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How many readers were even aware that a meeting of trade minsters is happening in Geneva later this week? How many care? Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about the 2009 ministerial meeting headlined “to blog or not to blog…” because nothing was expected to happen, and nothing did. This year, I’m reverting to the original expression because it is (past) time for a decision on what to do with the Doha Round—finish it or bury it and move on. Institutional issues at the World Trade Organization, which are supposed to be the focus of the regular biennial meetings of ministers, are being neglected; the US Trade Representative uses the Doha Round as an excuse not to move on duty-free, quota-free market access for poor countries (see my forthcoming CGD note on this); and a variety of changes in the global economy—increased regionalism, the rise of China, the spread of fragmented manufacturing—mean that the negotiating agenda is behind the times.
The Obama administration has done nothing to help revive the Doha Round and is focusing its efforts on negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership with eight relatively small countries, four of which already have bilateral trade agreements with the United States. My colleague Arvind Subramanian and co-author Aaditya Mattoo argued in the Financial Times last week that this priority is misguided because it ignores China, and also that the Doha Round agenda is passé. They argue for a new multilateral effort with an agenda focused on issues raised by China’s growing dominance of the global economy. The details of the argument and the agenda—including manipulation of exchange rates, trade measures and climate change, government procurement, and food and energy access issues—are here. They also call for increased disciplines on regionalism as the only way to ensure that China is embedded in the multilateral trade system. While I might disagree with some of the details, I agree entirely on shifting the focus back to the multilateral forum.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.