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Trading up Global Trade Talks

In the year since the breakdown of the trade talks in Cancun, sentiment has increasingly grown in the developing world that no agreement is better than a bad agreement. But what would a good agreement look like?

The British Commonwealth recently posed this question to me and the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, an international network of economists committed to helping developing countries. Our first message was that the current round of trade negotiations, especially as it has evolved, does not deserve even to be called a Development Round.

Well before the riots that marked the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle in 1999, I called for a true "development round" of trade talks to redress the inequities of previous rounds. The advanced countries, with their dominant corporate and financial interests, had set the agenda for those negotiations. Whether or not developing countries benefited was of little concern. Indeed, in the last round of trade negotiations, the Uruguay Round, the world's poorest region, sub-Saharan Africa, was actually made worse off.

Our second message was optimistic: if the agenda of the current round is reoriented towards development, and if assistance is provided to manage implementation and adjustment costs, developing countries can gain much. We analyzed which reforms in the international trade regime would most benefit those in the developing world, and we presented an alternative agenda based on our findings.