WTO Negotiations in Abu Dhabi: Challenges Persist as Digital Tariff Ban Continues

ABU DHABI (Reuters) -In a prolonged ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi, World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiators faced setbacks in pushing through major reforms, emphasizing national interests over collective responsibility. Despite the talks extending beyond the scheduled timeframe, significant issues in agriculture, fisheries, and other pivotal areas remained unresolved.

Extension of E-Commerce Data Transmission Tariff Moratorium

The five-day negotiations concluded with a notable development – a two-year extension of the moratorium preventing tariffs on e-commerce data transmissions. This decision brings relief to businesses relying on digital trade, showcasing the intricate dynamics of global economic policies.

Impasse on Key Reforms

While the discussions delved into crucial topics like fisheries and harmful subsidization, there was a conspicuous absence of consensus. A senior European official lamented the lack of a spirit of compromise, especially on issues vital to the WTO's mandate.

Blame Game and Disappointment

European Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis expressed disappointment, attributing the lack of consensus to a handful of countries, with India singled out for blame. The blame game overshadowed the potential agreements that had substantial support from the majority of members.

India's Stance on Agriculture Stocks

India's Trade Minister Piyush Goyal, a key figure in the negotiations, defended the country's stance on permanent fixes for public holdings of agriculture stocks. Despite disagreements from developed countries, Goyal remained satisfied, stating that India had not lost anything in the process.

Intensity and Contention in Talks

Delegates described the negotiations as intense and contentious, with WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala acknowledging the challenges. Despite the difficulties, she highlighted the achievement of some important outcomes while acknowledging the incomplete resolution of other critical issues.

BRICS Disagreement and Global Fragmentation

U.S. President Joe Biden's Trade Chief, Katherine Tai, voiced concerns about potential fragmentation within the BRICS group if the talks failed. The differing perspectives of core members India and China on investment underscored the challenges in achieving a cohesive global trade agenda.

Marginalization Concerns and Pacific Island Nations

Pacific island nations raised concerns about feeling marginalized and overlooked during the talks, particularly in addressing the protection of fish stocks. Fiji's delegate, however, received a standing ovation for urging support for future negotiations on fisheries.

Uncertainty and the Role of the U.S.

Uncertainty loomed over the negotiations, with awareness of the potential impact of former President Donald Trump's disruptive policies. While the current U.S. administration under President Biden renewed support for global trade, there remained apprehension about the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

Wake-Up Call for Multilateral Trading System

John Denton, head of the International Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the weak outcomes as a wake-up call. He called for a more nuanced and constructive debate on the role of trade, both locally and globally, highlighting the necessity for a strengthened multilateral trading system.

Challenges for the UAE's Global Standing

The weak outcomes raised questions about the UAE's ambition to enhance its global interlocutor status through a focus on multilateralism. The nation, once known for assertive foreign policies, now seeks a more diplomatic and collaborative approach on the international stage.

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