Trade ministers from around the world are gathering in Geneva this week for the eighth biennal ministerial conference of the WTO, amidst a conspicuous lack of interest in the media. The three day event is not expected to result in any significant outcome, but various meetings and negotiations on the sides may set the tone for the gathering. The conference will also welcome Russia, Samoa and Montenegro as new members of WTO.
The meeting is expected to discuss ways to open up gov ernment procurement contracts to foreign competition (expected to add between $80-100 billion to global trade per annum), among other topics, but what seems to have been decisively removed from the agenda is any negotiation about the Doha round of commerce liberalization.
The lack of media coverage on the meeting signals the low expectations on all sides for any meaningful agreement to come out of the meeting, although some, like EU Trade Comissioner Karel De Gucht believe that Russia’s long-anticipated membership in the WTO is a “strong signal” that the multilateral trading system is as relevant today as it has ever been, and furthermore hoped that the meeting would help unravel the current Doha deadlock and ensure the WTO remains a steering influence in the turbulent waters of the economic downturn.
However, not everyone seems to agree. Outside of the venue in Geneva where the talks were to be held, a small encampment has been built under the banner of “Occupy WTO,” modelled after the Occupy Wall Street movement. Like the biennal, the protest has garnered little attention and support. Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, is fighting to make room on the WTO agenda to address massive income inequalities around the world. She claims that the existence of the WTO has done nothing to prevent trade imbalances.
Based on the lack of enthusiasm surrounding the meeting, De Gucht and Burrow may both find themselves disappointed by the results.