At the close of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia, the head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) dismissed the notion that the Doha round of trade negotiations was dead, urging Southeast Asian countries to help India, China and the United States broker a compromise.
Pascal Lamy, director general of the WTO, identified the reduction of industrial tariffs as the crucial sticking point of the discussions, saying that all others were “reasonably ripe for conclusion.” He added that Southeast Asian countries might be able to apply some leverage to the major economies currently in talks.
Lim Hng-Kiang, Minister of Trade and Industry of Singapore, reaffirmed East Asia’s commitment to the negotiations. However, Mai Elka Pangestu, Minister of Trade of Indonesia, warned that major economies outside East Asia must also be involved. “We all have to be willing to come to the table in the first place to come up with a solution,” said Pangestu.
News Release: East Asia affirms support for much delayed Doha trade talks [WEF, 13 June 2011]
Ten years of negotiations in the WTO have failed to seal an accord that could generate billions of dollars and alleviate poverty by freeing up trade in goods and services. The WTO last week postponed negotiations on an “early harvest” deal that would require rich countries to make good on promises.
Lamy acknowledged that smaller countries had to consider their ties to each of the major powers at the heart of the Doha stalemate.
“They all have trade eggs with the US and trade eggs with China,” Lamy said. “They will have to balance these two baskets very carefully.”
Report: WTO’s Lamy: Doha failure an ‘academic’ question [Reuters, 13 June 2011]
“It is clear that even with the best political will, the Doha round cannot be concluded this year,” said Ujal Singh Bhatia, former Indian ambassador to the WTO, attributing the impasse to developments in the global economy like the US financial crisis and poverty issues in emerging countries. “The only realistic strategy is to identify less controversial issues for closure this year, keeping the more contentious ones aside for continuing consultations.”
Opinion: Save Doha round, save the WTO [Economic Times, 11 June 2011]
However, failure of the Doha round would shift trade liberalisation from the WTO to preferential trade agreements (PTAs), said Jagdish Bhawati, economist at Columbia University. This would dissolve non-discriminatory trade liberalisation and compromise uniform rule-making. “We can live without the Doha round, but for many people it would not be much of a life,” said Bhawati. “Now is no time for cynical complacency.”
Opinion: Cooking up a compromise in the Doha round not yet a lost cause [The National, 14 June 2011]