WTO talks kick off in Nairobi

As World Trade Organization ministers kick off their biennial meeting in Nairobi today, Kenyan Trade Minister Amina Mohamed said they will need to figure out how to make the global trade body work as a negotiating forum or otherwise decide whether it still has any purpose, reports our Victoria Guida, who is on the ground in Kenya.”What the membership [is] saying collectively is that the negotiating function of the WTO is broken,” Mohamed said at a press conference ahead of the opening ceremony. “We will need to either fix it, agree on a new way of negotiating, or agree to remove it so the WTO focuses on dispute settlement, on trade policy review and the other areas that do not have a negotiated element in them.”Mohamed, who is chairing the conference, held out hope that it would still be possible for members to agree to a way forward after Nairobi. WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo also struck a hopeful tone, saying the WTO is already going through “fundamental changes as we speak” and noting that it took 18 years for the body to agree to the Trade Facilitation Agreement, which members adopted last year — its first and only new agreement since its inception.

Azevedo also said he thought the odds were good that members would complete the expansion of the Information Technology Agreement. While he said China still hasn’t submitted a final offer on the phasing out of tariffs, he noted several of their experts were still on the way to Kenya.“I’m confident. I’m positive. I’m involved,” Azevedo told reporters. He met last night with some ambassadors and senior officials on the ITA talks — a meeting that indicated the situation could still go either way, WTO diplomats said. An ITA press conference is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, Nairobi time.

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