| CREDIBILITY, COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP AND A
Three gains as a result from the WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali.
by Félix Peña
English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza
The true extent of the results of the Ninth Ministerial
Conference of the WTO, held in Bali (Indonesia) from 3 to 6 December,
will only be fully appreciated with the passage of time and especially
when the commissioned work related to the future of the Doha Round negotiations
There are three initial conclusions that can be drawn
from the experience of Bali. The three are complementary and are valid
to address the future of the WTO, but also in relation to other experiences
of international negotiations aimed at improving the conditions and the
effectiveness of joint work between nations, whether at the global, the
regional or interregional level. Consider, for instance, the case of the
approach of the future of the European Union or Mercosur - two regional
experiences in process of adaptation to the new realities- or the negotiations
between Mercosur and the EU.
The first of these conclusions is that the credibility of an international
enterprise such as the WTO must receive constant feedback. It is not an
undertaking that has an end product. These evolving processes require
a succession of steps that do not respond to predetermined patterns or
have a set temporal dimension. These are steps in which political leadership;
technical competence and a sense of opportunity make the difference between
progress, stagnation or collapse. No result is guaranteed or protected
against unforeseen events or against the constant changes of the international
dynamics that never stops, especially at a time when the international
system is undergoing deep structural changes.
The second conclusion is that the next steps into the future require
an accurate diagnosis of where to untie the knots to obtain the desired
results and, most especially, an effective collective leadership resulting
from the articulation between those who have the role of "facilitators"
and those who represent the member countries.
The third conclusion is that, rather than an end result that closes
a stage of negotiations, Bali means opening a new phase in which the first
task will be to define roadmaps that reflect the many interests involved.
In this regard it must be appreciated by the future perspectives it has
generated in a key institution of the international trading system and
of global governance, which until hours before the conclusion of the Conference
seemed doomed to irrelevance.
"No agreement is better than a bad agreement" is a very common
phrase among international trade negotiators. It may reflect a tactical
position. It entails a public message for the other party or parties involved
in that those who express it need to be given more than what is being
offered to them. It is a way to pressure in order to improve the compensation
in return for what they are willing to grant, that is, to achieve the
necessary equilibrium points that enable to successfully conclude a negotiation
based on the reciprocity of interests. But it may also reflect a principled
or maximalist position. In this case, this phrase reflects the idealization
of the possible outcomes. And if so, it is the product of comparing what
is being offered with what should be the results to be obtained from the
corresponding negotiation based on certain principles. Or the eventual
results are visualized based on the optimal: that is, either everything
that is desired is obtained, or it is preferable not to get anything.
That phrase has been heard many times during the long journey that the
Doha Round has gone through since the year 2001, within the scope of the
WTO. In general, it has been based in principled or maximalist criteria,
sometimes of dogmatic roots. In Bali, Indonesia, it was mentioned by the
Indian ministerial representative in a press conference on December 5,
2013. But based on the results that were finally obtained at the end of
the WTO Ninth Ministerial Conference, at the start of December 7, it can
be considered that this time it was a phrase that reflected a tactical
And most likely this was so because most member countries seemed to be
aware that a failure of the Conference could not be good for anyone. It
would have involved an explicit display of a deep systemic crisis by leading
to a widespread perception of an institution lacking in effectiveness,
increasing thus the fear of a dangerous fragmentation of the multilateral
system of world trade. In the current international context this could
have unpredictable consequences in global governance. The spectrum of
the mega preferential trade agreements -specifically the TPP and the TTIP-
as a reflection of the logic of fragmentation, would have dominated the
global scene after a Bali marked by failure.
This has not happened and it is good news for everybody. Having prevented
failure is, in itself, the main result of Bali. But the true extent of
the issues agreed in the Ninth Ministerial Conference of the WTO may only
be fully appreciated with the passage of time and when the commissioned
work is resumed in Geneva, especially regarding the future of pending
issues in the Doha Round negotiations (to December 7, such results could
be viewed on http://wto.org/).
But perhaps what best reflects the political and practical value of what
was achieved in Bali are the words of the President of the Conference,
Mr. Gita Wirjawan, Minister of Trade of Indonesia, at the beginning of
the closing speech, when he said: "We did it".
