Will the G-20 save Doha?

I detect a growing demand to consign to the pyre of historical error the clumsy, impenetrable, Heath-Robinson trade-management machinery embalmed in the December 2008 ‘Chairman’s Texts’ on Agriculture and NAMA.

“The aims set at Doha have become unreachable in the early years of anew century when the distribution of economic power at global level was starting to change and the needs of WTO participants are no longer what they were in the 1990s.” Roderick Abbott, former Deputy Director-General of WTO

The G20 is not going to lead the trading system out of this mess. But what of the G2 (US and China)? Where does their interest lie?

These two face—in different ways, but now inescapably—some of the biggest adjustments of all in the next decade. Certainly they see this. Probably they’ll consider it in their interest to make sure that their mutual adjustment can be managed in a functional global trading framework. Probably, they’ll want the WTO disputes settlement system to function transparently, fairly and without much interference. But will they require the continuation of the WTO’s ‘one-rule-for-all’? China has been an unenthusiastic participant in Doha. Will it be content to see the USA pursue, in the alternative, ‘critical mass’ agreements on agriculture (for example) without joining them? Or will China and the USA prefer, as a background to their own re-alignment, the strictly reciprocal framework of the WTO’s ‘single undertaking’, even at the price of stalemate on multilateral liberalization?

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