Multilateral global trade agreement possible at Nairobi summit

December 17, 2015, 11:47am

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during the official opening of the World Trade Organisation's 10th Ministerial Conference at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre on December 15, 2015. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By Otiato Guguyu

Paris success dominated the opening of the World Trade Oraganization’s (WTO) tenth ministerial meeting in Nairobi, a sign that a multilateral agreement is possible.

The talks around a possible Nairobi declaration began on Tuesday with government ministers from 162 member states expected to negotiate for the coming three days.

The elephant in the room are aspects of the Doha Development Round talks that would force developed nations to cut huge subsidies they have been offering their farmers.

Developing nations also want unfettered market access to which has been hindered by use of standardisation requirements as well as assistance to build trade capacity.

India is also calling for Special Safeguard Mechanism to allow developing Nations to temporarily hike import duties to counter sudden import surges and price falls when the subsidised exports from developed nations hit less developed markets.

Although the issues remain thorny, leaders opened the deliberations on a hopeful note stating a Nairobi declaration can be reached.

“Achievement of a deal is possible given similar deals in the multinational community this year. In July 2015 we had a successful third International Conference on Financing for Development, followed by adoption of 2030 agenda of sustainable development goals, and then crowned it all in the past week at the COP21 in Paris France where we reached historic agreement to combat climate change,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said.

The Kenyan President pressed that the momentum could be carried along to the WTO talks with the spirit to achieve what was thought impossible.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose country has applied to join the WTO alongside Afghanistan, said a Nairobi outcome would cap the Paris achievement.

“Just as we celebrated the achievement at Paris, I look forward to celebrate a Nairobi outcome that fosters trade in the developing world,” Ms Sirleaf said.

WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo said the challenges world leaders faced had seemed impossible at Paris until it was solved which meant that a similar stalemate for WTO did not mean a dead end.

“Climate change has been intractable problem, after many years of efforts we now have a deal from Paris, we should be inspired in that breakthrough here in Nairobi,” Mr Azavedo said.

UNCTAD Secretary General Mukhisa Kituyi urged the member states to work towards the outcome just like they did 14 years ago when the body crafted the Doha Round, just one year after the world embarked on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which has been reviewed this year.

“Today as we meet, you are the first international meeting where you can show fidelity and have an opportunity to state the trade community is willing to play their part in banishing extreme poverty,” he said.

The talks now enter the difficult part after the working group in Geneva failed to agree on whether to use the 2008 draft texts in agriculture and Non-Agricultural Market access (NAMA) – and if so, to what extent – as well as what ambition to aim toward.

A Nairobi declaration will also likely depend on political goodwill of the world powers who are not willing to abolish trading policies in agriculture and food security, and intellectual property rights that give them advantage over poor nations.