Moving Toward Progress on Doha

With the G-20 in Pittsburgh just three weeks away and India hosting the world's trade ministers in Delhi, attention has again turned to the Doha Development Round. The New York Times brings good, if not a little skeptical news about the "a breakthrough" and resumption of Doha negotiations:

Trade ministers from around the world said Friday that they would resume negotiations on a stalled free-trade agreement even as it became clear that developing countries and the United States remain far apart on critical issues.

After two days of meetings in the Indian capital about how to restart the trade talks known as the Doha Development Round next year, trade ministers said they were committed to reaching a deal in 2010. But the tenor and substance of their comments suggested that few are willing to soften their stances.

The global economic downturn, which analysts say has led to increased protectionism around the world, was a strong undercurrent to the meeting. While all the delegates said the downturn made reaching a deal imperative, some bluntly said it would be harder now to sell any trade deal back home because political leaders are especially concerned about protecting domestic farmers and businesses.

On the Doha front, the Economist opens fire on bilateral trade agreements, a hallmark of the Bush Administration's approach to trade, and one that is now pervading Asia, as being detrimental to the goal of completing important, multilateral agreements:

Some claim that the tricky issues that stand in the way of a multilateral deal can be more easily resolved when only two countries are sitting at the table. That rarely happens: in the rush to conclude an agreement, such issues are often shelved. India’s deal with ASEAN last year, for instance, put aside the poisonous question of farm trade, which was one of the deal-breakers in the Doha talks last July.

Bilateral agreements, thus, do not, on the whole, serve as stepping stones to a comprehensive global deal. On the contrary, they both distract governments from the multilateral process and offer cover for politicians’ failure to advance it. Moreover, the fear of losing favourable treatment in a bilateral agreement can deter governments from talking tough in multilateral negotiations.

If this topic even vaguely interests you, I'd recommend joining NDN this coming Tuesday as NDN Globalization Initiative Chair Dr. Robert Shapiro hosts a conversation with Professor Jagdish Bhagwati, Senior Fellow for International Economics at the Center on Foreign Relations and economics professor at Columbia University. The two will discuss the impact of the Great Recession on international trade and the trading system, the danger of protection, and the path forward for the Doha Development Round. For more on the event, and to RSVP, click here