The fact is that the Ministers had arrived in Bali amidst a pervasive
sense of inevitable failure, which at times increased on the third day
of the event. Perhaps that is why the best tribute made in Bali to Nelson
Mandela -who passed away on December 6-was recalling one of his emblematic
phrases, also evoked by the President of the Conference: "It always
seems impossible, until it is done". According to Mandela's view,
in the specific case of a divided South Africa, it is necessary to achieve
results that reflect the interests and expectations of all involved. This
is what was accomplished in Bali.
Three initial and concrete conclusions, intimately associated with each
other, may be drawn from the experience of Bali. They refer to credibility,
collective leadership and the future horizon. All three are valid to address
WTO activities hereinafter. But they are also valid in relation to the
development of other experiences of international negotiations aimed at
improving the conditions and effectiveness of joint work between sovereign
nations, whether at the regional, interregional or global level. Consider,
for example, the approach to the future in the case of the European Union
or Mercosur -two regional experiences with strong differences but with
a common need to address successfully a process of adaptation to the new
realities-, or the negotiations between Mercosur and the EU, which also
seem better directed after the bilateral ministerial Argentina-Brazil
meeting held in Buenos Aires, simultaneously with the Bali Conference.
The first conclusion is that the credibility of an international enterprise,
such as the WTO, must receive constant feedback.. This is not an undertaking
that has an end product or a guaranteed future. In order to be credible,
these kinds of processes require a series of steps that do not respond
to previous or theoretical models and that do not have a predetermined
temporal dimension. These are steps in which political leadership, technical
competence, and appropriate timing make the difference between progress,
stagnation or collapse. No result is guaranteed or protected against the
unexpected, or against the constant mutations of the international dynamics
that never stop, especially at a time when the international system is
undergoing deep structural changes, both globally and in each of the regional
and interregional spaces.
The second conclusion is that the next steps into the future require
an accurate diagnosis of the main knots that would need to be untied in
order to move forward and to achieve the desired results, most especially
a good collective leadership involving those who have the role of "facilitators"
and those who represent the interests of member countries. In the case
of the WTO such collective leadership involves a constant and efficient
interaction, a dynamic synergy between the appointed Director General
-including his main collaborators- and those who represent the member
countries in Geneva or where the Ministerial Conference takes place, in
this case especially the host country. The contrast between the experience
of Bali and other ministerial meetings -including some Summits of Heads
of State and not only global or referring to economic issues- is eloquent
in this regard.
The homage paid to Ambassador Roberto Azevedo, the new Director General
of the WTO, by the President of the Conference and the warm applause of
the Ministers that were present at the closing session show that the Brazilian
diplomat was able to understand his role and performed it with expertise,
commitment and passion. But it also shows that an effective connection
with the respective governments was achieved, for which the role of the
President of the meeting must have been essential.
The third conclusion is that, rather than an end result that closes a
stage of negotiations, Bali means the opening of a new phase of always
uncertain results in which the first task will be to define, in the coming
months, the roadmaps that reflect the multiple interests at stake. In
this sense, Bali must be valued by the perspective of a future horizon
it has installed in a key institution of the international trading system
and global governance, which until hours before the conclusion of the
Ministerial Conference seemed doomed to irrelevance and, eventually, to
an inevitable failure.
These three conclusions are good news. After Bali it is now clear that
the international trading system will require ongoing coordination of
the multiple channels of trade cooperation between the countries involved.
Such channels will have, in some cases, a "partial scope" as
per the terminology coined in LAIA (ALADI). This is the case of the multiple
modalities of preferential agreements, including the so-called new generation
mega interregional agreements. In other cases, all countries will be included
or, at least, all the countries that are interested, such as in the case
of multilateral agreements. But these will be channels that will be inserted
in the multilateral institutional framework of the WTO, through which
it should be feasible to promote the convergence of the multiple partial
actions, guarantee transparency and collective disciplines and provide
services for the settlement of disputes, essential for the preservation
of relations that are guided by rules and not just by matters of relative
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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