The 2011/11/28 at 08:51
In November 2001, the 142 member countries of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) gathered in Doha, Qatar, to sign an agreement boding for a renewal of world trade aiming to liberalise trade exchanges: the Doha Round. Ten years later, results have been far lower than those targeted. “The round is at an impasse,” says the Director-General of the WTO, Pascal Lamy, at the head of the institution since 2005. In terms of progress made by the organisation, specialists cite intellectual property rules for access to medicines in poor countries, the resolution of the banana conflict, exports free from customs duties and quotas for the least wealthy countries. But crucial issues such as agriculture, industry and services have barely moved forward. In mid-December, the States are expected to confirm this failure during the traditional ministerial conference of the WTO. Certain are pleading for no less than a stop to the Doha Round.
In the space of ten years, the world has changed, they argue. The emerging countries of 2001 are no longer the emerging countries of 2011. Their interests have evolved as their economies have taken off at greed speed. In particular, free-trade agreements have taken precedence over a paralysed form of multilateralism. And the USA, formerly a driving force behind Doha, now seems more motivated by regional economic interests. As the last piece of proof to date, during of the Asia Pacific Economic Forum (APEC) in Hawaii, US President Barack Obama announced the “broad outlines of an agreement” for his Trans-Pacific Partnership project under negotiation with eight APEC countries: Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Chile and Peru.
In the face of the euro zone’s sluggishness, the US government is turning towards the Asia-Pacific zone and its elevated growth, considered fundamental for boosting exports and creating jobs. The main objective of the TPP will be to gradually eliminate customs duties over a ten-year period. With this prospect, Japan, the world’s third economic power, has confirmed its interest in the partnership, while Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and South Korea are mentioned as possible participants in the project. China, on the other hand, has not expressed any interest. Indeed, Beijing is endeavouring to set up its own free-trade agreement with various Asian countries including Japan and South Korea.
So we are far off from the proclaimed objectives of multilateralism. Within such conditions, the annual meeting of the WTO may well mark the official end to Doha and the start of negotiations on new bases yet to be defined. Stakes are high. The paralysis of the negotiation “endangers the operation and work of the WTO,” expressed Pascal Lamy with concern at the end of July. Yet the death of the WTO, and consequently the return of the law of the strongest, would not be good news for Europe.