Two tracks out of the Doha wasteland?

The Doha nego­ti­a­tions are mori­bund because they’ve been poi­soned by their own intestines. The guts of the deal is in the so-called ‘modal­i­ties’: now a knot­ty mass of rules for cut­ting bar­ri­ers, rules for com­pen­sat­ing the bar­ri­er cuts, rules for mak­ing excep­tions to the bar­ri­er cuts, and­pro­vi­sions adding excep­tions to the excep­tions. They add-up to hun­dreds of pages includ­ing gob­bledy-gook so impen­e­tra­ble that most gov­ern­ments have no idea what it will mean for actu­al imports and exports. That’s a major rea­son the talks have ground to a halt.

Worse, it’s not hard to see that in sev­er­al ways this minute­ly-struc­tured deal pro­longs and con­sol­i­dates the con­ta­gion of tai­lor-made pro­tec­tion that it was sup­posed to rem­e­dy.

A much more effec­tive ‘two track’ solu­tion would be to allow the WTO mem­ber coun­tries to ‘self select’ into two groups. One group would bring togeth­er coun­tries that want­ed to open glob­al mar­kets open com­pe­ti­tion and high­er growth with few­er gov­ern­ment tax­es and sub­si­dies. They would try to nego­ti­ate a rec­i­p­ro­cal deal to open mar­kets on a non-dis­crim­i­na­to­ry basis.

The oth­er group, includ­ing many devel­op­ing coun­tries such as India that don’t want to open their mar­kets and see the WTO rules as a pro­tec­tion for their trade auton­o­my (they are that, too), would not nego­ti­ate. But nei­ther would they have the right to impose unwieldy, com­plex, recidi­vist con­di­tions on the deal made by the first group.

I have recent­ly been work­ing on the out­lines of just such a two-track deal using a non-dis­crim­i­na­to­ry form of a kind of trade deal known as a ‘crit­i­cal mass’ agree­ment. I’ve been mod­el­ing the out­comes of some pos­si­ble deals and com­par­ing them to a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of what could come out of Doha as it is present­ly struc­tured. As part of the mod­el­ing, I have con­struct­ed some lists of the devel­op­ing coun­try groups that have extract­ed var­i­ous addi­tion­al excep­tions and concessions—beyond the ‘spe­cial and dif­fer­en­tial’ con­ces­sions made to the entire devel­op­ing coun­try group—including the right to make no changes to their trade bar­ri­ers.

As an exam­ple of the bizarre con­tor­tions that these excep­tions process­es have includ­ed, note that the sec­ond-biggest econ­o­my in Africa and the biggest oil-pro­duc­er on the African con­ti­nent, Nige­ria, has been offered the ‘small and vul­ner­a­ble’ des­ig­na­tion (foot­note 11 of the cur­rent Agri­cul­ture ‘modal­i­ties’).

LDC
no cuts
Small& Vul­ner­a­ble
much small­er cuts
Recent­ly Acced­ed Mem­bers (RAMS)
small­er and post­poned cuts
Very Recent­ly Acced­ed
no cuts
Ango­laAlba­niaAlba­niaSau­di Ara­bia
BangladeshAntigua and Bar­bu­daArme­niaFYR Mace­do­nia
BeninArme­niaBul­gar­iaViet Nam
Burk­i­na FasoBar­ba­dosChi­naTon­ga
Burun­diBelizeCroa­t­iaUkraine
Cam­bo­diaBoliviaEcuador
Cen­tral African Repub­licBotswanaFYR Mace­do­nia
ChadBrunei Darus­salamJor­dan
Con­goCameroonKyr­gyz Rep.
Dji­boutiCubaMoldo­va
Gam­biaDomini­caMon­go­lia
GuineaDomini­can Rep.Oman
Guinea Bis­sauEcuadorPana­ma
HaitiEl Sal­vadorSau­di Ara­bia
LesothoFijiChi­nese Taipei
Mada­gas­carFYR Mace­do­nia
MalawiGabon
Mal­divesGeor­gia
MaliGhana
Mau­ri­ta­niaGrena­da
Mozam­biqueGuatemala
Myan­marGuyana
NepalHon­duras
NigerJamaica
Rwan­daJor­dan
Sene­galKenya
Sier­ra LeoneKyr­gyzs­tan
Solomon IslandsMacao, Chi­na
Tan­za­niaMau­ri­tius
TogoMoldo­va
Ugan­daMon­go­lia
Zam­biaNamib­ia
Nicaragua
Nige­ria
Pana­ma
Papua New Guinea
Paraguay
St Kitts and Nevis
St Lucia
St Vin­cent & the Grenadines
Sri Lan­ka
Suri­name
Swazi­land
Trinidad and Toba­go
Uruguay
Zim­bab­we

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