Friday, November 18, 2011

Doha lite?

The recent G-20 summit was understandably dominated by the eurozone crisis so little attention was paid to the fact that leaders decided to effectively abandon all hopes of achieving a full blown Doha Round settlement and instead see if they could achieve a 'Doha lite'.

Many analysts think that they will achieve nothing. Either way this effectively means the end of 'Rounds' as a way of progressing international trade negotiations. Given the economic backdrop, it also means the end of further breakthroughs towards liberalisation, although the dispute settlement process could still spring some surprises, particularly in relation to agriculture.

The trend towards bilateral deals will be reinforced. Compared with a multilateral framework, such deals tend to be more asymmetrical, so this is not really a gain for the Global South, not that least developed countries got that much outof multilateral negotiations. It was agricultural exporters like Brazil that stood to benefit.

The global financial crisis has obviously shifted priorities over this issue. However, at the very least a ‘Doha-lite’ deal for developing nations will be discussed at a World Trade Organisation meeting in December this year, with an aim of reaching a consensus in time for the 2012 G20 summit in Mexico.

Will progress be possible in agriculture? The EU may stick to its promise to phase out export subsidies, although possibly later than planned given that CAP reform is likely to be delayed. However, EU is unlikely to give much more ground on market access and the US will defend politically sensitive subsidies for crops such as cotton.

It may be that a shortage of government money will now drive reform, but budgetary changes are open to fudging and they never provided as sure a pressure for reform as international trade negotiations. At the end of the day, manufacturing and service industry interests did not want to see potentially lucrative deals derailed by agriculture. These trade offs were one of the benefits of a multilateral negotiating framework.

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