Demise of Doha, a Window of Opportunity?

Wednesday 20 August 2008, by Ceyda Turan

The World Trade Organization’s inappropriately named Doha “Development” Round was suspended indefinitely following the collapse of minister-level negotiations last month in Geneva. This stalemate is the latest in a round plagued by ministerial conference failures in Cancun 2003 and Geneva in 2006. Developing countries, having seen few signs of the development they were promised at the outset, have scored a halfway victory by not acquiescing to another asymmetrical trade deal. The real challenge, though, remains ahead of developing countries- and social movements all around the world- as they try to use this window of opportunity to finally conceive of an international trading system that is conducive to just and sustainable development.

The establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) following the Uruguay Round (1986-1994), took many developing countries hostage as they were handed the pick-your-poison choice of joining an unfair trade regime or being excluded from global trade- and much aid and financing- altogether. They made major concessions to developed countries and emerged from the round as net losers.

When the Doha Round came about it was presented as the “development” round. As such, it promised to focus on addressing the issue that is central to most developing countries- agriculture. It promised to reduce agricultural subsidies and tariffs in the developed world. It promised to protect the developing world’s farmers. It promised to open the developed world’s markets and level the entire world’s planting field. It failed to deliver on its promises and, worse, excluded most developing countries from decision-making- only 35 countries were invited to participate.

To nobody’s surprise, developed countries were intransigent about reducing their agricultural subsidies and aggressively pushed for further market access. According to the World Bank, the so-called “development” round would be of little benefit to developing countries. It would increase developing country income by a total of $16 billion a year by 2015, which amounts to less than a penny a day per person, writes Walden Bello in Foreign Policy in Focus.

What is historically significant about the collapse of Doha is the inability of the U.S. and the EU to impose their ways, and the ability of the developing countries to stay united in their common interests and self-defense. Walden Bello and Mary Lou Malig, in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, observe, “the bitter experience of being subjected to divide and conquer tactics in Doha proved to be a turning point for the developing country politics in the WTO.

Alliances were formed—among them, the Group of 20 led by Brazil, India, South Africa and China, to demand cuts in developed country agricultural subsidies and greater access to developed country markets, and the Group of 33 led by Indonesia and the Philippines to push for the creation of ‘special products’ that would be exempted from tariff reductions and for ‘special safeguard mechanisms’ like protective tariffs against surges of highly subsidized agricultural imports from the developed countries.” The different positions taken by developing countries reflect the multiplicity of their interests, and the potential for new international trading blocks.

With the U.S.’s struggling economy and a politically paralyzed European Union, now could be a historic moment for the developing world to escape the neo-liberal impositions of the post-Washington consensus and to construct their own trading system that better suits their needs. It is time to seriously think outside of the WTO doctrine and move towards an alternative global trading system that puts the weakest peoples’ interests at the center, à la John Rawls’ famous Theory of Justice. Farmers, environmentalists, workers, activists, and all progressive social movements across the world need to seize the momentum created from the collapse of the Doha Round and create alternative institutions that will base their economic decisions on the wellbeing of the most underprivileged ones.

À propos de Ceyda Turan

Titulaire d’une maîtrise en développement international de l’Université de Londres (SOAS) en Angleterre, Ceyda détient également un diplôme en science politique et développement international de l’Université McGill. Originaire de Turquie et ayant étudié dans le monde en développement, elle connaît bien les enjeux du développement international. Elle a un intérêt marqué pour des questions touchant les droits humains et a entre autres collaboré au Kurdish Human Rights Project de Londres comme traductrice en plus d’assumer le poste de secrétaire de la section locale d’Amnistie Internationale à SOAS. Avant de se joindre à l’Institut des politiques sociales et de la santé de l’université McGill en tant qu’assistante de recherche et de communication, elle travaillait au sein du programme immigration et employabilité d’Alternatives. Elle continue contribuer au Journal Alternatives.

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