inicio | contacto | buscador | imprimir   
· Presentación
· Trayectoria
· Artículos y notas
· Newsletter (español)
· Newsletter (english)
· Radar Internacional
· Tesis de posgrado
· Programas de clase
· Sitios recomendados

· Las crisis en el multilateralismo y en los acuerdos regionales
· Argentina y Brasil en
el sistema de relaciones internacionales
· Momentos y Perspectivas

  Félix Peña

2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017
2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009
Can a renovating boost be expected from the Geneva Ministerial Conference?

by Félix Peña
August 2011

English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza


The need to deepen the debate on the future of the WTO will not be absent from the upcoming Ministerial Conference of Geneva next December. It is an occasion unlike any other to give a renovating boost to a system that is showing signs of obsolescence, both in its agendas and in its work methods. There is, however, certain skepticism on the possible outcomes.

One way or the other the Doha Round will be present at this Ministerial Conference either due to the possibility -now perceived as remote- of advancing some favorable results for the least developed countries, of sending believable signals regarding its future, or due to the need of confronting the risk of a WTO that is in serious risk of losing efficiency, relevance and, above all, legitimacy.

At least three questions appear as relevant for the much needed debate on the future of the WTO. These are: How would it be possible to prevent the definite collapse of the Doha Round, at least concluding it in a less ambitious version to that which was originally planned? If this were feasible, how could the WTO be preserved from the eventual negative impact that such collapse would have on its effectiveness, credibility and relevance? And even in the case that the Doha Round were recoverable, how could political energy and technical ingenuity be harnessed for the design of a new stage of the WTO that can profit from the accumulated experience, strengthen its essential functions and innovate in its agenda of priorities, work methods and negotiation modalities?

The upcoming Cannes G20 Summit and the Geneva WTO Ministerial Conference offer an opportunity for organized regions to take up an active role in the redefinition of the architecture of the international trade system. In both opportunities, Argentina and Brazil could influence with their proposals on the rescue of the Doha Round and the design of a new stage of the WTO. It would be reasonable to expect that both countries coordinate their positions and that, in the measure that is possible, that they also reflect the points of view of Mercosur and of the South American region as a whole.

The evident difficulties to conclude the Doha Round negotiations are promoting a healthy debate on the future of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its role in world trade. This is a debate that will not be absent at the 8th Ministerial Conference to be held in Geneva between the 15th and 17th December of this year. This is the WTO's main body and it is stipulated to meet every two years.

For some time it was understood that the main question in relation to the future of the WTO was how to conclude, while taking into account all the different interests at stake, an "ambitious and balanced" Doha Round that also had a clear impact on economic progress, particularly of the developing and underdeveloped countries. Even when this is still a valid question it will be difficult to find a satisfactory answer in the current economic and political world context, especially considering the so-called "single undertaking" requirement. Very few hope for a conclusion of the Doha Round before the start of the new US presidential term. It is also considered very unlikely that any basic agreement will be reached at the Ministerial Conference of December, even for the most optimistic forecasts.

Today, the debate on the future of the WTO could be focused on many questions. However there is one that stands out above the rest: How to adapt the global multilateral trade system, first institutionalized by the GATT and now by the WTO, to the realities of a world that is completely different from that which originated them, whose characteristics can be clearly observed in numerous events that have an impact on international trade relations and even penetrate deep into the everyday lives of the member countries?

On the upcoming Ministerial Conference much of the attention will be focused on the outcome of the deliberations to see if they result in a clear renovating boost of a system that is showing signs of obsolescence, both in its agendas and its work methods. Such boost could translate into a Plan of Action with clear signals of the steps to be conceived and eventually followed in order to adapt the WTO to the new international context. There is, however, certain skepticism regarding the results that may be achieved next December. It has even been questioned if the expense of the public funds that such international gatherings demand can really be justified on this occasion.

The results of this type of Ministerial Conference rely on the quality of the preparation process and the political leadership of the member countries or group of countries that are in better condition and have greater legitimacy. Additionally, it may depend on the quality of the leadership -or lack of it thereof- of the home country if the meeting were to take place, in the specific case of the WTO, outside of Geneva. It also depends on the efficiency of the technical leadership of the Director General.

