ICC has been a strong advocate of the WTO’s Doha Round since it began in 2001, but the trade negotiators’ slow progress toward striking a multilateral agreement has created a critical situation for the international business community. Negotiators must make important decisions in June and July that will determine whether agreement can be reached on two of the most contentious elements of the trade talks: agriculture and non-agricultural market access.
“The situation has become urgent,” ICC Chairman Marcus Wallenberg told the World Council during a meeting in Paris. “Deadlines must be met in June and July. ICC has tens of thousands of companies who are depending on concrete results from the Doha Round. We must make that extra effort and now is an opportune time for another push.”
In recent days, Mr Wallenberg has appeared on both CNBC and Bloomberg television to stress the critical importance global business places on a multilateral trade agreement. Mr Wallenberg is also Chairman of Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken and Chairman of Saab.
During today’s meeting, the World Council debated the effects of the increasing number of bilateral trade agreements on the multilateral trading system.
Pierre Sauvé, a trade policy expert, opened the discussions by saying that the increase in the number of countries seeking bilateral trade agreements was a natural consequence of globalization.
“Bilateral agreements are alternatives to what appears to be a very difficult quest for multilateral progress,” he said. “Regional agreements and bilateral agreements take less time to conclude. But how good are they? And for whom? Are these agreements good for development? Are they sustainable politically? Are we solving the problem of agricultural subsidies in regional agreements? Do they pose significant systemic risks to the WTO?”
Barry Desker, Vice-Chairman, Singapore Business Federation, argued that difficulty in reaching a multilateral agreement on agricultural tariffs and subsidies is not only a core problem of the Doha Round and the WTO, but that it is symptomatic of a systemic global problem affecting other multilateral intergovernmental organizations, including the World Bank and the United Nations.
Ronnie Goldberg, Executive Vice President, Policy and Program, United States Council for International Business, said: “Recognizing that governments will continue to pursue bilateral trade agreements, we must ensure that they are being negotiated to the highest possible standards.”
Mr Sauvé concluded the discussions by asking: “How do we bring greater flexibility into the WTO to reflect the realities of the world in which we are living?”