Tuesday, June 13, 2006

DOHA Doomed

THE five-year Doha Round negotiations under the World Trade Organisation now appear to be limping towards collapse, with a survey revealing that even most insiders believe the negotiations are doomed.

The survey, by former WTO deputy director-general Andrew Stoler, now at Adelaide University, found that 71 per cent of insiders — negotiators, policymakers and trade experts — predict the round will fail to produce an agreement this year as planned.

The insiders see that as the end of the Doha Round. Only 18 per cent believe the US Congress will renew President George Bush's authority to negotiate agreements when it expires in the middle of next year. Without authority, Congress could amend any WTO agreement, making negotiations futile.

A deal in principle must be reached by the end of next month to allow time for detailed agreements to be drawn up and turned into legislation before the deadline. But despite pious communiques and an increasing sense of urgency, there is no sign of the key players bridging the gaps between them.

Professor Stoler, who now runs the university's Institute for International Business, Economics and Law, said the gloomy consensus implied serious trouble for the WTO in particular and for trade liberalisation in general.

"I don't want to be overdramatic, but if they can't get a deal by the summer break in early August, then we're in deep kimchi," he said. "There are going to be real problems in terms of the consequences for trade liberalisation.

"The people who participate in this poll are the best ones around to tell us whether we're going to get anywhere. They're in a very pessimistic mood, and I don't blame them."

The survey found that insiders based in Geneva were almost unanimous that agreement could be reached only by accepting an unambitious outcome, dubbed "Doha Lite". But insiders based in national capitals strongly disagreed, and Professor Stoler said such a deal would be hard to sell to Congress.

WTO agriculture chairman Crawford Falconer, of New Zealand, is due to present a compromise blueprint next week for reducing farm protection, the key issue of the talks. The Doha Round was launched in 2001 and was originally to be completed by 2004. WTO director-general Pascal Lamy has urged Europe and Japan to agree to bigger cuts in farm tariffs, the US to pledge bigger cuts to farm subsidies, and developing countries such as India and Brazil to offer cuts to their manufacturing tariffs.

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