On July 27, before the August recess, the President of the General Council of the WTO, Ambassador Yonov Frederick Agah, referred to the preparation for the Ministerial Conference. He emphasized that during the preparation process, that will take place between September and the start of the meeting, it should be remembered that "the WTO is not limited to the Doha Round: the WTO is more than Doha" (see the full text of his statements on However, in one way or the other, the Doha Round will be present in December's meeting, either due to the possibility -now perceived as remote- of advancing some favorable results for the least developed countries, the also now uncertain possibility of sending clear and believable signals regarding its future, or due to the need of facing the specter of a WTO that is in great danger of losing effectiveness, relevance and, ultimately, legitimacy.

As the date of the Geneva Ministerial Conference approaches, three are the concrete questions that would seem relevant for the necessary debate. These are not indeed the only ones and each one of them admits several unfolding possibilities. They are, however, the questions that were raised on July 7 at the meeting of a work team of the Evian Group in Lausanne (on this regard refer to and those expressed by renown experts at the Trade Forum of CUTS International - Consumer Unity & Trust Society (

These questions are: how would it be possible to prevent the definite collapse of the Doha Round, at least concluding it in a less ambitious version than was originally planned? If this were not possible, how could the WTO be preserved from the eventual negative impact that such collapse would have on its effectiveness, credibility and relevance? And even in the case that the Doha Round were recoverable, how could political drive and technical ingenuity be harnessed for the design of a new stage of the WTO that allows to capitalize on the experience of the last ten years, strengthen its essential functions and innovate the agenda of priorities, work methods and negotiating modalities? (On this regard refer to my column in "El Cronista" newspaper, Buenos Aires, August 4, 2011, "Aportes para un necesario debate sobre el futuro de la OMC", on

In order to search for answers to these questions, three facts related to the WTO should be taken into consideration.

The first relevant fact is that, currently, this organization is inserted in a world reality that is different from that which originated it back in 1994 and, in particular, to that which originated the GATT, in 1947, from which the main sustaining rules of the global multilateral trade system derive. Certain events illustrate the emergence of a new context and everything indicates that their effect will be accentuated in the next years. Without overlooking other facts, which may be just as relevant, we can mention the following: the strong shifts in the relative strength of the main member countries -especially due to the prevailing perception of the markets on their current and potential influence in the world trade of goods and services and in investment and technological flows-; the assertive participation of emerging and re-emerging economies -such the cases of China and India-; the growing relevance of the multiple modalities of international production networks -reflected by the concept "made in the world" accurately coined by the Director General of the WTO- (on this regard see -; and the proliferation of preferential trade agreements -about 300 according to the Report on World Trade 2011, recently published in Geneva ( see

The second important fact is related to the validity and relevance of some of the WTO's essential functions, which would be convenient to strengthen. These entail the creation of rules that enable to achieve a reasonable degree of collective disciplines in the trade policies of member countries; an ambit to guide and direct the different modalities of international trade negotiations -global, multilateral, sector, preferential-, and an efficient mechanism for the resolution of conflicts originated from the application of its regulations.

Finally, the third relevant fact is that since its creation the GATT-WTO system has accumulated experiences, even with the Doha Round, that are useful -both the positive an the negative- to appreciate the potential effectiveness of different mechanisms and instruments for the growth of world trade and to accentuate its impact on the sustainable economic development of its member countries, particularly the developing and underdeveloped ones.

More than a debate that is circumscribed to the diplomacy of Geneva or the corresponding capitals, or even to the academic arena, the answers to the abovementioned questions -as well as to those that may come up from the debate and preparatory process for the December Conference- should also result from the participation, in each of the WTO member countries, of the multiple actors with vested interests in international trade relations, either governmental or non-governmental.

This could be a debate in which, if intended, modern IT technologies could allow for a broader participation of all those involved. This could be attained in the measure that such participation is valued and facilitated by at least the main WTO member countries. In this case, a path would open up to move forward towards a WTO 2.0. On this regard, the potential offered by the new smarter version of the webpage of the organization could be capitalized.

