Courtesy Reuters

Correcting Misperceptions

WINDING UP, WINDING DOWN

Concluding multilateral trade negotiations has never been easy (I still bear the scars from the end of the Uruguay Round), and the Doha Round will be no different. Much depends on the compatibility among negotiators, between the dossiers they negotiate and their real commercial interests, and among an ever-widening circle of stakeholders. Separating politics from true economic interest is nearly impossible, and yet it must be done if Doha is to achieve something worthwhile and especially its development goals.

Perhaps the Doha Development Agenda was launched at the wrong time, with the wrong agenda, and partly for the wrong reasons. That question is for the history books. In the meantime, the ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization in December will determine whether something valuable can be secured from the initiative. I believe such an outcome is possible, but to achieve it many governments will have to display an uncommon measure of will and foresight.

One trusts that WTO members will finally do the right thing because they know that a failure of the Doha Round would do much damage. That such failure would hinder growth and development is self-evident, but it would also do long-term damage to the notion of multilateralism. There is also a more down-to-earth cause for hope: the changing geopolitics of international trade negotiations. More than two years ago, the WTO ministerial conference in Cancún failed, not only because of differences over substance but also because of inadequate negotiating structures and poor chemistry among participants. Just prior to that meeting and since, new groups better suited to multilateral negotiations have emerged informally within the WTO.

Furthermore, for many months now, government ministers have taken the lead in the negotiations. This is an appropriate development as the talks have moved away from preparatory phases to actual deal-making. It is especially appropriate since the process is designed to extract from states new commitments that will require significant domestic reform. These will have to be

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