Whither the WTO? A Progress Report on the Doha Round

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Where does the World Trade Organization stand, one year into theDoha Round of multilateral trade negotiations? The new round,launched in Qatar in November 2001, will include negotiations onreducing barriers to trade in industrial goods, farm products, andservices and taking the WTO into new territory to coverinvestment-, competition-, and environment-related trade policies.The new round presents great opportunities, but it also creates newrisks for world trade.

Little progress has been made since negotiations in the newround started in January 2002. Doomsayers prophesy a replay of theSeattle disaster-perhaps at the next ministerial conference inCancun in September 2003-and a marginalized, increasinglyirrelevant WTO further down the line.

Clouding the negotiations at the WTO are three alarming trends:creeping standards harmonization, through which more-developedmembers seek to impose higher regulatory standards in such areas asintellectual property on less-developed members; excessivelegalism, through which WTO panel rulings fill in the gaps of WTOagreements; and a more politicized WTO, where interest-grouppolitics threatens to paralyze the organization.

Looking ahead, the round could follow three divergent scenarios:a focus on market access and trade-barrier reduction (thetraditional and preferred focus of multilateral negotiations); aneffort, principally by the European Union, to turn the WTO into alumbering regulatory agency in its own image; and a UN-style futurefor the WTO, with deep divisions and blanket exemptions fordeveloping countries.

For the new round to succeed, the major players, the UnitedStates and the EU, must contain domestic political difficulties,defuse bilateral conflicts, and co-operate intensively. A Bushadministration leading from the front, notwithstandingprotectionist blemishes at home, must forge issue-based andacross-the-board alliances with market-access-oriented WTO members,especially within the developing world. Only then will the WTO headin the right direction.

Razeen Sally

Razeen Sally is an associate professor in international political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, director of trade policy for the Commonwealth Business Council, and a memeber of the Board of Advisers of the Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies.