Reviving Doha (Updated)

This morning the New York Times editorializes for a revivification of the Doha round of the WTO trade negotiations:

Big developing countries have been reluctant to reduce tariff ceilings, allowing themselves the option to increase their tariffs at any moment. They have been unwilling to open service sectors, like accounting or electricity generation, to foreign competition. They insist on being able to increase their barriers to protect farmers against sharp increases in food imports from cheaper producers abroad. They must be willing to make concessions on these points.

The rich West will also have to give more. The United States and Europe must slash agricultural subsidies more aggressively and refrain from adding more. The United States will have to reduce its own agricultural barriers — such as the one against Brazilian ethanol. It might have to offer more visas to professionals from countries like India.

That’s a very superficial understanding of the basic disagreements that have stalled the negotiations. It’s not merely U. S. agricultural subsidies and quotas that are the stumbling blocks: the EU provides big agricultural subsidies, too. Which of these is the more significant problem depends on what your main concern is. If you’re worried about food security for the developing world, the EU’s subsidies are a major problem since they’re exporting a lot more food there than we are. If you’re worried about the ability to sell cash crops, it’s U. S. cotton subsidies.

Mandates for renewable fuel sources here and in Europe are a problem, too. They’re raising the prices of oil food crops worldwide.

Would lifting barriers to Brazilian ethanol be a good thing or a bad thing? While it might marginally reduce the cost of feed corn on world markets, it might also encourage cutting down more rain forest to grow sugar cane. Where are the priorities?

China’s substantial agricultural subsidies and quotas on imported food are no small matter, either. Food self-sufficiency is a fundamental component of China’s economic policy. That’s not merely a matter of retaliation or simple protectionism. India is still nearly a one-way autarky: they’re selling a lot more (mostly services) to the U. S. than they’re buying. It’s not as though there’s nothing that India needs to buy—it’s a matter of policy.

And the U. S.’s hot-button concern, intellectual property, has barely made it on to the agenda, either at the trade talks or in the NYT’s editorial. If we’re going to found our prospects for economic growth on the creation of intellectual property, whether movie DVD’s, microprocessors, or pharmaceuticals, the developing world must be willing and able to enforce our intellectual property rights. I’m skeptical but that’s the reality.

As best as I can tell I’m one of the very few in the American political blogosphere who comments on trade negotiations—you can check back through my archives for my many posts posts on the subject. It doesn’t seem to be a subject that captures the imagination, possibly because there’s not a great deal of partisan hay to be made from the subject. I’d still like to know the answer to a question I posed nearly a year ago to Candidate Obama: how would he revive the Doha trade talks?

Update

The Washington Post editorializes on this topic today, too:

The moribund Doha round of free-trade talks must be revived, as the G-8 leaders also promised this week. After all, the Doha round was inaugurated eight years ago as the “development round” precisely because its goal was to eliminate poverty through trade, not aid. That objective remains unfulfilled and no less urgent.

and contributes some valuable insights:

Even if Congress fully funds the new program and every dollar is spent as intended, more must be done to help poor countries escape the cycle of hunger and aid dependency. The United States must foster markets by allowing relief agencies to spend U.S. aid money on food grown in poor regions abroad, not just in America.

This subject is one of those in which the differences between foreign policy realists and idealists are reconciled at the expense of non-interventionists. The problems in the developing world can’t be solved by policy changes in the developed world alone. Part of the problem is their lousy trade and agricultural policies. I have little doubt that good government in Africa would do more for hungry people there than a reduction in the U. S. cotton subsidy.

1 comment… add one

  • Brett

    And the U. S.’s hot-button concern, intellectual property, has barely made it on to the agenda, either at the trade talks or in the NYT’s editorial. If we’re going to found our prospects for economic growth on the creation of intellectual property, whether movie DVD’s, microprocessors, or pharmaceuticals, the developing world must be willing and able to enforce our intellectual property rights. I’m skeptical but that’s the reality.

    I wonder to what degree this is possible, anymore, in an era where so much information is non-rival and non-excludable due to technology. A lot of that information isn’t usable in many other countries (China, for example, could have all the plans on US space flight, but they don’t have the infrastructure to actually duplicate the technology using the information), but so much of it is, and is difficult to enforce even in areas where intellectual property rights do have legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms.

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