Life without Doha

If the Doha Round fails, the global free-trade agenda would shift from the WTO to preferential trade agreements (PTAs), which are already spreading like an epidemic. That, in turn, would mean the end of non-discriminatory trade liberalization and uniform rule-making and enforcement.

BRASILIA – In a recent commentary, I drew on the Interim Report of the High-level Trade Experts Group, appointed by the governments of Britain, Germany, Indonesia, and Turkey, which I co-chair, to explain why concluding the World Trade Organization’s ten-year-old Doha Round was important. The column was reprinted on a blog maintained by CUTS International (Consumer Unity and Trust Society), the most important developing-country NGO today, leading to an outpouring of reactions from trade experts. The faucet is still open, but the debate has already raised critiques that must be answered.

Some critics rushed in to declare that Doha was dead – indeed, that they, being smart, had already said so years ago. Presumably, our attempt at resurrecting it was pathetic and hopeless. But, if Doha was dead, one had to ask why the negotiators were still negotiating, and why nearly all G-20 leaders were still issuing endorsements of the talks each time they met.

Others argued that Doha was dead as negotiated. Or, in the words of former United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab, writing in Foreign Affairs, the Doha talks were “doomed” and ready for burial. However, these critics thought that one could pick at the corpse and salvage “Plan B,” though what was proposed in its many variants – always some minor fraction of the negotiated package to date – should more accurately be called Plan Z.

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