One way of clearly facing the future of the multilateral global trade system institutionalized by the WTO would be to acknowledge the need of introducing new issues in its work agenda, renewing the negotiating methods and assimilating the profound changes that have taken place recently in the map of international trade relations and global economic competition. An example of the issues that are acquiring a special relevance in the agenda of international trade relations as a consequence of the new global context, is that of the relation between exchange rate parities and the instruments of international trade, especially those that result from the commitments undertaken in trade negotiations within the scope of the WTO and other preferential agreements (on this regard refer to the recent IPEA report listed as recommended reading at the end of this newsletter, which includes the research results of a group of economists including Vera Thorstensen, a prestigious specialist in international trade and WTO issues).

It is not realistic to expect the Ministerial Conference of Geneva to provide effective answers to all the questions that may be raised regarding the future of the WTO. However, it would be reasonable that, at the very least, the ministers agree to appoint a group of experts to prepare a report with the alternative solutions to the main issues that they raise regarding a WTO that is feasible and efficient. In such case, there should be an extraordinary minister's meeting next year to attempt to reach an understanding that initiates the process of metamorphosis of the current WTO. This suggestion is a variation of that presented on August 12 by Jean-Pierre Lehmann during the debate on the WTO and its future, which is taking place within the Trade Forum of CUTS International mentioned above.

Some facts may eventually contribute to a successful Ministerial Conference in Geneva. One of them is that, some weeks before the meeting, the G20 Summit will meet in Cannes, this time under France's presidency. This is an opportunity to provide concrete political orientation to the Ministers that will attend the Geneva Conference. Another fact is that some of the regions represented in one way or the other at the G20 are developing their own analysis of the measures that should be taken in different fronts, including the global multilateral one, taking into account the deepening of the world economic and financial crisis and its visible effects on the political and social life of many countries. This is indeed the case of the European Union, at the epicenter of the current crisis. It is also the case of Southeast Asia (on this regard see the final declaration of the 43rd Economic Ministers Meeting of the ASEAN, held in Manado, Indonesia on August 10th and 11th, 2011, on and of South America. An innovation that is worth noticing is that UNASUR has created an Economic and Finance Council, whose first meeting at the ministerial level was held in Buenos Aires on August 12 (it was not possible to find the full text of the final declaration on the Internet, but aside from the declarations of the participating ministers reflected in the media, a more detailed version of what was agreed may be consulted on

Both in relation to the G20 Summit as well as to the WTO Ministerial Conference of Geneva an opportunity has opened up for organized regions to take a leading role in the definition of a new architecture of the international trade system. In both opportunities Argentina and Brazil may influence with their proposals on the eventual rescuing of the Doha Round and the design of a new stage of the WTO. It would be reasonable to expect that both countries coordinate their positions and that, in the measure that is possible, they can also reflect the points of view of Mercosur and of the South American region. On this regard the new Council created within UNASUR offers a favorable environment.

Recommended Reading:

