Downplaying the Doha failure
In another corner of FP, Charley Kenny argues that the failure of the Doha round of international trade talks wouldn’t be a big deal: There are plenty of incredibly valuable trade reforms that poor countries can carry out without a global agreement. There are a range of trade barriers in place in developing countries that ...
In another corner of FP, Charley Kenny argues that the failure of the Doha round of international trade talks wouldn't be a big deal:
In another corner of FP, Charley Kenny argues that the failure of the Doha round of international trade talks wouldn’t be a big deal:
There are plenty of incredibly valuable trade reforms that poor countries can carry out without a global agreement. There are a range of trade barriers in place in developing countries that don’t make sense even to those who like tariffs and quotas to support industrial development. With little local political opposition to overcome in these cases, there’s no need for a WTO-style international grand bargain to push them through. And if they re-engineer their tariffs and quotas to ensure a maximum variety of goods at home, countries with small economies will do an immense service to their citizens.
Kenny’s obviously correct that multilateral trade agreements aren’t necessary for countries to adopt beneficial free trade policies. Nobody argues that they are. The question is whether, in the aggregate, more trade-friendly policies and more trade result in the presence of multilateral agreement than absent them. The result depends in part on how the data is analyzed, but the research I’ve seen suggests that the answer is clearly yes. It’s possible that the bulk of countries will be persuaded by the economic logic of free trade even if the multilateral liberalization process seizes up. I just don’t think it’s very likely.
One of the strongest arguments for ongoing and continuous efforts at multilateral liberalization is that the process itself acts as a check against the inevitable domestic political pressures to restrict trade. The eventual success of round after round of international trade negotiations (first under the GATT, now under the WTO) creates a certain inevitability to trade liberalization that we now take for granted. This process is now part of the international economic ecosystem.
Kenny is awfully relaxed about the possibility that this form of international cooperation might become extinct. He’s not alone. Some free trade advocates have even argued that the round’s failure–and the WTO’s demise–would be for the best. Doha has been going on for so long and is so complex that it’s tough to get exercised about it one way or the other. But I’m betting that if Doha fails–and if the broader process of multilateral trade liberalization fails with it–that cavalier attitude is going to look downright negligent.
David Bosco is a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of The Poseidon Project: The Struggle to Govern the World’s Oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.