Launched in 2001, the Doha Round talks definitely seem to be doomed to failure, since the WTO most influential members no longer believe in them.
Last week, Michael Punke, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the WTO, stated that participants should acknowledge that the Round is stalled and added that no agreement would be better than an inadequate agreement. A few days earlier in Canada, the Cairns Group appeared to recognize the collapse of the talks. The Group, which gathers the major agricultural commodity exporters such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Argentina and Brazil, had set as a key goal the fight against agricultural subsidies. But in view of the Doha failure, these nations no longer insist on the total elimination of subsidies.
Pending the December ministerial meeting, which will undoubtedly confirm the failure of the talks as we previously indicated1, the various Member States are now seeking to identify the currently available alternatives to the Doha Round.
Michael Punke thus emphasized the need to alter the current “lowest common denominator” WTO approach, in which the nations most reluctant to open trade are setting the terms of the talks. He recommends an approach that allows the most determined countries to lead the Round.
As for the Cairns Group, it has targeted the opening of borders and focused on the need to return agricultural issues to the heart of the WTO talks, for the sake of food security. The issue is indeed timelier than ever, but we might question, as it is done by Olivier de Schutter, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food, the beneficial consequences of trade on food security, at least as long as the economic specificities of this key sector are not recognized.
Thus, an increasing number of voices are speaking out to formalize the “clinical death” of the Doha Round and consider on one hand the renovation of the very fundamentals of the Round in order to include the strategic aspects sorely missing in agricultural issues––such as food security––and on the other the current negotiation process in a world that has been deeply altered since 2001.
Unfettered agricultural market liberalization and food security for all peoples have never been good bedfellows.
1 Please see momagri’s July 25, 2011 article “WTO: Pascal Lamy admits ‘huge problems’” http://www.momagri.org/UK/a-look-at-the-news/WTO-Pascal-Lamy-admits-huge-problems_962.html