Is there any point in continuing to puzzle over trade policy and agreements? Do they really make any difference to anything? It seems they’ve become too hard to put together; but does that matter? Since about 2001, I’ve been writing a weblog analysing international trade agreements, national trade policies and the post-WWII “system” of government …
The US National Foreign Trade Council has released a short paper (PDF file) endorsing a “critical mass” (CM) approach to new WTO-associated trade agreements, without, however, producing any new ideas on how to accomplish this in the current multilateral trade framework. A top U.S. business group, frustrated with years of stalemate in world trade talks, …
Aaargh! Yet another knee-jerk call in the Financial Times for “wise” men (and women) to guide WTO out of it’s slough. Third, in lieu of the WTO ministerial, a group of eminent people should be appointed with the task finding a way out of the current doldrums and outlining future courses of action. The head …
WTO’s annual World Trade Report for 2011 signals a turning-point for the soon-to-be-Doha-less Organization. It attempts to provide a rationale for abandoning WTO’s half-hostile stand-off with the more dynamic universe of preferential trade agreements (PTAs) and for embracing PTAs instead. Or, as the subtitle of the report puts it, in EU-ese, a rationale for moving …
Just in … some old news from Geneva:
“The WTO’s week-long “stocktaking” of the Doha Round trade talks ended on Friday with a whimper, not a bang. The much-touted goal of concluding the negotiations toward a global trade deal before the end of 2010 — an objective laid out byheads of state last year — was quietly set aside, as officials acknowledged that political hurdles continue to block progress in the round, much as they have for the past 18 months … As the negotiations stumble along with no end in sight, some observers – and even some delegates, when speaking privately – have said that it might be time to begin thinking about putting the Doha talks on hold for awhile, or even abandoning them altogether.” Extract from Bridges newsletter (ICTSD)
Surely, by now, it’s obvious (even in Geneva) that the tortured ‘single undertaking’ structure of the proposed Doha deal—designed to accommodate every policy option in the spectrum from less protection to more protection by way of elaborate exclusions, exceptions and disguises—is just not going to fly.
Let those who want to open markets find a sufficient number of trade partners to create a globe-spanning ‘free trade zone’ for traded agricultural products. Once they discover a ‘zone’ that provides a mercantilist basis for liberalization among the participants, let them form it without excluding others (to preserve non-discrimination in trade).
In our project on Alternative Frameworks for Agriculture Negotiations for the Australian Rural Research and Development Corporation, Andrew Stoler and I demonstrated that at such a free-trade zone can work. A ‘critical mass’ agreement among 35-or-so WTO members would be both technically and economically feasible and would deliver results comparable to the proposed Doha deal on agriculture.
I’ve prepared a pre-print (not for citation, please) of our full report to the RIRDC, that you can grab here. As well as our main conclusions, the documents contains papers on the economic modeling; the contributions from research institutions from Brazil, China, India and Indonesia; the results of the Global Trade Opinion Polls, and; analytical contributions from trade luminaries such as Kym Anderson (University of Adelaide), Simon Evenett (University of St Gallen), Ambassador Carlos Perez del Castillo (Former Chairman, WTO General Council), Sallie James (Cato Institute), Patrick Low (Chief Economist of WTO), Tim Josling (Stanford University), Peter Lloyd (University of Melbourne), Razeen Sally and Valentin Zahrnt (ECIPE), and Alan Winters (University of Sussex).
There is absolutely nothing new in U.S. exasperation with the United Nations and its overblown processes. This statement from the deputy U.S. climate envoy recalls the responses of thousands of technocrats exposed for the first time to the diplomatic morass; for decades, we’ve heard something similar from every new Administration.
“Pershing said the flaws in the UN process, which demands consensus among the international community, were exposed at Copenhagen. ‘The meeting itself was at best chaotic,’ he said, in a talk at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. ‘We met mostly overnight. It seemed like we didn’t sleep for two weeks. It seemed a funny way to do things, and it showed.’” Extract from UN should be sidelined in future climate talks, says Obama official | The Guardian
What is new is that the so-called BASIC countries—giant, rapidly growing but poor economies—have become the necessary interlocutors of the USA and, perforce, for Europe, Japan and the rest of the twenty-something countries that have committed to sign the ‘pledge’ on emissions cuts by 31 January this year.
p>Pershing goes on to say that he’s looking for a ‘critical mass’ alternative:
“[He] indicated the focus would be narrower in scope than the UN’s all-inclusive approach. “We expect there will be significant actions recorded by major countries,” he said. “We are not really worried what Chad does. We are not really worried about what Haiti says it is going to do about greenhouse gas emissions. ”
More commentary—this time from the President of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations—on the significance of the Copenhagen meeting as one of the first signs of whatever-it-turns-out-to-be that follows the pax atlantica
“Multilateralism in the 21st century is, like the century itself, likely to be more fluid and, at times, messy than what we are used to.” Extract from Richard Haass in the Financial Times
Haass provides three possible new conformations of multilateralism for the 21st century that seem plausible to me: ‘regionalism’ as in regional trade agreements; ‘functional’ multilateralism—by which he means ‘coalitions of the willing’ or the ‘critical mass’ agreements that have been at the core of my recent work on agricultural trade agreements—and; ‘informal’ multilateralism comprising executive agreements on collaboration that fall some way short of treaties.
What these forms have in common, that distinguishes them from the form of multilateralism embodied in WTO, is that they are not ‘single undertaking’ agreements of the kind that has so crippled progress in the Doha Round of negotiations. It’s past time that the WTO member governments got that idea.