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The Fall of Doha

Author: Jagdish N. Bhagwati
July 20, 2012
Handelsblatt

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Germans would be interested to know that Chancellor Angela Merkel teamed up in 2010 with British Prime Minister David Cameron (and, in turn, both brought on board the President of Indonesia and the Prime Minister of Turkey) to appoint an Independent Expert Group, co-chaired by me and former WTO Director General and EU Trade Commissioner Peter Sutherland, to help bring the Doha Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations (MTN) to a close after nearly ten years of negotiations. She even turned up at Davos where we presented our Report and spoke emphatically in support of Doha, as did Mr. Cameron.

The joker in the pack, who was the kill joy rather than a source of merriment and support, was the United States. When I said that it was disappointing that President Obama had even omitted mentioning Doha in the State of the Union address, and that one could only hope that this was because he did not wish to mention a four-letter word to bring civility into American political discourse, many in the audience laughed, but not Senator John Kerry! In fact, the United States under the Obama Administration, already under siege from the labour unions who were hostile to trade, was resolutely opposed to closing the Doha Round unless numerous concessions were made to appease its business lobbies.

Thus, Obama administration wanted Doha Heavy: several demands for more concessions by others, especially the major developing countries, including new concessions in services, were to be negotiated. This meant, of course, that the conclusion of Doha would be put off by some years: Doha would then be dead for all practical purposes. So, many preferred to opt for Doha Lite: add a few concessions by the US and India on agriculture (which had earlier been a sticking point: the US concessions were inadequate and the Indian demands for special Safeguards were excessive), some minor concessions in manufactures that would appease difficult Congressmen in the US, and close the Round. The long laundry list of concessions demanded but not negotiated would then be handled by declaring a new Round of "unfinished agenda" just as the Doha Round could be seen as one, tantalizingly an Obama Round, addressing the "unfinished agenda" of the Uruguay Round. But this was roundly rejected by the US.

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