Oped on the Doha
Pascal Lamy, the WTO’s Director General declared at the APEC Summit in
Sydney that the Doha Round of trade
negotiations can be completed this year. The APEC Leaders supported Lamy with a call to complete the Doha Round. This
call will be as ineffective as the nearly identical calls made at four previous
It is time Australia
stopped playing along in these international public policy charades and urged
the Doha Round be shelved until others, particularly the EU, are ready to
deliver. This the only way a substantive result can be achieved.
This continuing mockery of a negotiation is now putting the WTO’s
reputation at risk.
Some say conclude the Round now and lock in what small
commitments are on the table to open markets. That would deliver
little to Australian farmers and leaders of commodity farm groups know
There is something fundamentally wrong in the Doha
Round. The major economies, particularly the EU cannot show leadership
and the majority of WTO members do not want liberalization. Those who do,
which includes the more dynamic economies in Asia and Latin America (as evidenced
by their interest in negotiating bilateral agreements) cannot make headway in
the WTO because there are too many hands on the wheel who do not.
How it is shelved or frozen will matter.
Anti-globalization NGOs like Greenpeace, WWF and Oxfam will make
propaganda that this is a major failure in the WTO and claim it supports their
long standing demands to “reform” the WTO. By reform they mean to
weaken its free market principles.
Attention needs to be focused on the reality that the most
important business of the WTO is to ensure its 180 odd members adhere to the
international web of legally-binding commitments they have made to keep markets
open and not play politics with trade.
To appreciate the importance of this, consider the case of China.
WTO rules oblige Chinese officials to ensure Chinese businesses stick the WTO’s rules. They ensure the market, not the
Government, shapes trade. Imagine the chaos in world markets if Beijing
set its own terms of access to its burgeoning markets.
Shelving the Doha Round would in no way diminish the
capacity of the WTO to keep its members up to their legal commitments.
Australian farmers rightly gripe that WTO rules still do not
set free market rules for trade in agriculture. But it is not in their
interests to see the WTO discredited.
needs a new global farm trade strategy. The centerpiece until now has
been to pressure the EU through the WTO, working through the Cairns Group.
Efforts should be switched to a global communications campaign outside
the WTO, concentrating on the EU. Only Oxfam is
mounting such an effort and they are using it to run anti-WTO and anti-free
Inside the WTO, it is time for Australia
to step “outside the tent” and challenge the system to wake up to
reality – the Round is going nowhere. While staying inside the tent
as part of Lamy’s WTO leadership Group, Australia
perpetuates a failing situation. The longer it lingers, the greater the
risk of damage to the WTO’s authority.
should press to freeze the Doha
Round until around 2012 (the EU is slated to review its agricultural policies
in 2013) and then review how to proceed. This will give time to assess if
the EU will reduce protection of its farmers. It will also provide time
to consider a much more serious issue. Can the WTO achieve global
liberalization of trade in the way in which it has in the past, now that it has
over 150 members, most of which are small economies which are uninterested in
trade liberalization? (When the Uruguay Round concluded in 1994, the WTO
had 90 members)
While negotiations in the Doha Round are in limbo, Australia
can seek improved access for Australian agricultural exports through bilateral FTAs. Australia
won much better long term access for beef exports through the US FTA than it
could have through the Doha Round. FTA negotiations are in process with China
and ASEAN, have begun with Japan
and one is planned with Korea. These
present opportunities to increases access in most of Australia’s
major agricultural markets.
Some argue it damages the WTO to pursue trade liberalization
in bilateral and regional trade agreements. Most agreements complement,
not undermine, the WTO. The real damage being done is maintenance of the
pretense that current efforts in the Doha Round are effective.
Alan Oxley is Principal of ITS Global, consultants on
global issues. He was Australia’s
Ambassador to the GATT,
predecessor to the WTO, during the beginning of the Uruguay
Round of global trade negotiation.