By Jane Imai
On March 8th and 9th, 2007, fifty students gathered from various Canadian universities to participate in the first ever Ottawa Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations.
This simulation, which recreated a Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), encouraged students to engage in dialogue over the principal issues surrounding the Doha Development Round while providing them with a better understanding of the multilateral negotiation process.
The students, working on different teams, acted as delegates of 10 countries: Canada, the US, the EU, Australia, Japan, Brazil, India, Mexico, China, and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) group.
The meeting opened with speeches from each country’s Minister, expressing their hopes and expectations for the outcome of the negotiations, while acting Director-General Howard Wilson spoke to them of the difficult task that lay ahead. From there the participants broke off into working groups to discuss the issues on the agenda, namely agriculture, non-agricultural market access, services, and special and differential treatment. Mr. Wilson, a former member of the Canadian Civil Service whose career distinctions include Director General of Trade Relations in the Foreign Service and Ethics Counsellor to the Prime Minister, oversaw the event’s proceedings, calling key Ministers into meetings and identifying areas of common ground and potential movement.
The students, who had been preparing for their roles for weeks prior to the event, engaged in heated yet diplomatic debates as they attempted to advance their countries’ interests. Each team had been assigned to a coach, who had experiences to share from the field as former trade negotiators, professors, or other members of the public service. Supported by their coaches, who provided valuable strategic insights, the teams reconvened from time to time to reposition themselves as new developments emerged over the course of the two days.
Not surprisingly, the major sticking point in the negotiations was agriculture. On the first day, India pressed for commitments on actual reductions of Green Box subsidies on the grounds that the annual reviews favoured by the majority of members would be redundant. Some members, led by Brazil, felt that the EU’s offer on tariff reduction was not generous enough. The US conceded that it was willing to be flexible, but that movement in the reduction of domestic supports would require a movement in market access. The next day, private bilateral discussions between the US and EU interrupted the working group session, provoking an outcry from the developing countries. Though the closed-door session went completely against the spirit of the Doha Development Agenda, an agreement between these two countries was needed in order to move the negotiations forward. Thus, though not all issues were resolved in the end, the agriculture delegates finally struck a deal at the eleventh hour, true to WTO form.
The students showed great enthusiasm in playing their roles and allowed the tension to build up during the tough negotiating sessions, although they admitted afterwards that there were no hard feelings among their newfound friends. Bonds were also formed between the teams and their coaches, whose expertise was a source of inspiration to the graduate and undergraduate students. Overall, it was an exhilarating and rewarding experience for everyone involved.