World Trade Organization, the soap opera of the Doha Round

In the informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee, WTO members acknowledged on 26 July 2011 that a package of issues selected from the Doha Round agenda for the December 2011 Ministerial Conference is not taking shape.

Some speakers warned that the WTO’s credibility is being undermined by the inability to reach agreement on Doha Round issues and on decisions that would benefit the world’s poorest countries, and by the “soap opera” of the Doha Round.[i]

Let’s remember that the Doha Round was launched in Qatar in 2001 with the aim of liberalizing trade in goods and services, including agricultural products, and set a goal to finish the round by January 1, 2005.

The term was not fulfilled, and since then the negotiations were interrupted or suspended several times and only resumed in the expectation of the fulfillment of the promise made by the richest countries in the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in 2005, to eliminate all export subsidies by 2013.

In April 2007, for example, the General Chief Pascal Lamy told the IMF-World Bank International Monetary and Financial Committee on 14 April 2007 in Washington that if the situation in the trade negotiations does not change soon “governments will be forced to confront the unpleasant reality of failure.

By 2008, the negotiations were suspended regard to agricultural products, industrial tariffs and nontariff barriers. The most complex difference was the subject of subsidies to agricultural products and textiles, which faced developed countries to each other, and these with developing countries, finally the Round failed by the discord between the United States and India on the agricultural imports.

Later several countries have called for negotiations to start again, even during London G-20 Summit, on April 2009.

Last January British Prime Minister David Cameron called for the end of the Doha talks by the end of the year, and said: “We’ve been at this Doha round for far too long. It’s frankly ridiculous that it has taken 10 years to do this deal.

We simply cannot spend another 10 years going round in circles” he added.

The recent response from members of the WTO is that there is no agreement for the Ministerial Conference at the end of the year, so the round will continue until who knows when.

And it’s worth mentioning that it is not only the time that has been spent, as mentioned by the British Premier, but it has also been the public money. The administrative budget of the WTO, contributing all of its members, even the poorest of the poor, came in 2011 to almost 200 million Swiss francs.[ii]

Frankly, ten years of unsuccessful talks, costing 200 million per year, looks like a very expensive “soap opera”.

It is not an expense, it is simply waste.

By Raúl de Sagastizabal