The Doha Round, the first multilateral trade negotiation conducted under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, is at a critical stage. Now in their 10th year, with much negotiated, the talks need a final political nudge, lest Doha – and hence the WTO – disappear from the world's radar screen.
Indeed, the danger is already real: when I was in Geneva a year ago and staying at the upscale Mandarin Oriental, I asked the concierge how far away the WTO was. He looked at me and asked: “Is the World Trade Organization a travel agency?”
The threat of irrelevance is understood by leading statesmen, who have committed themselves to putting their shoulders to the wheel. British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have unequivocally endorsed the recommendation of the High-level Expert Group on Trade, which Peter Sutherland and I co-chair, that we ought to abandon the Doha Round if it is not concluded by the end of this year.
Our idea was that, just as the prospect of an imminent hanging concentrates the mind, the deadline and prospective death of the Doha Round would galvanize the world's statesmen behind completing the last mile of the marathon. (The analogy is all the more appropriate, given that WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, who has brilliantly kept the process going, is a marathon runner.)