A Recipe for Reviving Doha


Wall Street Journal – Europe
By Catherin Ashton and Simon Crean
June 22, 2009


With this week’s meeting of the trade ministers of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and next month’s G-8 summit, skeptics are already saying we are jumping back on the World Trade Organization "merry-go-round" for another futile run at a world trade deal. Some point to what they see as irreconcilable differences on the substance of the negotiations, saying that if a deal were in the offing it would have been achieved by now. The elements of the package already agreed offer everyone substantial gains. To re-ignite the Doha round, we need to give an idea of what a final deal might look like, and create a shared, solid perception by all WTO members that this is not an open-ended process.

To do so, we need to begin discussions on a wider range of key areas that will be part of the final deal we are looking for, called the "Single Undertaking." So far we have concentrated on two important elements: agriculture and industrial goods. The negotiations for these two elements are far ahead of other areas, and we should not re-open what has been achieved here. We need to build on that progress and tackle other issues such as trade rules or services, the fastest growing sector of world trade. Without progress in these areas it is difficult for each country to see the final package they would be signing up to.

Where special arrangements have been made to shield certain sectors from full tariff liberalization, we now need clarity from all — including developing countries — on what sectors they will protect. Not to go back on what has been agreed, but so that each WTO member can objectively weigh up what is on offer.

We also need to test what industrial sectors might be ripe for greater liberalization in so-called "sectoral" agreements, which would lead to deeper cuts in some areas as part of the broader talks. It is true that it was agreed a few years ago that these deals would only be for those who want to participate. We also cannot deny that negotiations in this area will be difficult, but sectorals will greatly improve the quality of the final Doha package. Exploratory talks of this kind should be in good faith with all of the largest economies — developed and developing — participating. If we are not able to explore now what a package acceptable for all needs to look like, including on sectorals, we will certainly fail.

Completing a Doha deal would immediately give a serious confidence boost to the world economy. A successful deal will also show that the WTO is not the creation of the big powers that have influenced the system over the past 50 years. Instead there will be a new rule book, the joint vision of the 153 members who run the WTO today. If we fail however, the multilateral system would take a serious hit beyond trade policy, bringing into question our ability to solve other global problems like climate change.

We have a new administration in place in Washington, and a strong returning government in New Delhi. Critically, these two key players have shown that they are ready to return to the negotiating table. Negotiators can take us part of the way, but real political will is needed. We should aim to make sufficient progress this year to reach final agreement on a full Doha package in 2010.

Ms. Ashton is European commissioner for trade and Mr. Crean is Australian minister for trade.

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