Necromancy and negotiation

Some things, like kings, crucified gods and Norwegian parrots never die. The WTO’s Doha negotiation may be the latest candidate for mythic resurrection (I hope not). But for now, the elders of the church of multilateralism over at are preparing for a burial service that they expect to take place at the WTO’s planned Ministerial Meeting on 15-17 December.

The indefatigable pamphleteers Simon Evenett and Richard Baldwin have delivered yet another collection of brief articles from distinguished contributors, speculating on the “Next Steps” for WTO (after …. you-know-what).

The collection is certainly worth skimming because each of the individuals that contributes has considerable experience in the negotiations or a record of insightful analysis about the multilateral trading system. But there’s a touch of the Madame Blavatsky’s in some of these plots for Doha’s post-mortem career.

I like most the clear-eyed contributions of the former U.S. Trade Representative, Suzan Schwabb and the former (first) Chairman of the Doha negotiaions Stuart Harbinson. Some other essays contain little more than mysterious gestures and perfumed words that don’t quite rise above the banal facts.

There is no agreement among the “Big-5” (USA, EU, China, India, Brazil) because, for the moment at least they have divergent, if not incompatible, incentives (a subject I recently discussed in a broader context). I’m not convinced by calls for “medium powers” to unilaterally implement parts of the proposed Doha agreements because makes no sense for any WTO Member to bind it’s own duties unilaterally (although unilateral liberalization continues in many places as the WTO’s own reporting reveals). Areas of significant potential progress on opening up markets (“trade facilitation”) or improving competition and market institutions (fisheries, services) have been neglected in the negotiations and are far from being ready for agreement; areas for useful future multilateral agreement (competition policy, investment) have not been touched in eight years.

John Weekes (former Canadian lead negotiator) cautions that it may take a few years after the internment of Doha before future opportunities can be identified. I am sure that ‘s true. The multilateral trade system needs full engagement from the giant emerging economies in what comes next and they’re just not there. But I’m not pessimistic on that account).

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