Competitive Exams: Current Affairs 2011: Doha Round

Doha Round

The talks for the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations under the aegis of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which began in November 2001, are nowhere near completion. What is worse the topic appears to have been dropped from public discourse. One hardly hears anything that would induce optimism on concluding the talks.

The Doha Round is about highly technical issues. Even if there was some general interest, it soon became clear that the talks are all about resolving complex issues which are invariably couched in technical language.

Repeated failure to meet deadlines has induced a dose of scepticism, if not outright cynicism, on the final outcome. That is another reason why the average person is switched off from the talks.

One basic point about the trade talks is that political leaders who try to muster the political support back home face a difficult situation. Successful trade talks involve striking a balance between give and take.

In the very nature of things, the advantages of trade agreements are to be seen over the medium-term. However, once a trade pact is concluded, politicians will have to face the wrath of lobbyists, trade groups and others whose immediate interests would seem to be compromised by, say, an agreed tariff lowering

Failure to conclude the Doha Round would result in a situation where weaker nations will not prosper and hegemonic powers like the Americans and the

Europeans would establish trade deals with smaller powers and dominate world trade in their own way, which is not possible in a multilateral system.

A series of bilateral trade deals would dominate global trade, giving more authority to richer countries, resulting in discrimination and perpetuating distortions.

If the trade talks collapse, there would be a number of other deleterious consequences. The WTO's role will be considerably diminished.

If WTO's powers are diminished, the incalculable value of its disputes settlement authority would be severely impaired. Through this authority the WTO has brought the rule of law to world trade. The smallest of countries can bring to account the richest country, forcing the latter to stop trade distortions.

The G − 20 countries, which initially stressed collective action as a means of overcoming the recession, have become less enthusiastic in seeking a closure of the Doha Round. For the record, at the Seoul Summit (November 2010), it was decided to seek a closure by the end of this year.

Much has always depended on the US and the EU. In mid-2008 the talks which showed some rare promise of leading to a breakthrough floundered at the last minute. The rich countries blamed India but it was the Us'refusal to reduce agricultural subsidies further and India's refusal to ask its subsistence farmers to compete with subsidised American farmers that were the principal causes.

The outside environment has changed considerably since then. Sky-high global food prices dramatically alter the assumptions behind the American farm subsidies. While that could help in softening the US stand on what has been an intractable issue, the political climate in rich countries is less conducive to trade deals than it was before:

Courtesy: The Hindu and Times of India