Amerocentrism, Saving Doha, and Lamy the Savior

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 6/30/2008 12:05:00 AM
I am currently listening to Handel's Messiah as conducted by Christopher Hogwood. This 1980 recording is credited with ushering a new generation of musicians from the "historically informed" school of classical music. (Although Messiah is often played during Christmastime, I listen to this fine recoding year round--not the least because I feature in a lot of the lyrics ;-) As much as possible, these musicians try to use musical instruments that are more in line with what long-gone composers had at their disposal: harpsichords instead of pianos, baroque instead of modern violins, etc. Anyway, the topic of today's post is familiar fodder for those even remotely concerned with world trade: Pascal Lamy. I bring the Handel recording up because of a most incredulous op-ed I've come across in the Washington Post which places Lamy in nearly the same role as the titular character in the Handel oratorio. Needless to say, the WaPo makes some absolutely wacky points:

[If you have a copy of Messiah at home, cue "For behold, darkness shall befall the Earth"] -
SAVING DOHA: Why an obscure Frenchman may be the the last hope for global free trade.

You have probably never heard of Pascal Lamy, but he might be able to save the world. The only question is when he should do it. Okay, so we're exaggerating a bit. Not about Mr. Lamy's obscurity: The veteran French bureaucrat is director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which hardly makes him a household name, even though he is a remarkably talented and persistent international public servant. It's not precisely true that he is the only person who can save our troubled planet. But he might just be the last possible savior of global trade liberalization.
Sometimes, the Amerocentrism of the US media gets to me. Of all people, how can WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy be called "obscure"? Isn't this the same guy who is attended to by the anti-globalization set nearly wherever he goes like in the picture above? Also, isn't this the same guy whose name returns over a million search results on Google? Although many Americans are famously ignorant of the rest of the world until events with global repercussions hit their shores, that one of America's newspapers of record needs to point out the identity of the WTO D-G is surely an indictment of American incuriosity about world affairs. Worse, depicting him as the potential savior of the Doha agenda is surely hyperbole. True, the beleaguered round started before his term, yet he hasn't done much in moving it forward.

[Cue "Why do the nations so furiously rage together?"] -
The latest "round" of tariff-reducing talks began in Doha, Qatar, in 2001; it was billed as the "development round," because it was supposed to lead to a grand bargain between rich and poor countries that would open the former's markets to the goods of the latter, especially in agriculture. At a time of rising food prices, a successful Doha round could add billions of dollars to the earning potential of farmers in the developing world -- as well as to that of businesses and workers around the globe. The vast majority of poor countries are on board for an agreement.
!!!--developing countries have definitely not been "on board for an agreement" or we wouldn't be so far away from a deal. Moreover, the USTR during Clinton's term, Charlene Barshefsky, has insightfully suggested that the "development" designation for the trade round was made under essentially false pretences. Unlike Hogwood's performance on authentic instruments, Doha was a faker from the get-go. Between the WaPo editorial team's puffery and Barshefsky saying there is little enthusiasm for the round, I believe few would dispute the latter conviction. Let us move on...

[Cue "And I know my Redeemer liveth"] -
That's where Mr. Lamy comes in. If the participants in the round cannot bridge their differences in the trade ministers' meeting that he envisions for this month or July, he would have the option of devising a proposed settlement of his own, backed by the knowledge and authority of his office. Until now, Mr. Lamy has, reasonably, stayed neutral, preserving his political capital. But the time is fast approaching when he must step in, lest the Doha round fail, taking the once-promising World Trade Organization down with it.
Can Lamy take the trade bull by its horns that's loose in the WTO china shop (sometimes I think "china" should be capitalized) all by his lonesome? I doubt whether Lamy can. If one man can singlehandedly save Doha from an ignominious end, certainly there should be oratorios written for Pascal Lamy. Until then, I am afraid the WaPo op-ed writers have gone off the deep end. Very bad show, WaPo.

[Cue "Then shall be brought to pass"]