The World Trade Organization has approved Taiwan's entry just one day after its arch-rival China was admitted. But it appears there has been little else for the ministers to agree on.
Big versus small. Rich versus poor. That is where the dividing line is being drawn during this year's World Trade Organization meeting in Qatar's capital, Doha.
For the most part, developed countries favor a new round aimed at liberalizing global trade while many developing countries say they are opposed to new trade talks until past agreements are fully implemented. It was their opposition during the 1999 trade talks in Seattle that prevented a new trade round to begin then.
Razeen Sally, a senior lecturer in international political economy at the London School of Economics, says it is critical for the WTO to conclude this year's meeting with some positive news for the global economy. "The WTO has really been hobbled, especially in the aftermath of the disastrous Seattle ministerial meeting," she said. "Nothing much has been happening on the WTO front over the past two years. That creates lots of dangers. It incites all kinds of protectionist pressures. So it is important to get the show back on the road for the WTO to be rejuvenated, for its rule base to be respected by all parties and to negotiate about further liberalization."
But several WTO delegates have said time may be too short for a declaration that would set the stage for a trade round to start next year.
One of the contentious issues centers on agriculture subsidies. Other issues are the environment, implementation of past WTO agreements, and patents held by pharmaceutical companies that many developing countries, suffering from high rates of HIV and AIDS, say make medication too costly.
One item of agreement at this session of the World Trade Organization is the admission of Taiwan. Taiwan's entry into the world body follows by one-day the admission of its huge neighbor and arch-rival China, whose admission was approved Saturday.