Huge gaps remain in WTO negotiations

Recent rounds of bilat­er­al talks between the USA and Chi­na on open­ing both farm and non-farm prod­uct mar­kets as part of WTO’s long-delayed Doha Round have been incon­clu­sive for very famil­iar rea­sons:

[U]nfortunately, what we learned con­firmed our worst fears — that we would see no new mar­ket access on our major agri­cul­tur­al export inter­ests” U.S. Gene­va Ambas­sador Michael Punke quot­ed in Bridges — ICTSD Newsletter

The USA is ask­ing for big steps toward rec­i­p­ro­cal lib­er­al­iza­tion of domes­tic mar­kets. No sur­prise there; the emerg­ing mar­kets are major trad­ing pow­ers and open­ing mar­kets for mutu­al gain is the main pur­pose of WTO trade nego­ti­a­tions. Nor is the USA the only par­tic­i­pant that wants more com­mit­ment from the giant emerg­ing economies as part of a mul­ti­lat­er­al deal. Firms and indus­try groups Europe, Japan and Aus­tralia also want more.

But at this point, the gov­ern­ments of Chi­na, India, Indone­sia and oth­ers have to man­age huge, low-income economies in a hur­ry to grow wealthy while main­tain­ing equi­table dis­tri­b­u­tion of resources. They are not will­ing to com­mit to prod­uct (or ser­vices) mar­ket lib­er­al­iza­tion on a mul­ti­lat­er­al basis although many of them con­tin­ue to open mar­kets uni­lat­er­al­ly… what­ev­er their lead­ers might say in media releases.

They may be ill-advised on this point. Who can say for sure? Giv­en the scale of their devel­op­ment gam­ble and their need for speed—in Chi­na’s case, for exam­ple, to grow rich before it grows old—these coun­tries should be tak­ing insur­ance on their own poli­cies by pur­su­ing a range of eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment options.

But it is far past the time when the pres­sure of WTO dead­lines will make any dif­fer­ence to their pol­i­cy mix. It is far past time for the WTO Mem­bers to put their ener­gies else­where.

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