The Doha round of WTO negotiations are kept alive through pretence because no one wants to admit they’re as good as dead, says trade expert Peter Clark.
A longtime Doha doubter, whose predictions have proved remarkably accurate, Clark has released a 49-page gloomy diagnosis about the state of the Doha round that was supposed to enable developing countries to get a better deal in international trade.
The report was addressed to Larry Miller, chairman of the Commons agriculture committee, Lee Richardson, chairman of the Commons international trade committee as well as Senator Percy Mockler, chairman of the Senate agriculture committee and Senator Raynell Andreychuk, chairwoman of the Senate foreign affairs and international trade committee.
World leaders and trade ministers keep calling for a successful conclusion to the round without addressing “the important differences on scope and ambition (among countries),” Clark notes.
Negotiators have been dumbfounded by the depth of the differences among countries that constitute an insurmountable gulf. “Broadly based high-level rescue missions for the WTO Doha round negotiations now appear to have been abandoned,” he adds.
The fate of trade talks, as well as free trade negotiations with the European Union, featured prominently at the recent annual policy gathering of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. Delegates expressed concern about the direction of the Doha talks and what might come from a G20 meeting scheduled for November on the prolonged negotiations.
However, Clark says, “(Trade ministers) now seem determined to avoid additional public failures. Negotiations remain deadlocked; so comatose that former supporters of the round and champions of Multilateral Trade Liberalization now recognize the WTO trade liberalization system is dysfunctional and multilateral trade liberalization is on a slippery slope to stagnation.”
At the recent G20 Summit in Toronto, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said world leaders were agreed that a way had to be found to secure a successful conclusion to the Doha talks.
“In fact, if the Doha round is not dead, it has shown so few signs of life in recent years that such assessments are not surprising,” Clark noted. “Despite the tireless efforts by WTO director general Pascal Lamy who claims that reaching agreement in the Doha round would be like a stimulus program for the world economy, many consider the round is effectively dead – and beyond salvation.
“Lamy’s prediction that a deal is just around the corner and could be concluded in 2010 or 2011 is simply not taken seriously.
Designed as a vehicle to help developing countries, the stalled talks illustrated what many in the trade community feared following the Uruguay round – that the WTO negotiating process was outdated and not suited to the large and divergent membership and that it was seriously in need of reform.
In essence, the WTO negotiation model suffers from a series of weaknesses, he says. Among them are widely different expectations, the sheer complexity of the issues and a desire for a one-size-fits-all solution.
“Agriculture is the main, but not the only key to the Doha logjam,” he said. Farm trade “is a problem primarily because of the evils of undisciplined domestic support. These subsidies create surpluses which drive world prices down and cripple small farmers in developing countries. They also insulate domestic producers and have an import replacement effect. It is a concern in the global trading system which needs to be excised.”
In addition to the problems caused by the U. S. Farm Bill, Canada also needs resolution on proposals to make disaster program payments acceptable under trade rules.