RIP: Doha, we hardly knew ye

By Kevin Clarke| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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While the final gruesome collapse of what had been the seemingly endless "Doha Round" of WTO trade talks produced rent garments and teeth-gnashing among the free trade gang trying to direct global commerce, in other quarters, Doha's demise was not exactly cause for as much despair. "The moldering corpse of the Doha WTO-expansion round should have been buried years ago" was Public Citizen 's take on it. Here's more from PC's Director Lori Wallach:  

"Thank God no deal was reached, because the proposal under consideration would have exacerbated the serious economic, food security and social problems now rocking numerous countries . . . Hopefully, after this latest rejection of the Doha agenda, countries will move on to a new agenda focused on fixing the existing WTO rules.

"Countries’ unwillingness to concede on particular themes is the proximate cause for the collapse, but government positions were based on strong public opposition in many poor and rich nations alike to expanding WTO scope and authority after more than a decade of experience of the WTO’s damaging outcomes . . . The WTO’s 14-year lifespan has sparked a dramatic wave of popular protest across the world, and this week’s talks were no different, with small farmers, fishers and workers protesting in various national capitals and teams of civil society activists traveling to Geneva to remind their countries’ WTO delegates of the political consequences at home of damaging compromises . . . With the damaging socio-economic consequences of WTO implementation and an exclusive negotiating process at the summit having once again translated into a rejection of WTO expansion, the organization’s already-shaky legitimacy is nearing rock bottom. "

China and India apparently threw the final shovelfuls of dirt on Doha, worried about impoverishing their subsistence farmers and crippling domestic food capacity. Subsidy-fat American and European farm interests cried foul (though that may have been the stench of their own hypocrisy). After all, we played by the rules when we sacrificed our textile and steel and misc. other heavy industries—a policy, enriching the few and engendering much suffering among the many, that now appears simultaneously poltically naive and ideologically ruthless. It's time for the Chinese and Indians to play ball!

Them dudes, perhaps reviewing the sorry history of other developing nations that sacrificed food self-sufficiency to the illusory payoff purported to export commodity monoculture and compartive advantage, did not agree.

Those most likely to immediately endure the brunt of the WTO failure may be poor export-centric farmers in developing economies who had been seeking a more level playing field with susidized agricultural producers in the U.S. and Europe, but such folk may be better off in the long run with a weakened WTO and greater national and individual autonomy.

Now that all the lions have again proved unable to decide who gets the fattest share of the world's "free trade" perhaps it is time to let some alternative voices on trade be heard. Maybe we can begin to restructure trade policies such that food security (and the related issue of local food autonomy), labor and environmental standards, and authentic economic and human development can be part of a discussion previously limited to liberating capital, opening markets, and economic privatization as if these were the only issues that mattered in global commerce.