Friday, April 13, 2007

Doha Wheezes On

The Economist reports on the negotiations that are ongoing for the chronically ill Doha Round of trade talks, with Doha insisting "I'm not dead yet":
The Doha round looks for salvation in Delhi

America's trade negotiators arrived in Delhi arguing that they cannot ask their farmers to accept bigger cuts in state handouts unless they can also offer them better opportunities to sell their crops overseas. But the World Trade Organisation's poorer members, led by India, are reluctant to cut tariffs much on a category of “special products”. This is supposed to be limited to staple goods—such as rice, wheat, onions and poultry—on which the poor depend for their nourishment and vulnerable farmers depend for their livelihood. Countries like Indonesia and the Philippines would probably settle for shielding a handful of such products from the full force of a tariff cut. India, on the other hand, has a wish list of about 80, which reportedly includes even whiskey, a staple form of nourishment for India's urban elite.

It appears to be this deadlock, more than any other, that prompted Susan Schwab, America's trade representative, to lower expectations for the Delhi talks, describing them merely as a stocktaking exercise, before she returned to the original purpose of her trip, a long-scheduled meeting of America and India's bilateral Trade Policy Forum. Her EU counterpart, Peter Mandelson, on the other hand, has described the talks as “timely and important”. As The Economist went to press it was still too soon to say which description was more apt. But unless the four parties, which have been privately talking to one another since January, cook up a compromise in Delhi or soon after, the rest of the WTO's 150-strong membership will lose patience with them.
Unlike bilateral free-trade agreements like CAFTA or the US-Korea FTA, which I think do little to help anyone other than a few specific industries or companies, the Doha Round would have changed WTO rules in important ways that would have actually improved the lives of tens of millions of average people, both in the US and (especially) in the developing world. There are lots of good reasons to support Doha.

As this story illustrates, the negotiations continue to register some sort of vital signs, so yes, Doha is not technically dead yet. But without serious political will from the Bush administration there is no prospect of a recovery. And the Bush administration has had years to demonstrate that they don't really care much about whether Doha lives or dies, and are not willing to put any serious energy into it. That's why I've often thought that it may just be kinder to put Doha out of its misery, declare it a failure, and try again with a new round of negotiations once there is a new and committed president in office.

But that hasn't happened yet. Instead, they insist on keeping Doha on life-support... for what reason, I'm not entirely sure.

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