The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been labouring a lot since its inception to further improve the prospects of trade of its 148 members for the shared benefits of each of them. The same was the case with the general agreement on tariff and trade (GATT) in the seventies and eighties that brought about comprehensive agreements. Those agreements -- and the present ones already reached or under negotiations by the WTO -- are among the countries of the world at their different stages of development -- as developed, developing and least developed ones -- on trade as a way of collectively increasing economic opportunities for all. On its part, the WTO is now engaged in its latest GATT like round of talks which is known as the Doha round from its initiation some years ago in the Qatari capital city of Doha.
The next meeting of the WTO under the Doha round is scheduled for holding this month at Hong Kong. The WTO members include the world's richest or the developed countries, the fast developing countries, the poorer countries and the poorest ones. The aim of the current Doha round is to arrive at agreements on key issues of trade and development by all of its members who would be attending the Hong Kong meeting. The trade members and their delegations would want to reach accords as neatly as possible so that the Doha round can be concluded by 2007, as envisioned. There are strong compulsions to complete the present round as projected because the US President would be losing his special empowerment to negotiate on behalf of his country at the WTO talks after 2007. The failure to reach any accord on the issues under the Doha round this would put into uncertainty any WTO-brokered deal without the ready assent of its most powerful member. Furthermore, the previous WTO talks have all led to watered-down declarations seeking to reflect a consensus. But that consensuses were mainly about agreeing to hold further talks to resolve differences than actually yielding anything of substantive value.
There are good enough reasons to fear that the results from the Hong Kong meeting may also similarly fall short of the expectations. The delegations in their hurry to wrap up the round or in their impatience to allow it to lag, may go for a compromise leading to a weaker deal. They may agree to a face-saving formula which could lead mainly to pledges to lower tariff by the developing countries and subsidy ceilings by the developed ones. But that may not meet the requirements for actually declaring the concrete terms of such concessions or ways of creating the realistic conditions for more access to their respective markets. It is more the expert view now that the developed countries at Hong Kong will offer generally to cut farm subsidies and tariffs that will reduce the theoretical ceilings for protection rather than actual applied rates. In that case, without real and substantial cuts in tariffs and subsidies from the rich countries, the developing nations are unlikely to offer reciprocal reductions in the protection they extend to their goods and services markets. Thus, there is more likelihood of a deadlock or a semblance of an agreement at Hong Kong when the expectations are for hard-headed decision to realise the potential of expanded global trade from more substantial decisions.
The World Bank estimated last October that successful outcome in the Doha round can lead to a vast increase in global trade. All round trade liberalization yielded from successful culmination of such WTO-sponsored talks can lead to an increase in value of global trade by $287 billion. In the event of its happening, that may lead to lifting 66 million people out of poverty. Developing countries stand a chance to reap $86 billion of these total gains. Thus, the imperative at the Hong Kong meeting for all national delegations ought to be trying their best to work out a satisfactory deal within the anticipated time-frame to share in the collective gains.