Picking up the Pieces After Doha’s Collapse

Much has been said about the stalemate in Doha trade negotiations. International leaders, economists and academics disagree on whether the collapse of the negotiations is necessarily a bad thing.

To some, the stalemate raises warning signs for an imminent crisis in the multilateral trading regime. Others argue that delays in trade talks are normal, and they note that Uruguay trade talks took longer than the current 8-year round.

Meanwhile, anti-globalization activists celebrate, arguing that Doha was an attempt to increase access to developing markets masqueraded as a promotion of development goals. More moderate commentators such as former United Nations economist Paul Rayment see the breakdown of talks as a "much-needed incentive and opportunity for reflection and debate" about the principles of trade. On the other hand, United Nations and World Bank chiefs have been urging leaders to return to the negotiating table, cautioning that a collapse of the talks would mean losses for developing countries.

World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy is arguably the staunchest advocate of aid-for-trade, which aims to strengthen the capacities of developing countries, build trade-related infrastructure and provide trade-related technical assistance.

Much has also been said about the issues that caused the stalemate - farm subsidies and special safeguard mechanisms served as the negotiations' main stumbling blocks. There has been some finger-pointing - to the United States, for instance, because it refused to lower trade-distorting subsidies below the proposed $15 billion, or India, which reserves the right to allow the increase of tariffs during times of import surges or steep falls in domestic prices.

Was development really at the heart of the trade talks or was the touting of a series of talks as the "development round" merely a way to lure developing countries to the negotiating table? How will the talks affect international development? What will become of the aid-for-trade proposals? Will the U.S. and European Union play political hardball and use aid as leverage for gaining concessions if negotiations remain difficult?

Perhaps Paul Rayment was right. Perhaps the current trade talks stalemate will buy time and allow stakeholders to let the dust settle and rethink the relationship of aid and trade and how the latter may contribute to development.

About the author

  • Mara Yasmin Baviera

    Mara Baviera is a young researcher working in the Early Intelligence Team in Devex. Before joining the organization, she worked as a research assistant in various projects on human security, decision-making and economic development in the Philippines and trade negotiations. Her areas of interest include political economy, trade and development.