ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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New Issues in Multilateral Trade Negotiations

The declaration of the World Trade Organization's 10th ministerial conference in Nairobi provides a leeway for "new issues" to enter the multilateral trade agreements. Some of these issues have appeared in mega Free Trade Agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. WTO debated bringing some of these under its ambit in its Singapore ministerial in 1996, only to jettison most of them by 2004. But trade and investment, trade and competition policy, transparency in government procurement, "labour standards" and provisions around state-owned enterprises could make their way to multilateral agreements after the Nairobi meeting, posing serious challenges to developing and least developed countries.

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 10th ministerial conference (MC10) in Nairobi has the potential of becoming a watershed in multilateral trade negotiations, which have made very slow progress since the initiation of the Doha Development Round in November 2001. The Nairobi Ministerial Declaration of 19 December 2015 notes that “less progress has been made in Agriculture and other central components of the WTO’s negotiating agenda, namely, NAMA [Non-Agricultural Market Access], Services, Rules and Development.” The declaration also points out that “while we concur that officials should prioritize work where results have not yet been achieved, some wish to identify and discuss other issues for negotiation.” This brings to the fore the possibility of “new issues” entering the multilateral negotiations, though all members have to agree to their inclusion.

It, therefore, becomes important to identify and analyse the new issues which may enter the multilateral negotiations. It is also important to assess their likely legal and economic implications for the developing countries as well as least developed countries (LDCs) and small states. Although detailed discussions on the implications of these issues are beyond the scope of this article, it raises some questions in the hope that the queries may help countries assess the opportunities or challenges associated with the new issues.

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