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    Global Business Stands Up For Multilateral Trade At WTO

    Published on 16 March 2012 @ 2:21 pm

    By for Intellectual Property Watch

    The global business community this week re-committed its support to governments in multilateral trade negotiations in the hopes of overcoming the Doha Round stalemate. Business and trade experts from more than 20 countries gathered at the World Trade Organization for a first conference bringing private sector perspectives to international trade.

    Conference topics [Agenda doc] ranged from the impact of plurilateral agreements on the multilateral trading system to suggestions of new ways forward for the WTO. One suggestion included reforming WTO decision-making rules and advancing the Doha agenda through enumerated plurilateral agreements.

    Launched in December 2011 during the WTO 8th Ministerial Conference, the International Chamber of Commerce Business World Trade Agenda aims to establish a set of global business priorities in multilateral trade negotiations. More than 60 business and trade leaders convened in Geneva from 13-14 March kicking off the process planned to culminate at a Doha Business Summit in April 2013.

    WTO Director General Pascal Lamy congratulated the ICC on its initiative. “If you look back at the last 10 years, the voice of business in the multilateral trading system hasn’t been that loud,” he said at the conference media briefing. “Now of course, the crisis has triggered a very different situation, a very different picture. Welcome back.”

    Business leaders agreed that in the context of the ongoing global economic crisis, they have an important role to play in ensuring that multilateral trade and investment continue to move forward. Victor K. Fung, chairman of Hong Kong corporate giant Li & Fung and ICC honorary chairman, said at the conference media briefing, “I think this has come at a very crucial time in the world economy. As we all know, protectionism is very much on the rise. I think that we have reached a point where the multilateral trading system really is under as much threat as it has ever been.”

    The latest round of WTO trade negotiations began in 2001 and has been blocked in large part due to the “single undertaking” decision-making process wherein nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. The Doha Round includes about 20 areas of trade. For the WTO secretariat, the way forward is by taking small steps. A strategy the business community seems to support.

    A New Way Forward

    In his opening remarks, Gary Hufbauer, Reginald Jones Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, DC, spoke on, “The way forward in the WTO: coupling trade and WTO reform.” The economist detailed his suggestions along with co-author Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the same institute, in a policy brief entitled, “Will the WTO Enjoy a Bright Future?” The brief was distributed to the ICC conference participants in draft form.

    In short, the economists argue that, yes, the WTO’s future is bright, as long as it adapts to the needs of today’s international economy.

    “I am saying that the WTO has to change a lot, and change some of its rules, otherwise it will become irrelevant to trade negotiations in the future. Because these rules are fatal to doing, what I call, big business, serious business,” Hufbauer told Intellectual Property Watch.

    According to the policy paper, “single undertaking” decision-making is a dead end. The economists recommend that policymakers should move forward through selected plurilateral agreements. As countries continue negotiating agreements outside of the WTO framework, concluding agreements such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) (IPW, Bilateral/Regional Negotiations, 29 February 2012) Hufbauer calls for keeping plurilateral agreements inside of the international trade institution.

    “The advantage of keeping such deals inside the WTO is that it will be easier for other countries to become members as time goes on. And for countries that are in the plurilateral, they can use the existing dispute settlement system, and other services,” he told Intellectual Property Watch.

    While many business and trade experts seem to support the plurilateral path, some emphasised the importance of ensuring that such agreements benefit all member states. WTO Director of the Trade in Services Division, Abdel Hamid Mamdouh, spoke during the conference. Afterwards, he told Intellectual Property Watch that one must be careful with the term “plurilateral approach.”

    “There is a plurilateral negotiation with a multilateral outcome, where a subset of the membership would get together in a plurilateral negotiating exercise, but the outcome by way of commitment would benefit the entire membership, i.e., their legal obligations would be applied on a most favoured nations (MFN) treatment basis,” he told Intellectual Property Watch. He cited the WTO Information Technology Agreement (ITA), which opens duty free trade between its 73 member countries, as an example of a plurilateral negotiation with a multilateral outcome. “It’s applied on an MFN basis and all WTO members benefit from the outcome.”

