Next week talks are being held in London, with the leading World Trade Organization members working towards a global trade treaty. The talks are part of what’s called the Doha Round, named after the Qatar capital, where they began five years ago. Some analysts say that while many countries are willing to take at the negotiations, few are willing to give.
US Trade Representative Rob Portman is calling for a “redoubling of efforts to achieve the promise of Doha. Speaking in India this week, Portman called the talks a “once in a generation opportunity to generate economic growth…and lift literally millions of people out of poverty.”
The talks March 10th and 11th include what’s known as the G6: The United States, European Union, India, Brazil, Japan and Australia. Among the main issues are agriculture, non-agriculture market access, industrial tariffs and trade in services such as technology and communications.
Frederick Erixon, an economist with the Swedish think tank Timbro, says there’s been little progress on those issues.
“Rich nations need to open up their agricultural markets to poor countries, but they are basically unwilling to do that. Secondly, all countries need to open up the service markets. But it seems that very few countries are interested in doing anything at all in that respect,” he says.
He says these are the same subjects that have been debated for years, including the most recent talks in Hong Kong last December.
He says, “They were outlined when this round started in Doha in 2001 and we have seen no progress at all since then. And the Hong Kong meeting in that respect just became one more symbol that the conflicts are too large.”
Erixon and Razeen Sally, a senior lecturer at the London School of Economics, co-wrote an article for South Africa’s Mail & Guardian Newspaper on the trade talks. They ask, “Why is the Doha Round sleepwalking closer to collapse?” Erixon says one reason is no country, rich or poor, wants to spend the political capital needed to achieve results.
“The European Union, the United States and other rich countries are not particularly interested in doing any domestic reforms in order to push for market openings in the agricultural sector. And you can also see that a lot of developing countries, I mean they’re basically subscribing to an idea where they should not do anything at all in this round at the same time as other countries are opening up their markets to them,” he says.
Agricultural subsidies have been one of the major issues in the talks. And despite promises and commitments, one of the most difficult to resolve.
“A true free trade idea says that you should open your markets for imports regardless the actions of other countries. But today most countries are trying to get a lot of concessions and a lot of export openings but they’re not interested at all to get the import competition. That applies to rich countries in regard of agriculture openings and agriculture liberalization. But it also applies to poor countries and developing countries in terms of a reluctance to open their markets any further for both export from other developing countries, but also exports from all the developed countries,” he says.
The Swedish economist believes the deadlock can be broken, but probably not anytime soon. Erixon says it would take what he calls “great leadership” from the United States, European Union, Brazil, India and South Africa. He says if all these countries honestly state want they want at next week’s trade talks, perhaps they’ll agree that their goals are too high and unrealistic.