The Russian membership deal was agreed by the Working Party of countries negotiating with the applicant on 10 November 2011, and ended 18 years of negotiation. Russia still has to ratify the agreement and will become a member 30 days after it notifies the WTO. Under the agreement, it should ratify within 220 days (about 22 July 2012).
Ministers welcomed the agreement and the forthcoming membership of the last large economy to remain outside the WTO. Several also paid tribute to Switzerland for broking an important deal between Russia and Georgia during the final stages of the negotiations.
Earlier, ministers began their informal two-day discussions — “working sessions” — on three topics:
- The importance of the multilateral trading system and the WTO
- Trade and development (continuing on Day 3)
- The Doha Development Agenda negotiations (Day 3)
The importance of the multilateral trading system and the WTO
In the informal discussion on the multilateral trading system, many ministers or heads of delegations said the WTO is essential because it operates a system based on rules rather than on power.
Several noted that the WTO’s work is not just about the Doha Development Agenda negotiations and called for the organization’s regular work to be strengthened, for example in the various councils and committees and through improved notifications and other means of sharing information.
They commended the WTO for its role in discouraging protectionism during the financial crisis, and preventing a recurrence of the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s. They stressed that markets must remain open, especially in the current economic conditions. Some of them, however, noted that continuing economic difficulties are putting more pressure on governments to enact restrictive measures.
Strengthening the WTO and advancing the Doha negotiations, according to a number of delegations, would be important in preventing the rise of protectionism.
Many members expressed concern about the proliferation of regional trade agreements, stressing that they cannot be a substitute for an effective multilateral trading system.
Many developing countries said that they have been particularly vulnerable, especially the least developed, to restrictive measures taken during the crisis. A number of them stressed the need for political space to be given to developing countries.
Some members urged the WTO to take in new issues, like climate change, exchange rates, energy, investment, competition, and global value chains, but some others either opposed bringing some of these subjects into the WTO — one said the WTO is not competent to deal with climate change — or said this should only be done after the Doha Round is concluded in order to avoid distracting attention away from the talks.
Some supported a proposal from net food importing developing countries to set up a work programme to on dealing with the present food crisis. Some supported a proposal to remove export restrictions on food purchased by the World Food Programme for non-commercial humanitarian purposes.
Trade and development
Ministers began discussing trade and development and were to continue on the following day. Several countries, particularly developing, stressed that development is important both in the Doha Round negotiations and in relation to trade and the WTO’s work in general.
Among the themes in their comments were the importance of Aid for Trade, and its role in “mainstreaming trade into national development strategies”, the need for trade finance, and beefing up the role of the WTO Committee on Trade and Development.
A number of members welcomed the decision to streamline the membership negotiations for least developed countries. Some said agriculture is particularly important for development, and some cautioned against treating least developed countries as a homogeneous group with the same characteristics and the same needs.