  • Acharya, Amitav, "Whose Ideas Matter? Agency and Power in Asian Regionalism", Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London 2011.
  • ADB, "Institutions for Regional Integration. Toward an Asian Economic Community", Asian Development Bank (ADB), Manila 2010, en
  • APEC, "Investing Across Borders - APEC. A benchmarking report on foreign direct investment regulation in the APEC member economies and other economies", APEC Investments Expert's Group - APEC Committee on Trade and Investment - APEC Secretariat, Singapore May 2011, en
  • ASEAN, "Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity", Association of South East Nations (ASEAN), Hanoi, October 2010, en
  • Bartesaghi, Ignacio, "El Mercado Común del Sur: 1991-2010. Los resultados alcanzados en las reuniones del Consejo del Mercado Común desde la perspectiva del sector industrial", Cámara de Industrias del Uruguay, Montevideo 2011.
  • Chase, Kerry A., "Trading Blocs. States, Firms, and Regions in the World Economy", Michigan Studies in International Political Economy, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2008.
  • Chinnery, John, "Treasures of China. The Glories of the Kingdom of the Dragon", Metro Books, New York 2011.
  • CRIES, "Los desafíos del multilateralismo en América Latina", Pensamiento propio. Publicación Trilingüe de Ciencias Sociales de América Latina y el Caribe, Edición especial CRIES-Universidad de Salamanca-Universidad Iberoamericana, N° 33, Buenos Aires, Enero-Junio 2011 - Año 16.
  • Deere Birkbeck, Carolyn (ed.), "Making Global Trade Governance Work for Development Perspectives and Priorities from Developing Countries", Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2011.
  • Deere Birkbeck, Carolyn; Harbourd, Meg, "Developing Country Coalitions in the WTO: Strategies for Improving the Influence of the WTO's Weakest and Poorest Members", University College Oxford-Department of Politics and International Relations, GEG Working Paper 2011/63, Oxford July 2011, en
  • Durán Barba, Jaime; Nieto, Santiago, "Mujer, sexualidad, internet y política. Los nuevos electores latinoamericanos", Fondo de Cultura Económica, México 2006.
  • Evans, Richard, "Deng Xiaoping. And the Making of Modern China", Penguin Books, New York-London 1995.
  • Fairbank, John King; Goldman, Merle, "China. A New History", The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge-London 2006.
  • Ford, Christopher A., "The Mind of Empire. China's History and Modern Foreign Relations", The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky 2010.
  • Gayá, Romina; Michalczewsky, Kathia, "El salto exportador del Mercosur en 2003-2008. Más allá del boom de las materias primas", BID-INTAL, Notas técnicas, TN 292, Buenos Aires 2011, en
  • Hsü, Immanuel C.Y., "The Rise of Modern China", Oxford University Press, Oxford-New York 2000.
  • INSEAD, "The Global Innovation Index 2011. Accelerating Growth and Development", INSEAD-The Business School for the World, Fontainebleau 2011, en
  • IPEA, "Impactos do Câmbio nos Instrumentos de Comércio Internacional: o caso das tarifas", Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Avanzada (IPEA), Comunicados do IPEA nro. 106, Brasilia, 11 de agosto de 2011, en
  • Magnus, George, "Uprising. Will Emerging Markets Shape or Shake the World Economy?", Wiley, Chichester, West Sussex 2011.
  • Mattli, Walter, "The Logic of Integration. Europe and Beyond", Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2001.
  • Mochkofsky, Graciela, "Pecado Original. Clarín, los Kirchner y la Lucha por el Poder", Espejo de la Argentina - Planeta, Buenos Aires 2011.
  • Morgan, Glyn, "The Idea of a European Superstate. Public Justification and European Integration", Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford 2005.
  • Nieto, Luis, "Las pesadillas de Fidel Castro", Editorial Fin de Siglo, Montevideo 2011.
  • OMC, "Informe sobre el Comercio Mundial - 2011. La OMC y los acuerdos comerciales preferenciales: de la coexistencia a la coherencia", publicación de la Organización Mundial del Comercio (OMC), Ginebra Julio 2011, en
  • Román, Alfredo, "El legado. Reflexiones para lograr una sociedad mejor (Trabajo-Ética-Familia), Aguilar, Buenos Aires 2011.
  • Schelley, Mary, "Frankenstein", Simon and Brown, 2010.
  • Stamponi, Guillermo, "La Misión Permanente de la República Argentina ante los Organismos Internacionales en Ginebra. Breve Historia", Buenos Aires 2008.
  • Spence, Jonathan D., "The Search for Modern China", W.W.Norton & Company, New York-London 1999.
  • Warleigh-Lack, Alex; Robinson, Nick; Rosamond, Ben (eds.), "New Regionalism and the European Union. Dialogues, comparisons and new research directions", Routledge/ECPR Studies in European Political Science, London and New York 2011.

Félix Peña Director of the Institute of International Trade at the ICBC Foundation. Director of the Masters Degree in International Trade Relations at Tres de Febrero National University (UNTREF). Member of the Executive Committee of the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI). Member of the Evian Group Brains Trust. More information. |

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive a monthly e-mail with the
latest articles published on this site.


Regresar a la página anterior | Top de la página | Imprimir artículo

Diseño y producción: Rodrigo Silvosa