As rice and soya prices rocket, the interdependence of world trade has never been more apparent. Steps to increase the openness and effectiveness of the World Trade Organisation has benn debated by MEPs on Wednesday 24th, April. Among the measures suggested by Italian MEP Cristiana Muscardini (UEN) is a parliamentary assembly for the WTO. Her report also calls for the categories "developed" and "developing" countries to be updated. "The time has come to carry out a serious and balanced discussion to reform from an institutional point of view the World Trade Organization and make it more effective and democratic," said Ms Muscardini. "It reaffirms the importance of trade as a mechanism for effective growth and development, especially for the poorest countries."
The report calls the Geneva-based organisation the "cornerstone of the whole world trade system". The European Union is a member of the WTO with the European Commission acting on its behalf. MEPs who have supported the report want the Commission to raise the case for reform in Geneva.
Parliamentary Assembly for WTO
The report proposes setting up a parliamentary assembly of MPs from the 151 states. This could help make the Organisation more open and fair as well as making parliaments more aware of trade issues. The EP already supports the "parliamentary conference on the WTO" which the European Parliament has supported and co-financed for several years.
This is part of a wider call for the workings of the WTO to be re-examined. The former director general of the trade organisation Supachai Panitchpakdi told the parliament's international trade committee last year that some of the WTO's workings were "dysfunctional".
Complete Doha trade round to help developing countries
The report stresses that the "Doha development round" launched in 2001 must be completed to help developing countries. But it calls for exemptions given to developing countries like China, India and Brazil to be re-examined. These countries have "emerged" and have little in common with less developed poorer countries, it said. It wants a clearer grouping of countries based on economic indicators.
Closer WTO-UN cooperation needed to protect values
In the debate MEPs are asked to consider whether the WTO can cooperate better with other international organisations like the International Labour Organisation, the World Bank and various UN food and development Agencies. The report makes the case for this as globalisation affects so many aspects of people's lives. It also wants the WTO to be consistent with UN Agencies in ensuring trade rules fully respect human rights law and social and environmental standards".
Consensus needed - but on every single issue?
Unlike most meetings of EU Ministers where a majority or qualified majority can be used for voting, the WTO is run by consensus. As it has 151 members with very different concerns this can make agreement problematic. Ms Muscardini wants the core principle of consensus to remain the key principle but wants new methods adopted to achieve consensus in certain key areas.
Another aspect in the debate is a call for the wealthy developed nations to help poor countries to develop knowledge and technical know-how to adapt and implement the complex rules of the WTO.
The report has already been endorsed by Ms Muscardini's colleagues on the International Trade Committee as well as MEPs on the development and economic and monetary affairs committee.
Further information :
- Report on WTO reform
- International Trade Committee
- Cristiana Muscardini MEP
- Watch Strasbourg debates live