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New Hope for the WTO


Two years ago it seemed as though the Doha Round of trade talks were dead and the WTO was in critical condition. But with the organization’s biennial meeting in Bali approaching, there are new signs of life.

With much of the low-hanging fruit already picked, the WTO has had trouble getting a diverse group of member states to agree to much of anything in recent years, due in part to its attempts to push through a number of contentious reforms all at once. Now, however, the trade organization is encouraging member states to negotiate the terms of a less extensive trade agreement that could have enough support to get through. The Financial Times reports:

Rather than both sides shaping up for a fight over how big government food-buying and distribution programmes for the poor are administered, the consensus has moved towards negotiating the terms of a “peace clause”. This would see negotiations continue for a set time, during which critics of the Indian and other programmes agree not to file a case challenging them to the WTO. The compromise was first proposed by China at a meeting this month.

Another person familiar with the meetings said: “People are reasonable and seemingly keen to find common ground . . . [It is] a very, very different kind of conversation from what we have seen in the last five years.”

The WTO Doha round was ultimately felled by the same coordination problems that bedevil overreaching green projects and other quixotic attempts at global governance. Global free trade is a good idea, but is more of an aspiration than something that’s just around the corner. Perhaps this piecemeal, conciliatory approach will allow the organization to regain some momentum and pluck a few more of the lower-hanging fruits off the vine.

[WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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  • tarentius

    The assumption by the author of this article that WTO trade agreements are somehow beneficial to the United States but there is no objective study indicating that this is so. In fact, the United States has not benefited from the WTO and the evidence is that the United States is better off signing bilateral or regional agreements.

  • lukelea

    Global free trade is a good idea

    Not without compensation for the losers out of the gains of the winners:

    We overlook the principle of compensation at our peril. It is an integral part of trade theory.

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