Success questioned | Many exporters are turning their attention to regional negotiations
Traditional supporters of the World Trade Organization are questioning the usefulness of current negotiations, even as the WTO prepares for new leadership and a December ministerial meeting in Indonesia.
The Doha Round was launched in 2001 with the goal of liberalizing trade and helping developing countries prosper.
However, it has since stalled.
“Doha is either dead or dying, depending if you are a pessimist or an optimist,” former Canadian WTO agriculture negotiator Mike Gifford told a recent agricultural economists’ trade conference in Ottawa.
The result is a proliferation of regional trade negotiations that undermine the WTO goal of setting rules and obligations that are applicable to all of the organization’s almost 160 members.
At the conference, Canadian agriculture and food sector leaders who have been strong supporters of a WTO deal were on the “pessimistic” side of Gifford’s equation.
“The discussions around Doha now just seem periphery,” Canadian Meat Council chair Ray Price said.
“We are still working toward a WTO outcome, but we have to get on these other (regional) buses as well.”
He said “nobody is talking about Doha” when he travels to Asian markets where Canadian meat exporters want access.
Martin Rice, executive director of the Canadian Pork Council and a regular lobbyist at WTO, said he sees little hope for a Doha agreement, although the WTO itself remains an important arbiter of existing trade rules and disputes.
“I have lost faith,” he said in an interview. “WTO is where you talk about subsidies and trade barriers and I think the crash of 2009 tested the existing system and it stood up in terms of holding onto rules of origin and holding onto existing infrastructure, but to get much beyond that seems impossible.”
He said it makes it more attractive for many export sectors to embrace regional negotiations that produce faster but more limited results.
Rice said there seems little incentive to finish a deal now in light of significant differences between countries and blocs, particularly if member countries did not see a WTO trade liberalizing deal as a solution to the 2009 economic recession.
Meanwhile, WTO officials continue to plan for a December ministerial negotiating meeting in Bali and WTO members are in the process of choosing a new director general.
Pascal Lamy leaves Aug. 31 after two terms.
Last week, nine candidates nominated for the job by their governments made pitches to WTO members over three days.
New Zealand’s Tim Groser, a veteran politician and WTO ambassador, told delegates that even “modest results” in Bali will help keep the Doha Round alive. He is the only developed country candidate. The others are from Ghana, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Kenya, Jordan, Mexico, Korea and Brazil.
However, he conceded that the organization is in trouble after 11 years of negotiating with no concrete results.