WTO Expansion: Time for Turnaround!

May 05, 2010

The Geneva-based South Centre has recently published a bulletin with updates about the status of the World Trade Organization (WTO) expansion negotiations, known as the “Doha Round.” You can click here for the entire – extremely useful – collection. At this point, the poorest developing countries are asking for an “early harvest” on the promised development benefits of the Round, and middle-income developing countries are demanding more balance within the negotiations on agriculture and industrial tariffs, as well as between the two issues.

Launched in 2001, governments worldwide have repeatedly rejected various iterations of the proposed expansion, which would further slash tariffs and other employment and industrial protections. What sane government is going to agree to job-killing tariff cuts during a global recession? Countries of the global South are also being asked to slash agricultural tariffs (to let in more subsidized agribusiness imports) while the minimal protections they’re demanding for farmers’ livelihoods and food security are being opposed – mostly by the United States. (This contradicts Obama’s commitment to global food security, by the way.) See here for more background on agriculture and food security issues.

As well, a WTO expansion would include NEW restrictions on financial services regulations – at the same time the G-20 and the U.S. Congress are knee-deep in devising new ways to subject financial speculation to public control. This, of course, makes no sense whatsoever – unless the same banking interests that wrecked our economy are writing the rules in the WTO! You can see Public Citizen’s helpful fact sheet on the issue.

Note: Countries that have kept their financial services OUT of the WTO – and were therefore free to use tools like capital controls during the recent crisis – fared better than those that committed their financial services sectors to WTO rules, which includes the United States. Capital controls are an important development tool in the crisis, if you missed CEPR’s recent paper on the subject. Kevin Gallagher of Tufts University had a great piece on this in the Guardian this week.

It seems that after 9+ years of fruitless negotiations, and in the context of the unraveling of neoliberal orthodoxy in the wake of the global financial and economic crises, the solution is not “new ambition” or a “few tweaks” here and there while maintaining the WTO’s overall goal of just increasing trade – but an entirely new agenda, based on using trade to protect jobs and sustainable development for global prosperity and economic security.

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