The World Trade Organization (WTO) has negotiated for years on a package of trade reforms that aims to reduce or eliminate barriers to world trade. Unfortunately, trade talks have reached a deadlock, and trade ministers seem unlikely to find a way to break the stalemate before they meet in Nairobi next month, according to World Trade Organization Director General Roberto Azevedo.
"We clearly are stuck in the negotiations at this point in time," said Azevedo. "I think it will be very difficult to reconcile the views. I would say impossible at this point in time."
Although the WTO has managed to agree to a few changes to the global trading rules over the last few years, much work remains incomplete. Two years ago, WTO members agreed to standardize and streamline customs procedures, but implementation of those policies has been slow. An end to tariffs on IT exports, which total $1.3 trillion each year, remains a serious concern. Brazil and the European Union (EU) have also signaled the desire to push for an end to agricultural export subsidies.
However, a number of differing opinions have kept the WTO from moving forward on key issues. Many of the concerns are not so much from the substance of the matters discussed, but from the way in which the negotiations should proceed. As a result, many feel the WTO's 10th ministerial conference, opening in Nairobi on December 15, will not advance these discussions much beyond their current state.
"I think that's very unlikely to happen," Azevedo said according to Reuters. Azevedo also indicated that the nations with the most to gain from a global trade deal include the world's poorest nations, most of which remain excluded from other regional trade talks. However, these same underrepresented nations often end up slowing the negotiations.
The WTO is comprised of 162 member states (including newest member Kazakhstan, which joined today). With so many members, disagreement almost ranks as a given. Some of these nations insist on focusing on previous negotiations, while others want to tackle these trade reform discussions in an entirely new way. Azevado said of the negotiations, "There is no agreement among WTO members on what they want to do. I just work there ... I think even after Nairobi we're going to spend some time trying to figure out how we can best interact in the WTO that would allow us to deliver with the negotiating function of the organization."