The Abyss: Pascal Lamy Broaches Doha Failure

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 4/02/2011 07:07:00 PM
Poor, poor WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy. Forever in search of the completion of the Doha Development Agenda, he must trot out the old reasons that have failed to convince member nations again and again: we're disadvantaging poor nations, we're endangering processes of trade liberalization that have brought the world so many benefits, etc. By now, you'd have thought he'd have come up with other arguments, but we're arguably no better off in terms of the prospects for completing Doha after nearly a decade. Now he's even contemplating Doha failure--not a good sign for the WTO's designated (and voluntary) cheerleader.

At any rate, unbeknownst to all but the keenest of trade followers, Lamy has been pushing negotiators to prepare revised negotiation texts in time for Easter. (Setting an Easter target has been a repeated if futile goal in the past.) In other words, we are not even at a stage wherein participants find common ground on what to discuss. Let's just say things are (surprise!) not progressing to his liking. He says:

In all honesty, we’re not on target

So, with less than a month to go, are we on track to meet this target?

In all honesty I must tell you we are not. Since the 8 March TNC we have continued to see an impressive level of activity at every level of our negotiating process. On the multilateral track, the Negotiating Chairs have diligently and systematically worked through their individual agendas and I can only express my admiration for the energy and tenacity with which they have approached their task.

On the bilateral and plurilateral levels activity has also been intense.

Overall, there have been elements of progress. But, in truth, far from enough. While the Negotiating Groups are proceeding across the board, including on a number of technical issues, the bilateral and plurilateral discussions on the market access leg have reached an impasse. The outstanding substantive gaps which existed three weeks ago persist today.

The absence of progress in NAMA [non-agricultural market access] sectorals constitutes today a major obstacle to progress on to the remaining market access issues. However, let me be clear, this is not the only market access related problem area. There are other issues whether in agriculture or to a larger extent in services — which have not been resolved either. As G-20 Leaders agreed at Seoul, what is needed overall is a spirit of “give and take” and we need this across all areas.

This is the hard reality that we collectively must face up to. As the Chairman of the TNC I have an obligation to ensure transparency and inclusiveness at the multilateral level and as such it is incumbent on me to share with you my frank and honest assessment of the seriousness of the current situation. In the same spirit it is my responsibility to caution you against the temptation to rush to conclusions or to point fingers. It has been tried before and it simply does not work. In the blame game everybody loses.

Positive reality and consultations

On the contrary, I believe our focus now should be on recognizing and respecting the collective determination among all Members to work hard to overcome the few, yet important, issues that continue to divide you. This, if you wish, is a positive reality facing us all. Clearly, Members will have to take a closer look at individual positions and tactics. Clearly, your political masters will want to know and understand why we are where are. You must all be in a position to answer the call from your leaders who pledged to conclude the Round in 2011. Throwing in the towel now is certainly not what Ministers and Leaders instructed us to do last year, neither is it what they are expecting from us.

Over the coming two weeks, starting April 4, I will undertake consultations with a number of Members with a view to understanding the size of the gaps on the NAMA market access. Once I have done this I intend to report to the entire membership. Together — and on the basis of an across the board view of progress in all areas in the negotiation, including the regulatory part as well as market access — we will then decide on the next steps.

I do not think that today is the time for long interventions. Now is the time for all of you, and in particular those among you who bear the largest responsibility in the system, to reflect on the consequences of failure. To reflect on the costs of the non-Round to the world economy as well as to the development prospects of Members, in particular the smaller and least-developed which are more dependent on an improved set of global trade rules. And above, it is time to think about the consequences of the non-Round to the multilateral trading system which we have so patiently built over the last 70 years. It is the time to think hard about multilateralism, which your leaders, yourselves and myself preach at every occasion. In politics, as in life, there is always a moment when intentions and reality face the test of truth. We are nearly there today.

The United States remains the biggest demandeur of NAMA or non-agricultural market access to developing countries. In turn, its LDC interlocutors claim that proposed gains from agricultural market access to developed countries alike the US are not substantial enough to warrant the kind of NAMA opening desired. IMHO, the difficulties which lie in negotiating this area are attributable to American decline since it can no longer singlehandedly force the issue unlike in years gone by. From that perspective--making the WTO's power distribution more equitable--cutting America down to size is actually a welcome development.