Multilateral Trading System Under Scrutiny At WTO Ministerial 30/11/2009 by William New and Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)The World Trade Organization’s first full ministerial in four years is not a negotiating forum. Rather, it is bringing together some 150 trade ministers for some soul-searching on the state of the multilateral system and the work of the WTO. Measuring the event’s success (or failure, as in some past ministerials) will be difficult, but new directions may be infused into the 15-year-old organisation and a high-level political statement may be used to drive trade negotiations forward in the coming year. Some of most engaging discussion of the week may take place in a parallel event hosted by the Geneva-based International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD). The WTO has not held a full ministerial since Hong Kong in 2005, and is still working through the negotiating agenda launched in Doha, Qatar in 2001. But the group is endeavouring to show that it is “about much more than negotiations,” as WTO Director General Pascal Lamy said in a welcome statement circulated on the first day. The agenda for the 30 November to 2 December ministerial in Geneva shows the organisation is looking for new ways to make contributions to the global economic system and justify its existence after years of negotiating stalemate. The ministerial opened Monday afternoon with a plenary session, to be continued throughout the three days and featuring a steady stream of ministerial statements on the functioning of the multilateral trading system. However, the action might be in the parallel closed-door sessions all day Tuesday and Wednesday that will review the performance and prospects for the WTO. IP-Related Issues Woven into WTO Work Generally speaking, there are a number of areas at the WTO that intellectual property rights could cut across, such as services, agriculture, technology transfer and technical assistance, and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). There is a mandate at WTO to establish a register for geographical indications (product names based on places) on wines and spirits, and unmandated proposals to amend TRIPS to extend high-level GI protection to other products, and to require the disclosure of origin of genetic materials in patent applications. Also, some WTO members have been concerned about regional and national customs rules interfering with legitimate trade in generic medicines. And an action is expected later in December to extend the deadline for members to ratify a 2005 TRIPS amendment on public health aimed at helping countries import cheaper medicines. This week, it is unclear how or if any of these will arise, though they likely will be mentioned in some statements. Ministers will take two small actions in related areas, simply to extend to the next ministerial (likely in 2011) the moratorium on the use of the “non-violation” clause under TRIPS (preventing disputes being brought for government actions that do not violate WTO rules), and the moratorium on e-commerce taxes. At a special session on the GI register on Friday, the final one for outgoing Special Session Chair Trevor Clarke, his report on progress (submitted on his own behalf) was accepted without changes, according to sources (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 23 November 2009). NGOs Call for Change in Trade Talks With the return of WTO ministerials after four years has come the return of public voices urging it to change its approach to economies and societies. Protesters over the weekend disrupted the typically sedate Swiss city, causing the blocking of a main route into the centre and erupting into burning cars, broken windows and many arrests. But many groups are trying to work within the system to bring change and greater effectiveness of the 15-year-old trade body. One group, the Our World Is Not For Sale Network, consists of developing country non-governmental organisations. “Despite the current global economic, food and climate crisis, the same old Doha Round agenda remains on the table,” the group said in a release. They said there are growing calls for a “turnaround” at the WTO, to stop the Doha Round and roll back existing WTO commitments, “particularly those that have brought us to this state of crisis.” US industry groups, meanwhile, are urging a return to progress on trade issues, at WTO and as well in Washington, where they want the administration and Congress to advance the pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, and pursue the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But a move is afoot in Congress to “revamp” US trade policy. Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown and others on Monday were expected announce the introduction of the TRADE Act, which includes a renegotiation of the WTO. The bill has some 130 sponsors in the House, they said. ICTSD, Other Events On Tuesday, Google Senior Copyright Counsel William Patry will pitch his new book, “Moral Panics and Copyright Wars.” Also Tuesday, Knowledge Ecology International and IQsensato will hold an event entitled, “Proposal for a WTO Agreement on the Supply of Knowledge as a Global Public Good.” And in parallel with the WTO ministerial, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) is holding the “Geneva Trade and Development Symposium” from 30 November to 2 December. The general aim of the symposium is to provide a forum for dialogue and analysis on trade issues and sustainable development. The symposium covers areas such as agriculture, free trade agreements, the Doha Round negotiations, strengthening the functioning of WTO, climate change in the context of competitiveness and of patents in clean energy, and services and investment. At the ICTSD event opening the first day, panellists said the international multilateral trade system is evolving and the WTO might not be up to the challenge in its current configuration. But Lamy, attending the symposium, said no reforms are needed in the organisation, although some avenues need to be explored to improve the system. Speakers said it should adapt to the evolving landscape and ever-growing complexity of international trade and agreed that the organisation should be strengthened, with some reforming steps necessary. The ICTSD event opened with a session entitled, “Strengthening the Multilateral Trading System: Increasing Its Capacity to Deal with Emerging Challenges.” Lamy praised the initiative and said that the WTO “are takers,” wanting to learn and listen to the international trade community. Three avenues to improve the WTO have to be explored, he said: the strengthening of the multilateral system, the conclusion of the Doha Round, and facing new issues and challenges. Overall, Lamy said, “the system is solid” and has withstood the stress test of the crisis. Members want more monitoring and more transparency. “At this stage, strengthening the system is improving its capacity of enforcement of rules,” he said. One of the best ways to strengthen the WTO system is to conclude the Doha Development Round, he added, as it would also address part of the shortcomings shown during the crisis. Political resolve is needed to “move to the endgame,” he said. According to Lamy, the fields such as climate change, energy, and regional trade agreements can be addressed with the existing toolbox of the organisation. However, regional trade agreements rules need to be more precisely articulated as the existing rules are too shallow, giving way to too wide a margin for interpretation, he said. Although “there is no reform problem in the WTO,” he said, “we have one issue, which is the negotiating process.” WTO is in the business of market opening and not in the business of regulation, he added. “Interpretation of our rules is in the hands of our members.” Mexican Minister Gerardo Ruiz Mateos asked if in a changing environment, the WTO system was up to the challenge to manage all bilateral and multilateral agreements that are taking place, given their ever-growing complexity. According to Thomas Cottier, director of the World Trade Institute in Bern, WTO is both in the business of trade liberalisation and regulation, contrary to Lamy’s declaration. Regulation is becoming more and more important and the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement is about regulation, he said. The system should move toward a two-tiered approach, Cottier said, with trade rounds dealing with market access and also an ongoing law-making process dealing with regulatory issues. WTO is in need of reforms, according to Sergio Marchi, former Canadian trade minister now a fellow at ICTSD, and one of the first needs is to find a legitimate process to incorporate ideas that have been emanating over the previous years from commissions, study groups, and independent think tanks. For the moment, those ideas are “trade refugees,” he said, with nowhere to go. This process should be “endorsed, owned and led by WTO members themselves,” and ideally co-chaired by a developing country minister, and a developed country minister, Marchi said, adding the process should seek input from all other members and invite submissions from the stakeholder community. Marchi advised that ministers should be engaged other than in negotiations, asked to contribute to the future orientation of WTO. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related William New may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com."Multilateral Trading System Under Scrutiny At WTO Ministerial" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.