Trump’s climate “no” makes MC11 developmental outcomes unlikely

Prospects of development-friendly outcomes at the WTO Ministerial Conference this December seem to be receding in light of the US’ apparent indisposition towards multilateral engagement as reflected in its intended pullout from the Paris climate change pact.

by D. Ravi Kanth

GENEVA: The developing and least-developed countries are unlikely to secure developmental outcomes as mandated in the Doha Work Programme at the World Trade Organization’s eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires in December, after the Trump administration withdrew from the Paris climate accord and continued to remain non-committal on multilateral trade initiatives, sources told the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS).

On 1 June, US President Donald Trump announced his administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change on the grounds that the previous administration led by Barack Obama had agreed to onerous and burdensome conditions, including a commitment under the accord to contribute up to about $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, to provide aid to developing countries to cope with climate change mitigation, and to take measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Coincidentally, on the same day as the Trump announcement, the WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo held a one-on-one meeting with the new US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer to seek clarity on whether the WTO could address the specific concerns raised by the Trump administration.

Azevedo would have briefed the new USTR about the ongoing work at the WTO, particularly the “deliverables” that are being planned for the Buenos Aires meeting, as well as the US concerns on trade remedies. In the run-up to the meeting with the USTR, the Director-General  had  indicated  that he was  willing to sit down with Lighthizer to understand the specific concerns expressed by the Trump administration on the WTO Dispute Settlement Body rulings.

After the meeting, the USTR issued a bland, non-committal statement saying that the USTR “welcomed World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevedo for a meeting to discuss the important role of the WTO in the global economy.”

“Ambassador Lighthizer reaffirmed his support for improving the WTO and his commitment to working closely with US trading partners to increase the WTO’s ability to promote free and fair trade,” according to the statement.

Further, “Ambassador Lighthizer communicated his goal of building a strong working relationship with Director-General Azevedo and the WTO member economies, and he looks forward to engaging them in further discussion next week in the margins of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Ministerial Council Meeting in Paris.”

But, this did not disclose whether Azevedo and Lighthizer discussed the possible deliverables for the Ministerial Conference.

It is also not clear whether the US remains committed to addressing the outstanding Doha Work Programme issues, particularly the mandated issues like the permanent solution for public stockholding programmes for food security purposes and the Special Safeguard Mechanism for developing countries.

Further, there is no indication yet whether the US will pursue issues of its own interest such as fisheries subsidies and electronic commerce that are being accorded the highest priority by several industrialized and some developing countries.

Against this backdrop, the developing and least-developed countries must remain cautious and reassess whether they will secure any outcomes on their developmental issues at the Buenos Aires meeting starting on 10 December, and/or what strategies and tactics they must adopt in the run-up to and at Buenos Aires to get results, including on public stockholding programmes for food security and the Special Safeguard Mechanism.

The outstanding Doha issues ought to be resolved as per the WTO’s Nairobi Ministerial Declaration and decisions, but the Trump administration appears in no mood to stick to the commitments made by the previous administration in multilateral accords like the Paris Agreement or the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration. (SUNS8475)                                 

Third World Economics, Issue No. 640, 1-15 May 2017, pp2-3