Doomed Doha

U.S. whistles while trade talks collapse

Published July 24, 2006 10:46PM (EDT)

The news didn't make the morning papers, but the wires have been alive all day with reports that the Doha Development Round trade talks have collapsed. The U.S., E.U, Brazil, India, Japan and Australia could not come to an agreement on the core issue of getting the rich countries to cut their agricultural subsidies enough to satisfy the poorer countries.

I've made a mildly contrarian argument here in the past that the Doha standstill could be taken, paradoxically, as a sign of success. In previous trade negotiations, developing nations agreed to developed nation demands without appreciating how they were being taken advantage of. Now they know, and in a multilateral body like the WTO, they have been able to strengthen their bargaining stance.

I have since come to believe that my interpretation may be overly simplistic, or flat-out wrong. The Wall Street Journal's excellent coverage of the breakdown in talks lays it out:

"The breakdown also cast doubt over the future role of the WTO as a venue for forging trade deals to free up the world's trading system. Analysts predicted a rise in narrower bilateral deals, which favor large developed economies.

"Washington, frustrated by the slow pace of multilateral negotiations, has made no secret of its 'Plan B' -- a slew of regional and bilateral trade deals with countries such as Oman and Morocco. U.S. business has an interest in such deals because it has more leverage than in multilateral deals, a trade official at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said."

So the "success" in limiting the influence of corporate interests representing the developed world at the Doha trade talks is counterbalanced by the impetus that the standstill gives to bilateral agreements, which screw the developing world even more. No wonder the U.S. seems undismayed by the lack of progress.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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