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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