After Doha

Why the Negotiations Are Doomed and What We Should Do About It

Courtesy Reuters

It is time for the international community to recognize that the Doha Round is doomed. Started in November 2001 as the ninth multilateral trade negotiation under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and its successor, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the talks have sought to promote economic growth and improve living standards across the globe -- especially in developing countries -- through trade liberalization and reforms. Yet after countless attempts to achieve a resolution, the talks have dragged on into their tenth year, with no end in sight.

To be sure, world leaders, negotiators, and commentators have expressed their unanimous support for a successful outcome -- the “balanced” and “ambitious” agreement called for by so many summit statements. But concluding a trade agreement is like pole-vaulting. Everything must come together at once -- after the extensive preparation and the building of momentum, there is that one giant leap -- with the hope that the entire body will sail over the bar. Most trade agreements survive several failed attempts before success is achieved. But the Doha Round keeps crashing into the bar.

To a significant degree, Doha’s failure can be traced to its outdated structure and negotiating dynamic: even the best of intentions are stymied when every negotiator’s concessions are more clear than their potential gains and when the bipolar division between developed and developing countries shortchanges most in the developing world. More fundamental, however, has been the Doha Round’s failure to address the central question facing international economic governance today: What are the relative roles and responsibilities of advanced (or developed), emerging, and developing countries? (Although there are no universally recognized definitions, advanced countries are generally mature economies that have industrialized and attained high levels of per capita income. Emerging-market economies are those that are undergoing rapid rates of growth and industrialization but have not yet reached developed status. Developing countries have not yet experienced these transitions.) World leaders are frustrated that their mandates to

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