Dead Parrot Trade Talks

NEW YORK – The Doha Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations (MTN) is the first negotiation to take place under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO), founded in 1995. The eight previous rounds of global trade talks were conducted under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), following its creation in 1947.

The previous MTN, the Uruguay Round, took nearly eight years to complete, causing some to quip that GATT stood for the General Agreement to Talk and Talk. But the jokes about the Doha Round, which is in its tenth year, are far worse – akin to the classic Monty Python sketch in which a customer holds up a dead parrot in a cage while the shopkeeper insists that the parrot is only “resting.” When the parrot drops off its perch in the cage, the customer insists that it is now clear that the parrot is dead. The shopkeeper, however, insists that the bird is only “stunned” by the fall.

Increasingly, political leaders like British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who spoke eloquently for the Round at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, are emphasizing that the Doha Round’s failure would cost the world significant gains in prosperity, halt progress for the poor in developing countries, and reduce workers’ real incomes in developed countries.

A Doha failure would also deal a lethal blow to the credibility and future of the WTO, which has been an almost unique example of effective and democratic multilateralism. Just as the economist Lester Thurow famously declared at Davos in 1988 that “GATT is dead,” the current refrain is that the WTO is Monty Python’s parrot.