components on cotton made during the 2005 Hong Kong WTO trade summit.
The breakthrough at the Bali talks came on Friday, the fourth and final day of the summit, after Azevedo brokered a compromise that removed the threat of the talks collapsing over agricultural differences largely between India and the U.S. and EU. The terms agreed allow India and other developing nations an interim four-year period to provide more subsidies than allowed under global WTO norms and to stockpile staple food crops to help feed millions of poor people, without threat of a legal challenge if the schemes do not distort global food trade.
However, objections by Cuba backed by Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela over the removal of a clause in the draft trade facilitation accord concerning the U.S. economic embargo triggered a new crisis when the island state threatened to veto the Bali package and forced the talks to go into Saturday.
Cuba withdrew its objections after compromise language was inserted.