Necromancy and negotiation

Some things, like kings, cru­ci­fied gods and Nor­we­gian par­rots nev­er die. The WTO’s Doha nego­ti­a­tion may be the lat­est can­di­date for myth­ic res­ur­rec­tion (I hope not). But for now, the elders of the church of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism over at are prepar­ing for a bur­ial ser­vice that they expect to take place at the WTO’s planned Min­is­te­r­i­al Meet­ing on 15–17 December. 

The inde­fati­ga­ble pam­phle­teers Simon Evenett and Richard Bald­win have deliv­ered yet anoth­er col­lec­tion of brief arti­cles from dis­tin­guished con­trib­u­tors, spec­u­lat­ing on the “Next Steps” for WTO (after .… you-know-what).

The col­lec­tion is cer­tain­ly worth skim­ming because each of the indi­vid­u­als that con­tributes has con­sid­er­able expe­ri­ence in the nego­ti­a­tions or a record of insight­ful analy­sis about the mul­ti­lat­er­al trad­ing sys­tem. But there’s a touch of the Madame Blavatsky’s in some of these plots for Doha’s post-mortem career.

I like most the clear-eyed con­tri­bu­tions of the for­mer U.S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Suzan Schwabb and the for­mer (first) Chair­man of the Doha nego­ti­aions Stu­art Harbin­son. Some oth­er essays con­tain lit­tle more than mys­te­ri­ous ges­tures and per­fumed words that don’t quite rise above the banal facts.

There is no agree­ment among the “Big‑5” (USA, EU, Chi­na, India, Brazil) because, for the moment at least they have diver­gent, if not incom­pat­i­ble, incen­tives (a sub­ject I recent­ly dis­cussed in a broad­er con­text). I’m not con­vinced by calls for “medi­um pow­ers” to uni­lat­er­al­ly imple­ment parts of the pro­posed Doha agree­ments because makes no sense for any WTO Mem­ber to bind it’s own duties uni­lat­er­al­ly (although uni­lat­er­al lib­er­al­iza­tion con­tin­ues in many places as the WTO’s own report­ing reveals). Areas of sig­nif­i­cant poten­tial progress on open­ing up mar­kets (“trade facil­i­ta­tion”) or improv­ing com­pe­ti­tion and mar­ket insti­tu­tions (fish­eries, ser­vices) have been neglect­ed in the nego­ti­a­tions and are far from being ready for agree­ment; areas for use­ful future mul­ti­lat­er­al agree­ment (com­pe­ti­tion pol­i­cy, invest­ment) have not been touched in eight years.

John Weekes (for­mer Cana­di­an lead nego­tia­tor) cau­tions that it may take a few years after the intern­ment of Doha before future oppor­tu­ni­ties can be iden­ti­fied. I am sure that ‘s true. The mul­ti­lat­er­al trade sys­tem needs full engage­ment from the giant emerg­ing economies in what comes next and they’re just not there. But I’m not pes­simistic on that account). 

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