Towards a Multilateral Consensus on Trade and Investment: Bali and Beyond

This breakout session during the UNCTAD Public Symposium 2013 brought together relevant stakeholders to discuss a Multilateral Consensus on Trade and Investment that would lead to a balanced world economy in the long term, while guiding preparations for Bali Ministerial in the immediate term. Balanced and fair trade and investment rules are a pre-requisite for a balanced world economy characterised by substantially reduced poverty, job creation, and access to essential services. However, development of such rules requires inputs from, participation of, and ownership by all relevant stakeholders who too often work in their respective silos – a situation that must be reversed by encouraging and organising multi-stakeholder discussions. This is urgent as the preparations for the 9th WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in Bali, Indonesia in December 2013 pick gears which will be an important occasion to shape a Multilateral Consensus for balanced and fair multilateralism.

“We desperately need a consensus on a number of issues, including Singapore issues like investment”, said Ambassador Paivi Kairamo of Finland today while speaking on the panel of a CUTS International event themed “Towards a Multilateral Consensus on Trade and Investment: Bali and Beyond”. “But that consensus does not need to be a multilateral agreement”, added Nathalie Bernasconi-Osterwalder, Director of Investment Division at IISD.

The event, organised in Geneva as part of the 2013 session of the UNCTAD Public Symposium, aimed to hear different views on what could be the main features of a development-oriented multilateral consensus on trade and investment.

According to Rashid Kaukab, Director of CUTS International Geneva and Chair of the panel, the close inter-linkages existing between investment, trade and other issues such as the environment suggest that the usual way of working in silos has become irrelevant. “All these issues need to progress, but not necessarily in the same house. We need a multilateral consensus to establish basic principles on these issues that several organisations at the same time can work with. Investment is one of them.” He said.

“There are over three thousands bilateral investment treaties. I don’t think anybody on this planet has a good overview of this system. Except for lawyers, everybody else is unpleased,” stated the Head of Investment Programme at the International Institute on Sustainable Development, Nathalie Bernasconi-Osterwalder. She referred to the serious challenges posed by the destabilising complexity of the current international investment framework.

Interestingly, more than half such arrangements will expire this year. This is thus a good time to re-think the investment agreement model and ensure that equity and sustainability aspects are emphasized. Mrs Bernasconi-Osterwalder was however of the view that multilateral work on investment should focus on establishing guiding principles that foster coherence rather than aiming at any multilaterally negotiated treaty.

The same approach was discussed with regards to the possibility for environmental and trade agendas to move towards convergence for inclusive development. Mrs Anja von Moltke of the United Nations Environment Programme provided several leads to explore in this regard, including meaningful reform of subsidies for agriculture, fisheries and fossil fuels that will level the trade playing field as well as free up resources for investment towards a greener, yet prosperous economy.

At a time when multilateralism seems to be at crossroads, many expect the upcoming 9th WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali to provide a pointer to the future on the convergence of trade and other agendas.

Others, however, raise their voices against the renewed attention given to Singapore issues like investment, arguing that these were dropped from the Doha round in 2005 and that the priority is to complete the round. “This is diverting human resources from completing the round where least developed countries expect development outcomes”, stated Acting Ambassador Lucas Saronga of Tanzania.

Mr Shishir Priyadarshi, Director of Development Division at the WTO recalled that LDCs have actually tabled several proposals to ensure that they can take something home from Bali, including on market access implementation, rules of origin, preferential access for LDC service providers, and cotton.