Will WTO's Doha Zombie Finally Awake?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 9/06/2009 11:09:00 AM
Here we go again. If you ask me, the world's most important zombies are to be found not in Michael Jackson's (probably overmedicated) Thriller video nor the various iterations of the Resident Evil video game series. Nope, we're talking about the WTO's never-ending Doha Round here and platoons of trade ministers haunting the halls of WTO headquarters in Geneva. Begun in 2001 under what former USTR Charlene Barshefsky has called a "false pretense" of being a development round because of industrialized nations' unwillingness to make meaningful concessions, Doha's weak consensus has become more and more obvious as time went by. As I pointed out in a recent post, there has been little discussion of services trade--an issue dear to many LDCs like India. Also, agricultural subsidies in the developing world remain a point of contention.

It is thus with guarded optimism that I note discussions in Delhi have exceeded my modest expectations. Following from a recent post, India has been able to get services on the agenda. Or at least that's how the Indian press is portraying matters. From the Economic Times:
To ensure that the negotiations on services—-which is of utmost importance to India especially in the context of extracting commitments in outsourcing and movement of professionals and workers—-progresses simultaneously, the ministers also agreed to have work plans on services. It was decided that chairs of other negotiating groups, in consultation with senior officials and chief negotiators, would draw up wok plans, including finalization of texts and timelines for submission of revised offers (in services).
Good stuff. The new guy, India's commerce minister Anand Sharma, is making much hay of the result. Discussions in Geneva are set to resume after last year's collapse in negotiations:
Signalling a “breakthrough” in the deadlock over global trade talks, stuck since July last year, the New Delhi Ministerial Meeting on re-energising the trade talks on Friday announced the resumption of Doha Round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks from September 14. Trade Ministers of key WTO-member countries agreed that the negotiations should be taken forward.

“We have reached an agreement to intensify the Doha Round negotiations. The impasse has been broken. All the participating countries agreed by strong consensus that the chief negotiators and the senior officials from the WTO countries will meet in Geneva on September 14 to re-start and re-energise the trade talks, for which India had taken to the lead,” ministerial meeting chairman and Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said at a press conference after the end of the two-day conclave.
Sharma puts completion in 2010 as the target date. The WSJ also has more on what may come:
"We have missed so many deadlines," said U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Reuters reported. "Substance will drive this process, not setting deadlines and timelines." Ambassadors and their staff will begin talks in Geneva on Sept. 14, Mr. Sharma said. Such low-level, though formal, discussions had stopped after collapsing in Geneva last summer. If all goes well, there will be further talks on trade at a Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh Sept. 24-25, followed by a WTO ministerial meeting in late November.
I still believe that LDCs gaining justified ground on services trade will be key in moving things forward.