Trade ministers seemed ready to conclude their biennial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) without reaching a single agreement Wednesday, still subject to criticism by the United States, which was once the driving force of the WTO.
Ministers meeting in Buenos Aires were never to hear about major reforms, with relatively minor and unrelated proposals on the table, including discussions on fisheries subsidies and e-commerce.
But a discordant intervention by US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer the first morning actually left the conference adrift, since the WTO requires consensus – unanimity among the 164 members – to achieve a agreement. Even the superficial joint ministerial declaration seemed uncertain.
On the basis of President Donald Trump's "America First" strategy and a preference for bilateral agreements, the United States had already prevented ambassadors from drafting a text in Geneva, rejecting references to the central role of the United States. WTO in the world trading system. a development engine.
WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters that the conference's chairman, former Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra, was still hopeful that the ministers will take action. agree on a text Wednesday.
"There still seem to be significant gaps, I do not know if they can find wording that can fill those gaps," said Rockwell
The impossibility of reaching major agreements means that negotiations on the same subjects will continue in 2018, without delay and without ministerial weight to obtain an agreement.
"It is very appropriate to remain at this stage that we are in a prospective mode," said Rockwell.
"Most of the work is concentrated on the work programs, and even if there is disappointment that we can not get a little more in terms of concrete results, it is very important to be able to establish a effective work program. "
Lighthizer told WTO ministers on Monday that it was impossible to negotiate new rules while many current rules were not being met, and that the WTO was losing its objective and became too focused on litigation.
He said that the WTO should make markets more efficient, reducing overcapacity and the influence of state-owned enterprises, widely regarded as a blow to China.
Many trade experts disagree with some parts of its analysis and are appalled that the US is opposed to new judicial appointments to the WTO, which has plunged the settlement of trade disputes in the crisis.
Ministers who followed Lighthizer on the podium offered broad support to the global trading system, with the WTO at its heart.