Death of the WTO?


Representatives from 146 members of the World Trade Organization (wto) met in Cancun, Mexico, in mid-September. The five-day conference ended with developing countries calling the West’s bluff and refusing to accept the modest concessions on offer from the EU and the United States.

With the talks regarded as a failure by the international community, some have openly questioned whether they spell irreparable breakdown for the wto—a “democratic” organization where, with decisions made based on consensus, any one of its 148 members can hold up negotiations at any point. Can this huge international organization, designed to aid global economic stability—with particular emphasis on assisting poor nations reach higher economic prosperity and pull their economically deprived masses out of poverty—actually fulfill its stated commission?

The latest failure had its roots in the first round of negotiations under the Doha Development Agenda, which took place nearly two years earlier in Qatar. These talks were “marked by acrimony between rich and poor. The rhetoric was grand …” (Economist, Sept. 20). The Doha round of trade talks was intended to cut industrial and agricultural tariffs, abolish agricultural export subsidies, enable free trade in services, and establish global rules in four new areas of trade. However, since that meeting, for the most part, none of the countries have taken action. In the time between the two rounds of talks, “All self-imposed deadlines were missed; all tough political decisions were put off” (ibid.).

Most pundits agree that the wto is not yet at risk of dying. But will the organization ever be able to fulfill its originally intended role of helping producers of goods and services, exporters and importers, conduct their business? If recent history be our guide, the wto will continue to degenerate into a platform for the poor to condemn the rich and the rich to consolidate the rules of trade between nations in their own interests.