Is a Doha Round Deal Really Imminent?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 11/13/2008 11:16:00 AM
Here we go again with rumblings that the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), better known to the rest of us as the Doha Round, is nearing completion. A few days ago, newly installed EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton commented that the upcoming G-20 summit in Washington holds the key for at last finishing this bit of tricky business.

What strikes me at this point in time is that Brazil and India seem to be just as keen on getting Doha done as their US and EU counterparts. LDCs seem to be buying into WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy's idea that the completion of Doha should shore up the trust vital to functioning of world markets. Which, of course, makes me fearful that people are overselling Doha: how can an agreement on tariff reductions be the "magic bullet" that cures the world's credit ailments? Didn't global economic imbalances triggered by further trade liberalization contribute to the current mess?

If folks battered by the current crisis are soothed by the completion of multilateral deals such as this one--despite its tenuous connection to fixing current woes--then maybe something is in the offing. To be sure, trade-facilitating credit is drying up. Just don't ask me how they all fit together. Perhaps Lamy's request for a second go-around as WTO chief hinges on the outcome. From Reuters:
Pressure is building up at the World Trade Organisation for a meeting of ministers in the coming weeks to make a breakthrough in the WTO's long-running Doha round, diplomats said on Wednesday. Several key members called at a WTO council for ministers to come to Geneva to secure an outline deal in the core areas of agriculture and industrial goods before the Christmas break.

A new effort to reach an elusive deal depends on whether this weekend's summit of rich and poor countries in Washington gives clear orders to trade ministers to finish the job or offers a routine endorsement of the Doha round, diplomats said.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said members had made it clear they wanted to reinforce the insurance policy against protectionism that the WTO represented by concluding the Doha round as soon as possible. That meant securing an outline deal by the end of the year, he told a news briefing on the council, called to discuss the impact of the global financial crisis on trade finance.

"Lamy probably thinks he's got his mandate. But he has to make sure it doesn't go horribly wrong at the summit this weekend," said one senior diplomat from a rich country. "It's too soon for him to start counting his chickens -- but he might start counting on Monday," he said...

More important, say WTO officials and trade diplomats, would be the boost to business confidence that a deal among 153 countries would engender at a time of global crisis. Agreement has so far been thwarted by differences between rich and poor nations and between importers and exporters, most recently at a meeting of ministers in July. That meeting hit a deadlock when the United States and India disagreed over measures to protect poor-country farmers from a surge in imports.

WTO members from Brazil to Lesotho say a deal was tantalisingly close at that point, and only a little more work is required to agree the outlines. WTO members calling on Wednesday for a meeting by Christmas included Brazil, the European Union, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, and Mauritius on behalf of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of former European colonies.

The EU's WTO ambassador, Eckart Guth, was particularly forthright. He called on the mediators for the agriculture and industrial goods talks to produce revised negotiating texts by end-November and said the EU commission had instructed him to do all he can to enable ministers to finalise an outline deal by Christmas.

The United States also called for a meeting by the end of the year "if possible", while China and India did not object, diplomats said. The only major country to object to the idea was Argentina, which has not yet agreed to the current draft proposals on industrial goods.

Lamy said that as things stood today, he was not ready to invite ministers to Geneva next week, as it was not yet clear whether leaders were willing to push politically for a deal, and negotiators still had some technical issues to thrash out. "If these conditions are met, and it's up to me to contribute to try and organise a meeting, then there is indeed a possibility to get the ministers to meet before the end of this year," he said.

Some diplomats in Geneva remain sceptical that negotiators can deal with the technical issues in time for ministers to take the political decisions next month -- and many in Washington share that view.

"Doha is dead. It's not even a remote possibility at this point," Grant Aldonas, a former under-secretary of commerce for outgoing President George W. Bush, told a briefing in Washington on the forthcoming summit. But Dan Price, a senior aide to Bush for international economic policy, said virtually all participants in the summit hope a framework to complete Doha will be agreed this year.