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March 26, 2010  

As the Key WTO Doha Round Stocktaking 'Summit' Announced at the November 2009 WTO Ministerial Vaporizes this Week, Will a New Negotiating Agenda Finally Be Considered?

Statement of Lori Wallach, Director, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch Division

This week's World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Round stocktaking meeting was a far cry from the ministerial-level summit that WTO officials had announced late last year was critical for completing the beleaguered negotiations in 2010. Deep divisions about the substance and process of negotiations resulted in the vaunted spring stocktaking summit being downgraded to sessions this week among Geneva-based country representatives and some senior officials from member country capitals.

As the downgraded meeting started, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy noted that "many eyes are on us this week," and that the meeting had been organized in response to the call by WTO member countries' trade ministers when they met at the seventh WTO Ministerial Conference last December. Lamy said that the "signal that we are able to send from this week, this stocktaking, will be closely watched by a broader world community, not just be trade negotiators."

That there is insufficient support for or progress on the Doha Round agenda even to allow for a legitimate stocktaking summit of countries' decision-makers is the signal that confirms what many WTO member countries say off the record: We will not see conclusion of the Doha Round this year or anytime soon, if ever.

The question is, when will WTO member countries agree to replace the Doha Round with an updated agenda? The Doha Round was launched in 2001 with a 2005 deadline, so it is not surprising that its terms conflict with resolution of the key challenges countries face today as financial and climate crises dominate global policymaking efforts.

Rather than proposing remedies to the financial and climate crises, the Doha Round agenda includes further financial deregulation and energy sector proposals that conflict with efforts now under way by the Obama administration and Congress and in other nations to stabilize the economy and transition to a low-carbon future. Talks that include, for instance, the special Doha Round working party, whose only function is to set new disciplines limiting domestic regulation of all service sectors, have no place in an era when global leaders are calling for climate protection measures and financial services reregulation.

Given that World Bank studies project that implementation of the current agenda would offer limited gains to developed countries and result in net losses for most African, Asian, Arab, Caribbean and Latin American nations, it is not surprising that the many countries now focused on combating high unemployment remain unenthusiastic about the Doha Round.

U.S. officials' messaging on the Doha Round, like that of most WTO member countries, remains schizophrenic; statements invariably begin by reiterating commitment to the Doha Round's quick completion and then proceed to enumerate the many deep problems with it and fundamental changes necessary before agreement is possible. Underlying these statements is a difficult reality: No country wants to be blamed for pulling the plug on these WTO talks, even as many seek a new approach.



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