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G20 sends mixed signals on trade in final declaration

On Monday, the Council of Canadians sent a letter from the Our World is Not for Sale network to Prime Minister Harper, and other Canadian ministers attending the G20, urging world leaders not to further trade liberalization talks at the summit in Los Cabos, Mexico. Based on the final summit declaration released today, it’s hard to tell what the G20 thinks should happen inside or outside the WTO. Either they didn’t made it that far on the overall G20 agenda, or (as usual) member states couldn’t agree on where to find a breakthrough in the stalled multilateral trade talks.

For example, the G20’s first volley on trade says, “We underline the importance of an open, predictable, rules-based,transparent multilateral trading system and are committed to ensure the centrality of the World Trade Organization (WTO).” But then two points later, “We value the discussion held by our Trade Ministers in Puerto Vallarta on the relevance of regional and global value chains to world trade, recognizing their role in fostering economic growth, employment and development and emphasizing the need to enhance the participation of developing countries in such value chains.”

The G20 statement continues:

We encourage a deepening of these discussions in the WTO, UNCTAD and OECD within their respective mandates, and we call on them to accelerate their work on analyzing the functioning of global value chains and their relationship with trade and investment flows, development and jobs, as well as on how to measure trade flows, to better understand how our actions affect our countries and others, and to report on progress under Russia’s Presidency.

The global supply chains issue is a project of WTO Director General Pascal Lamy. He recently put together a panel of experts to look into it but his choice of participants was controversial. The OWINFS network sent a letter to Lamy complaining of a lack of balance on the panel, which was more than half made up of business sector representatives. According to the Third World Network, several key developing country WTO members, including Brazil, India and South Africa, also made clear during a May 1 General Council meeting that the future course of global trade talks would be decided by member countries.

Not that any of this matters to countries like Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, who spent most of the G20 summit trying to negotiate their way into Trans-Pacific Partnership talks which take the trade discussion away from tricky multilateral fora like the WTO and back into the realm of power politics led by the United States.