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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