The Multilateralist

If Doha goes down, what goes with it?

As far as I can tell, the imminent failure of the Doha round of international trade negotiations has been met with a collective yawn by most folks interested in multilateralism generally. In part, this is because international trade is in many ways its own separate–and very complicated– part of the multilateral architecture. And in part, ...

As far as I can tell, the imminent failure of the Doha round of international trade negotiations has been met with a collective yawn by most folks interested in multilateralism generally. In part, this is because international trade is in many ways its own separate–and very complicated– part of the multilateral architecture. And in part, it’s because the Doha round has been stumbling along for so long that all but the most devoted followers have lost interest. It’s hard to imagine anything very dramatic resulting when negotiators finally pull the plug on Doha.

Jagdish Bhagwati thinks this complacency is dangerous. He argues that what’s at stake is not only the round itself, but also the whole WTO structure, including its vaunted dispute resolution system:

If the Doha Round fails, trade liberalization would shift from the WTO to preferential trade agreements (PTAs), which are already spreading like an epidemic….As a result, the willingness of WTO members to invoke the Dispute Settlement Mechanism, the pride of the WTO – and, indeed, of international governance – would also be sapped. Tribunals established within PTAs would take over the business, leading to the atrophy, and eventual irrelevance, of the DSM.

Even those who have argued that Doha should fail have tended to argue that the WTO’s very useful dispute resolution system should remain. If Bhagwati is right, Doha’s failure might eventually take down the world’s most advanced system of binding dispute resolution between states. 

 Twitter: @multilateralist

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