Doha Round Worth Fighting For
In my view a failed Ministerial is not a failed Round. I am not aware that any of the negotiators have indicated that the Round has failed, and it is important as talks move forward to remain committed to sound agricultural policy, both in international trade and on a domestic level. Regarding agricultural trade policy, I strongly believe that a multilateral approach is the best. Bilateral agreements cannot substitute for a multilateral system. Standards and dispute settlement are just two examples of issues that must be addressed on a multilateral level. Domestically, good agricultural policy should not depend on WTO negotiations. The EU has shown that developing a modern agricultural policy is possible without first having a completed WTO Round.
While former Agriculture Commissioner Fischler used the WTO to sell the new policy to the farmers, the origin of the new policy was domestic and related to the attitude of the general public toward agriculture and the costs of the old policy. It may be necessary to rethink the global food trade system and agriculture trade agreements in the light of recent external factors, including rising food prices, new biofuel policies, and fear of globalization. The Doha Round began before these developments occurred, therefore they are not part of the negotiations. However, rethinking the system could well take 5 years or more, given the slow progress in the Doha Round. Negotiations certainly have not moved quickly, but the fact that much has already 'provisionally' been agreed upon should not be neglected. The agreement "on the table" - areas where consensus has already been reached - is a step forward for trade liberalization compared to the Uruguay Round. Even in the failed Ministerial much progress was made, unfortunately without being formalized in a final outcome. All that has been agreed upon in the Doha Round thus far should not be lost but consolidated.
All efforts should be directed towards finishing this Round, even if it takes a few more years. There is too much to lose and much to gain.
Jan-Maarten Vrij is the Director of the Nederlandse Zuivel Organisatie (Dutch Dairy Association) and a Member Affiliate of the International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy Council (IPC). A joint initiative of The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and the International Food & Agriculture Trade Policy Council (IPC), this blog collaboration aims to provide insight on concluding the Doha Round and pursuing trade liberalization in the future.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.