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Life without Doha

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.

It sounded like a great idea: better something than nothing. But, in multi-faceted talks that straddle several different sectors (for example, agriculture, manufactures, and services) and diverse rules (such as anti-dumping and subsidies), countries have negotiated concessions with one another in various areas. Whatever balance of concessions has been achieved would unravel if we were to try to keep one set and let go of another.