State of play at the World Trade Organisation negotiations in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Today is the last day of the eleventh session of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministers Conference meeting that is taking place in the capital city of Argentina, Buenos Aires. The WTO Ministers conference is the highest decision-making organ of the 164 Member organisation and is charged with the responsibility of providing political and policy direction.
Over the last three days, over 100 ministers from all the member states have been burning the midnight oil to create consensus over a set of up to ten issues that have remained at the centre of the complex negotiations.
Kenya’s delegation to the conference is led by Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Amb. Amina Mohamed. At the start of the conference the Ministers, on a unanimous motion, appointed Amb. Mohamed to facilitate negotiations on agriculture.
Following established customs, the Chief of WTO secretariat Roberto Azevedo presented ministers with a summary detailing the state of play on the progress made on the work programme that was passed to the Geneva-based Ambassadors in the last meeting in Nairobi.
During the last three days, Ministers from developing countries have been pushing for their preferred positions trough groupings like 79 Member African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP), Africa Group and G-77.
However, strong and more influential global trading countries like China, Brazil, Japan, United States, European Union, Canada and India have brought the flames from the Nairobi meeting to Buenos Aires. These countries are driven by the desire to maintain or accede to the higher political and strategic platform from which they can influence decisions of the WTO to their advantage. To balance these delicate interests plenty of charm and diplomacy must be deployed in measured steps and often served to different groupings with attendant sensitivities.
On the floor of the negotiations, Ministers from developing countries had to tap into the vast knowledge and networks of Amb Mohamed to unlock impasse and ensure that a politically binding decision was negotiated. Amb Mohamed has consistently maintained her strong negotiation credentials acquired from her days as Kenya’s Ambassador to Geneva, first chair of the powerful General Council and lately as the Chair of the WTO MC10 in Nairobi.
The keen interest played by the political class during the Nairobi meeting saw various delegations meet with President Kenyatta – not discuss bilateral issues but to seek his support on various competing interests. President Kenyatta’s charm was put to effective use by both the African and ACP groups. Ministers in Buenos Aires have been keen to repeat the Nairobi magic, with little success.
Consultations with negotiators and long-serving trade policy experts have intimated that intransigence from the stronger and more influential trading economies may compromise the chances of an MC11 ministerial outcome that can rival the Nairobi declaration. There is hope that the experts accompanying Amb Mohamed will be deployed to the benefit of the friendly relations between Kenya and Argentina and between the two powerful Ministerial Chairs Amb Amina and Hon Susan Malcorra.