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The Development Round That Wasn’t

Whatever face-saving measures are taken, the meeting in Hong Kong in mid-December to wrap up the current Development Round of world trade talks will almost surely fail the only test that matters: whether such an agreement promotes the poorest countries’ development. Cynics will say that the advanced countries, in the tradition of previous trade deals, intended to provide only the bare minimum in the way of concessions, while generating the full maximum in the way of “spin,” to get the developing countries on board.

What has happened since the beginning of the Development Round at Doha in November 2001 has been a huge disappointment for me. As chief economist of the World Bank, I reviewed the Uruguay Round of 1994 and concluded that both its agenda and outcomes discriminated against developing countries. In March 1999, I went to the headquarters of the World Trade Organization in Geneva to call for a development round to redress these imbalances. For a moment, I thought my call had been heeded.

Two years ago, I was asked by the Commonwealth, a diverse group of mostly ex-British colonies, countries from both the North and the South, to prepare a study of what a true development round would look like. This month, Oxford University Press is publishing an expanded version of that report, called Fair Trade for All: How Trade can Promote Development.

Both as it was conceived, and even more as it has evolved, today’s Development Round does not deserve its name. Many of the issues that it has addressed should never have been on the agenda of a genuine development round, and many issues that should have been on the agenda have not been.