What if WTO forgot about the rules?

“We couldn’t agree on who would open which markets by how much, when and for how long. We tried to paper over the disagreement with a bewildering, complex, Heath-Robinson plan made, mainly, from loopholes. But we ran out of, um… loops. So let’s forget about all that. Let’s just say we had a good talk and go ahead now and do… something or other.”

‘Sure’, you reply, ‘but do what? And, hasn’t WTO tried this before? Didn’t the last round of negotiations, the Uruguay Round from the early-1990s also finish without formally agreed rules on who should do what in agriculture, for example? Didn’t the WTO take five years to sort out the confusion in the so-called ‘implementation’ debates? Didn’t it lead to lots of creative backsliding on the generally understood procedures, such as the ‘dirty tariffication’ of agricultural barriers and cheating by the EC and the USA on their export subsidies cuts?’

“The new approach could allow developed countries to exploit unresolved issues in the negotiations and give less ground than they otherwise would, one [developing country] delegate said. But… the new approach could accelerate the process of implementing the cuts to tariffs and subsidies that would be embodied in a world trade deal. Secondly, exporting countries could quickly determine how products of concern to them would be treated.” Extract from Bridges newsletter

One of the real advances agreed in the agreement that launched the Doha Round was that the rules for reform, the so-called modalities would be subject, this time around, to review by disputes panels. If a member government did not implement its obligations then it would be possible to have the problem investigated and adjudicated. This do-something-at-any-cost approach would throw that advance away for the benefit of…what?

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