It may take a lower level of ambition, but the sputtering WTO trade talks may yet reach the finish line, says Ted Menzies, minister of state for finance.
Menzies has witnessed the Doha round negotiations, which began in 2001, as a farm leader, opposition trade critic and now a cabinet minister. The round was envisaged as a lever for enabling developing countries to gain a bigger role in international trade. It has bogged down in conflicting demands among developed, emerging and developing nations.
“There seems to be agreement that we will focus on what developing countries need,” Menzies said in an interview from Paris. “We should have been doing this a long time ago.”
He was in Paris for the 50th anniversary meetings of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Many of the 38 OECD countries are involved in the WTO negotiations so a review of the negotiations was on the agenda.
“We stayed out of the specifics of the talks,” Menzies notes. “But it was clear there is a lot of concern among the countries in delivering something from a decade of discussion on trade issues. The round began with great expectations for the least developed countries. We were trying to find a consensus on where the talks should go in the next few months,” he adds.
Officials will continue to discuss possible options in advance of a meeting of trade ministers in December, he says. Prior to the May 2 election campaign, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz held out little hope for a significant outcome to the WTO talks because of the divisions among countries over new rules for trade in agriculture and other products.
The Canadian Wheat Board and the dairy and poultry supply-managed boards are worried about some proposals that have been advanced during negotiating sessions in Geneva. Ritz insists Canada won’t accept changes to the detriment of either.
Menzies said the OECD anniversary meeting was “a neat event to be part of.” It began as the administrator of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after the Second World War and evolved into a highly respected economic forecasting agency. Canada has been involved with the organization since its inception.
“I’m not sure its founders ever imagined what it has become,” he says. “It does a lot of work for other countries.” It now has 38 members with Russia and other countries in the process of joining. It is currently doing work on economic revival plans for Middle East and North African countries.
Senior figures including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended the meetings, Menzies points out.