World Trade

Doha – The end of the WTO? – The Sutherland Report Approach As international trade lawyers and enthusiasts will know Doha has seemingly lost a lot of credibility, but is it really a sign of the end of the WTO or just impatience? The Sutherland Report has a fair few critics, Pauwleyn being one of many to claim it was a missed opportunity, but the facts make for a good read. Relatively few trade negotiations have been concluded within a matter of a year or two, and why should they be? These are truly sensitive matters that require great thought. Also, the likes of past negotiations such as Tokyo and Uruguay were of similar length. The truth is, Doha is not necessarily the end of the WTO as much as it is an indicator that institutional changes are required. Yes, Doha has failed to get all members to agree, ask yourself why! Sutherland’s report is not the first to pick up that a pool of over 150+ heterogeneous members, with different cultures, different wealth, different beliefs, and different problems is unlikely to come to a consensual agreement with any great ease. Take the environment for example, the United States is joined by many nations who are calling for the protection of the plants, animals and the general environment. But, Cheyne asks the valid question of how do you expect 150+ different cultures to agree on the protection of Mother Nature’s fruits when one country treats a certain animal as part of the family and whilst another hunts it and considers it a culinary delight? The truth is there are too many disparate views for any agreement. So, how can the WTO cope? There’s no chance of forcing consensus, not by the book. Should those who veto be shown the door? Unlikely, and not practical. Maybe it’s time to have plurilateral decisions, lets those who wish to move ahead do so. This has its problems, but the current stalemate hardly seems a better option. Asking too much? Sutherland’s report, published in 2005, talks of how negotiators and Ministers were concentrating too hard on regional agreements (described as rarely useful) to have any energy leftover for multilateral negotiations. That was 5 years ago, where are we today? 2008 saw the bitter impact of a global recession, 2011 has been much-focused on the European crisis – are we likely to see Doha progress in the near future? No. With the Ministerial Meetings in Geneva occurring at a much-criticised frequency of once-every two years, there is hardly enough time or energy to concentrate on Doha – not that it is any less important! Critics often forget that the WTO has served well, it would be naive to say that it hasn’t had some adverse effects, but in all it has served well. I hope my short and selected review of the Sutherland Report and the current situation outlines how it may be fruitful for the WTO to consider long-term institutional changes which aid it out of the stalemate.

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2 thoughts on “World Trade

  1. Although my legal practice for 35 years involved a lot of international commercial dispute resolution, I never studied international trade law. I wonder whether we will see a pullback from the WTO and similar arrangements as a result of the international economic problems. The austerity measures being pressed in the EU, in my opinion, are a repetition of the erroneous polices of the early 1930’s that worsened the global depression. Keynes needs to be studied again.

    Thanks for your summary. Good luck on your further studies and future.

    • Unfortunately the WTO is becoming so watered-down with “exceptions” and regionalism that maybe a subconscious pullback has already started, or happened. It seems difficult to predict exactly what the position will be in 5 or 10 years time, yet it seems clear that those who did not factor sustainability into their growth plan are the ones struggling the most.
      Thank you for your kind words, I started this blog as a way to “get my name out there”, but it has grown into much more, I genuinely enjoy it (even if global times are bleak).
      I’m hoping to do a research degree next after this masters course, researching the relationship between political governance structures and trade liberalisation – paying close attention to so-called changes that are happening as we speak in the Middle East.
      Once again, thank you for your kind words!

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