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Assessing the Doha Development Agenda

Experts are divided on the prospects for a successful outcome of the Doha Development Agenda of the World Trade Organization (WTO), saying that the talks are unlikely to conclude before 2009 or 2010.

The Doha Round aims to lower trade barriers worldwide, permitting free trade between countries of varying prosperity. But the talks have been stalled over disagreements between the developed nations—led by the European Union, the United States and Japan—and the major developing countries, represented by the G20 developing nations and led by India, Brazil, China and South Africa.

World-class trade experts and economists gathered at IDB headquarters in Washington, DC to discuss the likelihood of success of the Doha Round and the implications of the talks for Latin America and the Caribbean.

While the prevailing view among the trade experts was that the talks will eventually generate results, there was strong skepticism about the amount of substance the expected outcome is likely to contain. There were also doubts on a final date for the conclusion of the Agenda; most experts don’t expect talks to conclude anytime soon, at least not until 2009 or 2010. 

Lack of consensus among developed and developing countries on several issues, the influence of political cycles in major trading partners and the complexities inherent in multi-party, multi-issue negotiations are factors that do not lend themselves to an easy solution.

An increasing number of regional trade agreements and more trade litigation, particularly on agricultural issues, were mentioned as likely consequences of a failed round. Some analysts noted that since brinkmanship abounds in trade negotiations, countries should, sooner or later, be able to find final accommodation of their interests. Others mentioned the need to analyze trade politics of the US more carefully, particularly the current discussions around a new Farm Bill, which may bring additional complexities into an already murky mix of interests and pressures.      

On the other hand, regional experts coincided that the Doha Development Agenda is important for all of the countries for many systemic and economic reasons. A successful agenda may provide important market access opportunities for agricultural and industrial goods as well as for services. Likewise, a successful conclusion may eliminate agricultural export subsidies altogether and reduce other trade-distorting subsidies, a very important outcome for Latin American countries. Such a scenario was perceived as a good complement to current efforts by many Latin American and Caribbean countries to pursue and implement regional and bilateral trade agreements.

Opened by Antoni Estevadeordal, Manager of the Integration and Trade Sector (INT), the IDB seminar began with remarks from Prof. John Jackson, a distinguished trade scholar, and professor of Law at the Georgetown University School of Law in Washington DC. The activity included panels on issues of direct interest to Latin America and the Caribbean such as agricultural trade, trade facilitation and market access, and trade politics in the US. The final panel focused on the views of Latin American trade experts on the Doha Development Agenda. Among the main speakers were William Cline and Gary Hufbauer of the Peterson Institute of International Economics and Brian Staples of Trade Facilitation Services. Latin American experts included Aluisio Lima Campo (Brazil), Hugo Cayrús (Uruguay), Eugenio Díaz Bonilla (Argentina), Alejandro Foxley (Chile) and Héctor Márquez (México).

Special participation of former Ambassador Julio Lacarte Muró marked the event.  Ambassador Lacarte is an illustrious Uruguayan diplomat with a professional career spanning more than six decades. He is the only person who has presided over the legislative, judicial and executive spheres of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the WTO, ranging from Deputy Director General of the GATT in 1947, to Chairman of the Contracting Parties of the GATT in the 1980s, to Chairman of the first Appellate Body of the WTO in the 1990s.  He was also Uruguay’s Ambassador in Washington DC, Germany, Tokyo, Bolivia, and Ecuador, among others. The seminar also was an opportunity for the Bank to launch a DVD showcasing an interview with Amb. Lacarte, in which he discusses some of his most memorable moments in multilateral and regional trade and diplomatic relations.

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