Education International
Education International

WTO announces 7th Ministerial Meeting

published 23 June 2009 updated 23 June 2009

Members of the World Trade Organization will hold a “scaled-down, no frills” ministerial conference in Geneva November 30 to December 2, the first formal gathering of trade ministers since 2005.

With the so-called Doha Round of talks stalled, the conference, organized under the theme of “The WTO, the Multilateral Trading System and the Current Global Economic Environment,” is already being billed as a low-key affair with senior WTO officials quick to dampen expectations that the gathering could breathe new life into the negotiations.

“This conference is not intended to be a negotiating session — the DDA [Doha Development Agenda] negotiations are on a separate track,” Mario Matus, Chile's ambassador to the WTO and chairman of the General Council said in a statement to Members. “The intention is simply to fulfil the rules of procedure.”

Matus said that given the global economic environment, the Ministerial would have to be “a more lean and economical event than in the past.”

“At the present juncture, holding the sort of conference Members have become accustomed to would not only be inappropriate, but would no doubt be seen as extravagance,” Matus added.

WTO Director General Pascal Lamy also sought to brush aside any expectations that the conference would be an opportunity to revive the Doha Round.

“A regular ministerial meeting is one thing; ministerial involvement in negotiations is another. We should not confuse the two,” Lamy told the General Council.

However, some observers say that even though the Doha Round will not be on the formal agenda of the Ministerial, it will undoubtedly be the topic of serious behind-the-scenes discussions between ministers.

An informal ministerial gathering last July in Geneva failed to break the impasse in the talks now in their 8th year, as deep divisions remain between developed and developing countries. Trade officials in Geneva say there is little hope of any significant progress being made this year as the United States, under the Obama Administration, has shown little interest in becoming fully engaged in the Round.

Last month, the new United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk suggested it would be some time before the U.S. would be willing to take a more active role in the talks.