U.S., Europe, and China Call for Addressing "New Issues" in the WTO


Those familiar with the history of the World Trade Organization (WTO) may also recall its long-stalled negotiations over the Doha Development Agenda (DDA or simply "Doha). Last month, a bloc of developed nations led a charge to finally dismantle those talks and allow the WTO to move forward on addressing different agendas. While this call to new action has received challenges by developing nations — led chiefly by India — the United States and the European Union have both called for the WTO to start work on "new issues" pertaining to international trade. 

While somewhat more mild in its views, according to Live Mint, China also joined the chorus calling for change by proposing a "solidarity work programme" to address a number of "very relevant new issues such as e-commerce and investment."

These calls for change came during a closed-door meeting in Davos over the weekend. Switzerland hosted the informal meeting of 22 trade ministers. These leaders came together to discuss what they should do now that Doha no longer remains an option. Aside from the United States and the EU, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, Kenya, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Lesotho, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, Russia, and Thailand participated in the meeting. Notably, India's representatives did not attend.

The U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman said after the meeting that a consensus had evolved around adopting "new approaches." While these "new approaches" remain unclear, analysts believe it would involve eliminating the special treatment given to developing countries. 

European Union trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom suggested new issues the WTO could take up in this post-Doha era, such as electronic commerce (or "e-commerce"), digital trade, investment, and domestic farm subsidies.

India opposes the focus on new issues, lobbying instead for completion of the Doha negotiations at once. Unfortunately, the Doha round of talks began in 2001 and, at the time of their dismantling, nearly 15 years had passed without successful resolution. India sees the new agenda as an attempt by industrialized nations to usurp the WTO. In response to ending the DDA round, India has begun working on its own agreements outside of the WTO. Much as China has recently opened its own organization to rival the World Bank, many believe India may soon attempt to do something similar with the WTO.