Brazil's Amorim: Obama Must Save Doha Round

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 12/12/2008 08:24:00 AM
The election of Barack Obama seems to have rekindled hope in America not just among Americans but the international community at large: there can be no better testament to the strength of his political marketing. With trade diplomats currently spinning their wheels in Geneva, ace Reuters trade reporter Jonathan Lynn brings us yet another story of Obamamania. Better yet, this nascent Obama messianic complex is all the rage in a way that didn't really hold for incumbent WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy [OK, I am mock serious, but look here]. Celso Amorim, Brazil's foreign minister, is now asking Obama to quit his Highlander schtick, i.e. "there can only be one President at a time," and become more involved in current negotiations.

From Amorim's point of view, this is certainly a valid request. What point is there in attempting to negotiate a global deal now when the world's largest trading nation will have a significant change of leadership in a matter of days? A sign of Obama committing to the Doha talks would represent positive encouragement that trade diplomats are't just talking hot air in Geneva. Being without fast track authority, Obama will have to shepherd any Doha deal through Congress (pun intended). All the same, I gather from the endless press articles about him that Obama has a measured and deliberate leadership style. Remember also that Obama has yet to appoint a US Trade Representative. As I suggested earlier, despite previous tough talk on China, his actual trade policies are still in a state of flux especially in the days leading up to his ascension accession to office. That's all there is to it, methinks: Obama wants to keep his political capital intact until assuming office. Once there, he will be better placed to determine how to deploy it. It's good politics for him, but perhaps not so good for the current talks. There is a point beating around the Bush:
Faltering talks at the World Trade Organization (WTO) need a positive signal from U.S. President-elect Barack Obama [part the Potomac maybe?] to save them from failure, Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Amorim, said on Thursday. Such a move would be justified because a successful Doha round deal at the WTO would offer one solution to the global financial crisis that originated in the United States, he told reporters after meeting WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy.

"I think an encouragement from the incoming administration would be a very positive signal and would be probably what we need in this very last stretch," Amorim said. Calling on Obama to show leadership and not hide behind formalities as the outgoing administration of George W. Bush handles the Doha talks, Amorim said it was up to Washington to show the maximum flexibility to help resolve the crisis. Leaders of the G20 rich and emerging nations called last month for an outline Doha deal by the end of this year to help counter the financial crisis by warding off protectionism.

Trade ministers came close in July to a deal in the Doha talks, launched in the Qatari capital in late 2001 to free up world trade. But that meeting collapsed over differences between the United States and India and China over a proposed safeguard to help farmers in poor countries withstand surges in imports. Despite progress in technical negotiations since then, the safeguard remains a particular stumbling block. So too do proposals to create duty-free zones in industries like chemicals, and the level of trade-distorting U.S. subsidies for cotton.

Lamy is holding intense consultations with ministers from the United States and other major trading powers to see if enough progress can be made on these three issues to call ministers to Geneva to seek a breakthrough. Amorim said that as far as he could judge, Lamy had not yet made up his mind. WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said Lamy would decide on Friday whether to call a ministerial meeting next week, after a further round of calls with the major players.

But Amorim, one of the keenest proponents of a deal because of Brazil's huge food exports, said not to call a meeting would be just as much a failure as to hold one that then collapsed. And he said even if the prospects for a meeting did not look good, the dynamics would be different when ministers were negotiating in the public spotlight. "Sometimes we are here as if we were in a private game, trying to seek advantage for one or for the other, forgetting that what happens here is of fundamental importance for the world at large," he said.
The Jakarta Post--you know, published in Indonesia where Obama once lived--also has more detail on the issues at hand, especially the cuts in agricultural subsidies the US and EU are willing to make. BTW, our local bakery is serving rather popular cupcakes with Obama icing. Even in the grips of a putative global recession, this Obama guy is a marketing miracle I tell you. Now, how can I get hold of some Obama nativity figurines?