From Davos to Doha: WTO Round Done in 2011?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 1/29/2011 09:43:00 AM
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears
Wish you were here

And now for some postcards from Davos. Sometime ago, I had a self-parodying feature of T-shirts being sold at the WTO headquarters gift shop in Geneva depicting how trade talks to conclude the Doha Development Agenda--now considerably the longest-running trade round in GATT/WTO history by a comfortable margin--have literally spanned the globe to little effect. At the start of this year, then, it is apropos that the usual suspects of world leaders and trade ministers are affirming the benefits of trade liberalization and that we're near the finish line. From the newswire reports [1, 2], we gather assertions that:
  • Failure to conclude Doha represents a failure of global leadership (Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva);
  • Fair, free and open trade is more important than aid for developing nations (Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono);
  • We are so very nearly there (German Chancellor Angela Merkel);
  • It is not true that the Doha Development Round is dead (British Prime Minister David Cameron, who even mentions Monty Python's "Dead Parrot" sketch--watch this video if the reference is obscure)
Meanwhile, I am now (belatedly) wiser about the claim that with US elections just around the corner--the 2012 presidential elections, that is--failure to complete Doha this year will mean that the world's largest trading nation will be in gridlock and nothing will be done. OK, here's my complaint: they always say this, too. As we all know, the United States has a four-year election cycle, with even years having either presidential or midterm (congressional) elections. Meanwhile, odd years are always "the year before an election." So, journalists who write on trade usually spin matters thusly: because next year or this year is an election year, it's likely that a multilateral trade deal won't get done due to American lawmakers being distracted or unwilling to appear pro-trade before their increasingly sceptical electorates.

And so the reasons why a trade deal benefits us all and why we are close to one get rehashed, year after year. Meanwhile, the usual "election in the US" angle is repeated ad infinitum. It makes you want to cue the Pink Floyd, right? But hey, if even they could reunite, perhaps pigs will fly and (sigh) Doha is a done deal in 2011.

UPDATE: Trade Diversion points us in the direction of an accompanying report on setting a deadline and defining a trade deal for 2011 penned by Jagdish Bhagwati, Peter Sutherland, and more trade illuminati.