    In the proposal put forth by Hufbauer, “conditional MFN will likely serve as a cornerstone for plurilateral agreements.” This would mean that “three-fourths of WTO members must agree to a waiver” and forgo the unconditional MFN principle.

    Advancing Negotiations Where Possible

    Regardless of the decision-making modalities, moving forward on selected agreements that are already widely supported by member states is seen as a realistic path in the short term.

    In Pascal Lamy’s welcome and introduction, he said that given the current Doha situation, negotiations should move forward in a “piece meal” manner and that WTO 8th Ministerial Conference (MC8) ministers have given negotiators the “green light” to do so. Lamy cited the Trade Facilitation Agreement as one deal that negotiators likely could strike.

    The agreement is expected to facilitate and increase trading opportunities by expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods. Trade experts say such a deal would be a significant stimulus for the real economy. “All estimates of the cost of processing trade world wide is to the tune of 10% of the value of world trade…. If a Trade Facilitation Agreement was to conclude, 5 years from now, the overall cost of processing trade world wide would go down from this 10% to 5%,” Lamy said.

    It is expected that concluding the Trade Facilitation Agreement will figure amongst the ICC’s World Trade Agenda priorities.

    Industries represented at the ICC event were wide-ranging, such as transfreight, energy, publishing, micro-finance, inusrance, consumer goods, and tobacco, and were from developed and developing countries.

    Although intellectual property rights issues are of key interest to business leaders, it’s unlikely that major IPR recommendations will make the ICC’s list. ICC Secretary General Jean-Guy Carrier told Intellectual Property Watch, “Right now, I would say that it’s not at the top of the list. Simply because there are so many more easily attainable goals.”

    Related article here.

    Rachel Marusak Hermann may be reached at info@ip-watch.org.

     


    Leave a Reply

    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website. By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website.

    By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    1. You agree that you are fully responsible for the content that you post. You will not knowingly post content that violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property right of any third party or which you know is under a confidentiality obligation preventing its publication and that you will request removal of the same should you discover that you have violated this provision. Likewise, you may not post content that is libelous, defamatory, obscene, abusive, that violates a third party's right to privacy, that otherwise violates any applicable local, state, national or international law, that amounts to spamming or that is otherwise inappropriate. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual preference, disability or other classification. Epithets and other language intended to intimidate or to incite violence are also prohibited. Furthermore, you may not impersonate others.

    2. You understand and agree that Intellectual Property Watch is not responsible for any content posted by you or third parties. You further understand that IP Watch does not monitor the content posted. Nevertheless, IP Watch may monitor the any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove, edit or otherwise alter content that it deems inappropriate for any reason whatever without consent nor notice. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on our site. IP Watch is not in any manner endorsing the content of the discussion forums and cannot and will not vouch for its reliability or otherwise accept liability for it.

    3. By submitting any contribution to IP Watch, you warrant that your contribution is your own original work and that you have the right to make it available to IP Watch for all purposes and you agree to indemnify IP Watch, its directors, employees and agents against all damages, legal fees and others expenses that may be incurred by IP Watch as a result of your breach of warranty or of these terms.

    4. You further agree not to publish any personal information about yourself or anyone else (for example telephone number or home address). If you add a comment to a blog, be aware that your email address will be apparent.

    5. IP Watch will not be liable for any loss including but not limited to the following (whether such losses are foreseen, known or otherwise): loss of data, loss of revenue or anticipated profit, loss of business, loss of opportunity, loss of goodwill or injury to reputation, losses suffered by third parties, any indirect, consequential or exemplary damages.

    6. You understand and agree that the discussion forums are to be used only for non-commercial purposes. You may not solicit funds, promote commercial entities or otherwise engage in commercial activity in our discussion forums.

    7. You acknowledge and agree that you use and/or rely on any information obtained through the discussion forums at your own risk.

    8. For any content that you post, you hereby grant to IP Watch the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, exclusive and fully sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part, world-wide and to incorporate it in other works, in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

    9. These terms and your posts and contributions shall be governed and interpreted in accordance with the laws of Switzerland (without giving effect to conflict of laws principles thereof) and any dispute exclusively settled by the Courts of the Canton of Geneva.

     

     
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