Monday, July 24, 2006

Doha Round suspended

Given that the G8 summit failed to make any substantive progress on the Doha Round, it is no surprise that its attempts to kick start the Round have failed. Negotiators were going to given up their holidays to meet a new August target date, but Pascal Lamy has just announced that the round has been suspended. He commented that some countries clearly preferred a 'Doha Light'. Certainly there are many in the United States who think that the country's interests can best be served by bilateral deals.

The suspension followed a failure to make progress in Group of Six meetings on Sunday. Four of the six G6 participants blamed the US for the collapse of the talks. EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson commented, 'If the US continues to demand dollar-for-dollar compensation for reducing domestic support, no one in the developing world will ever buy that, and the EU will not either.'

For its part the US has become increasingly frustrated by what it sees as the gutting of its proposals to cut farm tariffs which generated opposition from the EU, Japan and Switzerland. Susan Schwab, US trade representative, complained that some participants were more interested in loopholes than in market access.

The Uruguay Round was, of course, suspended in 1990 after the supposedly final talks in Brussels collapsed and was eventually revived. However, the political climate is not favourable. Mid-term elections are looming in the United States which seem to have affected President Bush's thinking. If the Democrats take either the House or the Senate, a renewal of authority to negotiate trade deals is even less likely.

The collapse of the talks is good news for heavily subsidised large-scale farmers in the US and the EU. Trade negotiations have been the most successful driver of CAP reform. Politicians in poor countries will get political points for protecting poor farmers against competitive imports. But it's bad news for agricultural exporting countries such as Australia and Brazil. And despite the celebratory noises emanating from some NGOs who argue that no deal is better than a bad deal this is not good news for farmers in least developed countries, for example cotton producers in West Africa who have been hit hard by US subsidies.

What of the WTO itself? The suspension of the Round does not mean the end of the Disputes Settlement Mechanism. Former EU commissioner and WTO head Sir Peter Sutherland commented, 'The WTO is so crucial, it will survive, but it will be damaged. The collapse of the talks leave global multilateralism in a parlous state.'

The WTO is regarded by many of its members as the last multilateral organisation by whose decisions the US agrees to be bound. In truth this is another victory for US unilateralism and any bilateral deals that are forged in the future will benefit the US more than the other participant. As Michael Cox of LSE warned in the March issue of European Political Science, the bridge across the Atlantic can no longer bear any heavy traffic and there is a widening gulf on issues and values between the EU and the United States. As an Atlanticist, this is something I regret, but it is difficult to see what remedies there are to hand.

No comments: