Sunday, July 02, 2006

Looking at the brink in the rearview mirror...

The Doha Round of trade talks looks to be at impasse. I know this is as exciting as World Cup play to most US farmers, but I think the significance of failure could grow in months to come. Part of the problem with global negotiations is they are so slow that an actual halt is matter of degree.

Of course, many in and out of agriculture are not so upset at the collapse. And while I would like to say "I told you so" to all the lobbyists and lawmakers who knowingly told me the talks would seem to die and be saved by last minute concessions, I can't find the heart.

Rich countries are also quite good at keeping developing-country industrial products out of their markets when they want to, by the use of so-called tariff peaks. Developing countries, meanwhile, often have high tariff barriers and are reluctant to reduce them in the absence of rich-country concessions. The effect, however, is to do more damage to other developing countries, restricting so-called South-South trade. Nobody wins from the deadlock.

But how much would we lose if Doha does not succeed? While a deal would be preferable, failure might not be a disaster.

The shift in the global economy, largely brought about by the rise of China and India, is changing things in a way that dwarfs the efforts of trade negotiators. The developing-country share of world trade has risen to more than 30%, its highest for more than half a century, because fast-growing China and India are categorised as developing countries.

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