G8 Summit Weak on Trade

Realistically the business of breaking the WTO’s negotiating inertia is likely to be conducted at the politically orientated level, where compromises can be sanctioned from the highest levels, than at the current technical negotiation level. On the highest political front the G8 countries, representing the world’s richest, met in Heiligendamm, Germany in the second week of June 2007. The G8 leaders discussed a host of globally pressing issues ranging from global climate change to governance issues in developing countries. In their final communiqué trade featured as item 9 out of 9 issues addressed by the Summit. This prioritization, or lack thereof, was an early portent to a rather lacklustre one page declaration on trade which did not venture far from established rhetoric.

The trade declaration echoes the opening paragraphs of the 2001 Doha Declaration by expressing a full commitment to the development dimension of the Doha agenda, promoting progressive trade liberalisation, helping developing countries to better integrate into the multilateral trading system and providing support to the poorest countries in order to enable them to benefit from the significant opportunities of globalisation.

The G8 leaders stressed their desire for the achievement of an ambitious, balanced and comprehensive agreement on the Doha Development Agenda. They expressed their confidence in the April Ministerial Communiqué of the G6 Trade Ministers which guessed that by intensifying of negotiations, a conclusion of the Doha Round by the end of 2007 was still possible.

On the positive side, the G8 did recognise that the time had come to translate the continued commitment on political level into tangible results. They thus urged trade ministers to provide what they referred to as a ‘solid platform for a multilateral negotiation’ which would lead to an agreement on modalities within weeks. Short of instructing the trade ministers to proceed with the much needed compromises, they took a softer approach and called for the exercise of ‘flexibility’ by WTO Members, accompanied by ‘all necessary efforts’ by the negotiating groups in Geneva to achieve a timely breakthrough.

In tandem with other elements of the Summit, the leaders underlined what they saw as the ‘crucial role’ of Aid for Trade, the enhanced Integrated Framework, the role of trade related capacity building overall and the fundamental importance of increased and more effective funding. They called for increased effort to improve aid for trade elements by 2010.

The G8 Summit had the potential to go beyond carefully re-quoting existing Doha language and break new ground in issuing its closing declaration, but unfortunately stopped short of this challenge. What is significantly gained is a first world political commitment, subsequently responded to and agreed to by developing countries; that the Doha Round must end in 2007. The weight of responsibility now returns to the Geneva trade negotiators, who again have to proceed without the administration of the necessary political elixir to there now tired negotiating mandates.