Trade Ministers from around the world meeting in Geneva ended their discussions on 2 December by reaffirming their political commitment to concluding talks on a new global trade pact in 2010, even as deep differences remain.
In his report of the 7th Ministerial Conference, Chilean Ambassador and chair Andrés Velasco, said Ministers supported a quick end to the troubled Doha Round of trade talks and supported a stocktaking exercise to be held earlier in 2010 to examine ways to kick start the stalled negotiations.
Despite the ambition to seal the deal in 2010, however, most observers believe the differences between countries over agricultural subsidies and industrial tariffs remain far too wide to be bridged in the near future. During the past few days, the U.S. has come under increasing criticism from the European Union and the emerging economies for not being fully engaged in the talks.
While the WTO Secretariat has hailed the conference as a success, critics say trade ministers failed to recognize the link between trade, jobs and the global economic crisis.
“It is absolutely lacking credibility for Ministers speaking in Geneva to ignore the dramatic jobs impact that the crisis is having back home,” said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder. “This 7th WTO Ministerial Conference is a missed opportunity to tackle issues that are fundamental to the long-term future of the multilateral trading system.”
David Robinson, EI’s trade consultant, added that Ministers failed to learn from the lessons of the current economic crisis that there is a need for active government stimulus and expanded education and other public services to create decent jobs and promote a sustainable recovery.
“Governments have been able to moderate the impact of the crisis on jobs by re-regulating financial services, investing in public infrastructure and utilities, and boosting investments in public services, including quite centrally education and training,” he noted. “WTO Members should have used the conference to pause and to consider how commitments to trade liberalization, whether in financial services or education services or any other public service and utility, might in fact close off the policy space they need to respond to a crisis like the one we’re in now.”
The EI delegation to the conference held several meetings with senior trade officials to assess the state of GATS negotiations and to press for the exclusion of education from the agreement.
Ted Murphy, assistant general secretary with the National Tertiary Education Union in Australia explained that while the backroom discussions amongst ministers were focused mainly on agricultural and industrial tariff issues, EI affiliates need to be vigilante about the potential for the greater inclusion of education services in trade agreements.
“We have to continue to lobby our governments on education services and to monitor developments not only at the WTO, but in the regional and bilateral agreements as well,” he stated. “These agreements are likely to continue to proliferate given the continuing impasse in GATS talks, and it’s in these regional agreements that we are seeing and will likely see more significant commitment being made to open up the education sector with some serious consequences for staff, students and institutions.”