Doha Round: Selling the Failure

It’s anger and frustration whereever you look – and that’s even before reading the latest edition of The Economist where they must be fuming. One leitmotif that they will come back to as they did so many times before is the element of fairness for the really poor countries that the Doha round was meant to include.

Farming was at the heart of the fatal dispute. European and North American subsidies for their farmers on the one hand, and special safeguard mechanisms by which developing countries could have opted for temporary tariff barriers to control prices or block import surges.

Then they all began to sell the failure. This is what All India Radio had to say on July 28:

Commerce and Industry minister Kamal Nath said after WTO meeting in Geneva that some developed countries have said large and emerging countries were creating problems in the talks. “But the fact is that we are emerging, and nobody should judge that.”

China‘s Commerce minister stuck to his country’s nice old tradition:

Developed countries need to fully understand the core concerns of developing nations and should not hinder the settlement of these problems, said Chen (July 29).

The same source, China Radio International, doesn’t forget to make it clear who is calling the shots in negotiations with the evil and unconsiderate “developed countries”:

Many countries such as India, Indonesia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia have voiced support for the Chinese stance.

Please think of China’s government as The Good Shepherd that is taking care of all the poor nations of the earth, defending them against the evil “developed countries” (i. e. Western countries) greedy schemes.

Most media coverage seems to see America and India at the center of the brawl. But that’s just good PR luck for the European Union. In fact, its role in the talks wasn’t glorious either. Peter Mandelson, the EU’s trade commissioner, sounds sort of self-critical on July 29:

I realize that you will ask who is to blame for this failure. The answer of course is that it is a collective failure.

That may not be so far from the truth. But besides the collective failure of the ministers talking in Geneva, Mandelson may have had another collective failure in mind. It was no unusual day for the European Union: according to Le Monde, Britain, Germany and Spain led a majority of EU members who were willing to make more concessions to save the talks. France in particular opposed that. Once again, the EU members couldn’t even find agreement among themselves, and Le Monde (July 30, pages 1 & 2) shows little mercy for the French president who, it says, missed opportunities in both his role as a (in this case agricultural) reformer at home and as the EU chairman abroad.

The blame games are useless. They can only make future talks harder. But there is homework to do for the European Union in particular. And the developing countries must not expect emerging countries to be their speakers. China may like the role, but not the substance of it.

India’s straightforward reply to Western accusations probably mirrors the situation best: there are differences between developed, emerging, developing, and poor countries. All of them need allies. But these alliances can only be built on genuine common interest.

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