Meeting was turning point for world trade

The WTO has been reset and is now pointed in the right direction.

Saturday January 30 2016

Delegates during the opening session of the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference in KICC, Nairobi, on December 15, 2015. Ms Amina Mohamed recollects that they negotiated and kept the entire membership informed and involved. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Delegates during the opening session of the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference in KICC, Nairobi, on December 15, 2015. Ms Amina Mohamed recollects that they negotiated and kept the entire membership informed and involved. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

At the start of 2015, the prospects for a successful outcome in the Nairobi World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference were dim and ominous. Pundits had forecast failure.

The Nairobi meeting was a negotiating conference. It was not convened to endorse a predetermined outcome.

Deadlock and unresolved issues were forwarded to Nairobi from Geneva. Resolving the main issues around the Doha Declaration would be difficult.

President Uhuru Kenyatta provided leadership in his message to the membership by calling for a strengthened, relevant WTO that would solve global problems and contribute to the recovery and growth of the global economy.

As the first African chairperson of a WTO Ministerial Conference, the first to be held in Africa, it felt as if I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.

Nairobi was a classical negotiating situation. Chief negotiators came without revealing their bottom lines, largely restrained by domestic factors and pressures.

But we rose to the occasion. We had minimal sleep and minimal nourishment. For four days and three nights, we negotiated and kept the entire membership informed and involved.

ACHIEVEMENTS

In all, the Nairobi meeting produced six ministerial decisions on agriculture, cotton and issues related to least-developed countries.

First, a major breakthrough was reached in agriculture, with the outlawing of export subsidies in developed economies and in developing countries by 2018 and 2023 respectively. This represents a valuable levelling of the playing field.

Secondly, a breakthrough was achieved on export competition on cotton, where ministers decided on the prohibition of export subsidies immediately by developed members and developing countries to do so at a later date.

Third, also associated with agriculture, the Nairobi Package reaffirmed the Bali decision on public stockholding for food security purposes.

Fourth, in the Information Technology Agreement, members agreed on a timetable for eliminating export tariffs on various products, with all WTO members set to enjoy duty-free access to the markets of the members eliminating tariffs on these products.

Consequently, two-thirds of tariff lines will be fully eliminated by July 1, 2016.

The fifth outcome of significance is for Least Developed Countries. It included enhanced preferential rules of origin and preferential treatment for LDC service providers.

The meeting decided on the facilitation of opportunities for LDCs export of goods to developed and developing countries.

FOCUSED DIRECTION

No less important Nairobi approved the terms and conditions of membership of Afghanistan and Liberia, two least developed countries.

We accepted that some WTO members may wish to raise other negotiating issues in the WTO.

However, coupled to this recognition was the decision that a consensus would be required before the launch of these negotiations.

Finally, substantively, ministers confronted the major negotiating question of the continuity of the 14-year Doha Round mandate.

As in all negotiating situations, where positions are unbridgeable, the polar positions were acknowledged in the Nairobi Declaration.

As the chairperson, this outcome was not fatal for the WTO.

The WTO has been reset and is now pointed in the right direction.

Amb. Amina Mohamed is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade and was the chairperson of the 10th

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