The World Economic Forum (WEF) meet that draws every year the world's top political and business leaders ended in the Swiss resort town of Davos Sunday, discussing a few burning global political, economic, health and environmental issues. The fight against disease, energy security and hi-tech future also were on the agenda of discussions at the top level. This year's Forum meeting had lost much of its shine due to the absence of some star participants. Yet, so far as the future of the multilateral trade talks is concerned, there were some encouraging developments when 19 members of the World Trade organisation (WTO) agreed on a detailed timeframe designed to guide the talks to intermediate stages in late April and July. The WTO members, representing both developed and developing countries, reportedly, were in a better and accommodative mood at Davos, in contrast to what they had displayed during the Hong Kong Ministerial last month.
The WTO members are set to meet the deadline -- December 2006 -- to conclude an agreement on the so-called Doha Development Round (DDR). The negotiations on the future of the Round was saved from collapsing for the second time last month in Hong Kong through a last minute deal, though its details are still shrouded in mystery. Actually, none of the participants in the Ministerial appeared to be either happy or unhappy over the outcome of the Hong Kong meeting. But all seemed happy that talks had not met the Cancun fate. It was, actually, a face-saving arrangement agreed upon by some key players, representing both developed and developing nations, at the 'green room'. Though the rich nations agreed to cut their export subsidies to farm produces by the year 2013 and grant duty and quota waivers to exports from the least developed countries (LDCs) to their markets in exchange for access to the services and industrial markets of the developing nations, things were not as smooth as it appeared to be. The parties involved were fully aware of the hurdles they would be facing to iron out differences and meet the deadline.
At the end of the WEF meet, both WTO Director, General Pascal Lamy, and the European Union (EU) Trade Commissioner Peter Mendelson tried to give a hopeful sign about the future negotiations on the DDR. But the deep divisions within and amongst various interest groups do still persist and, actually, there has been no change of heart since the last WTO conference in Hong Kong. The rich nations are unanimous that they would open up their markets for the farm produces from the developing countries if the latter open up their services and industrial markets. However, the US also wants the EU to reform its heavily protected farm sector. There is no denying that it would be a daunting task for the members concerned to meet the deadline in an environment marred by so much of conflicting interests. The G-20 that includes China, India and Brazil, has been successful in building up a formidable alliance with other developing countries and LDCs. Under the circumstances, it would be difficult on the part of the rich nations to resist the genuine demand from the developing nations for guaranteeing a free and fair global trade deal. But such a deal does also need to focus on problems faced by an LDC like Bangladesh which virtually has nothing to gain from the possible deal. The country being a net importer of food stands to lose from the proposed cut in subsidy on farm exports by rich nations. The prospect of benefiting from the duty- and quota-free access to the rich nations also appears bleak because of the US opposition. The US position on Bangladesh's access to its market is unfair and unjust.