What a week. The air is perpetually full of rumour and speculation about what is possible to achieve here at the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. It's quite improbable that we will finish this conference today, as planned. Many of us have rebooked our flights for the weekend instead.
On agriculture, which is the central issue here, we received a text as a basis for discussion quite late. Changes to that text were discussed all through the night. I do believe that a decent agreement is now within reach, on different types of export support for agricultural products. That would mark a success for the WTO - 50 years after we got rid of export support on industrial goods, it is high time that we do the same for agriculture. It would help the WTO to turn the page, and help to launch new ways of working for the future.
The Doha Development Round was launched 15 years ago, and since then its agenda has more or less been set - despite the world having changed rapidly in the same period. Even though some Doha-related issues still need to be solved, the WTO needs to be able to raise new topics, such as e-commerce, investments, and regulatory issues affecting goods and services behind borders.
If we do not manage to agree here and now, things will indeed look gloomy for the multilateral trading system. That would be a true shame, since we so badly need a global rulebook that applies to all actors, rather than just a few. Simply having a spaghetti bowl of bilateral trade deals is a far worse option.
In the future, there will most probably be more of the ’plurilateral’ type of trade deals where those countries who wish can participate. However, it would be important that such agreements be struck under the umbrella of the WTO system - that all WTO members who want to can join, with access to the dispute resolution function of the organisation.
One example of a successful plurilateral deal is the revised Information Technology Agreement (ITA) that we - the EU and another 23 WTO members - struck earlier this week. It eliminates customs duties on more than 200 high-tech products, such as semi-conductors, medical equipment, game consoles and GPS devices. The deal, initiated by the EU, covers 1.3 trillion euros in global trade - the biggest tariff-cutting deal in the World Trade Organization in almost two decades.
I sincerely hope that there will be more good news to come before this conference is over. Watch this space.