Education International
Education International

Ahead of Ministerial Conference, WTO talks remain deadlocked

published 16 September 2011 updated 22 September 2011

With a biannual meeting of the world’s trade ministers set for December in Geneva, negotiations to liberalise global trade show little sign of progress.

The continuing impasse in the World Trade Organisation’s Doha Round of talks is leading some officials to concede the negotiations are hopelessly deadlocked.

In early September, a senior U.S. trade official urged member countries to admit that Doha has failed and to establish a new approach.

“For us, it is clear that what WTO members are doing today in the Doha negotiations, indeed what we have been doing for at least the past three years, is not working,” deputy United States trade representative Michael Punke said at a meeting of the Cairns group of agricultural exporting countries.

“In the weeks between now and December, the United States will be highly sceptical of any proposal that assumes we can fix our problems by rearranging the deck chairs,” he added.

The Doha Round, launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, is aimed at liberalising the trade in agricultural, goods and services – including education services. However, deep divisions between developed and developing countries over agricultural subsidies and industrial tariffs have led to a stalemate in negotiations.

WTO Director General Pascal Lamy announced earlier this year that the organisation’s 8th Ministerial Conference will be held in Geneva from 15-17 December, 2011.

In a speech in India last month, Lamy said that ministers will “have to talk turkey” at the December conference.

“The debate is not about whether we bury the round or whether we fix another artificial deadline to conclude it,” he said. “If we are clear that the issues in the Doha Agenda need to be fixed, the challenge before us is to find the political courage and the pragmatic steps which will lead our members to have an honest negotiation.”

As with previous ministerial conferences, a delegation from Education International will attend the event to lobby for an exclusion of education and other public services from trade agreements.

“While the talks are clearly stalled at this point, there always remains the danger of a last minute breakthrough in which decisions about key sectors like public education are hastily made,” says EI’s senior advisor David Robinson. “EI and its affiliates have to remain vigilante if we are to ensure that public education is not sacrificed to the commercial imperatives of trade agreements.”