ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Fading into Irrelevance

The seventh ministerial of the World Trade Organisation was symbolic of the growing irrelevance of the organisation.

The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) seventh ministerial meeting in Geneva earlier this month was likened to a “hippo dance” of trade ministers. Over 100 ministers came, spoke in small configurations over lunches and dinners, and went back home without anything to show for their efforts – except to promise to continue talking in the new year. If there is one message from this “blind-leading-the-blind” meeting, it is that the trade body is on a slippery slope towards irrelevance. The reasons for this rapid decline are many, but two developments stand out. The first is the intransigent position adopted by the world’s sole superpower – the United States (US) – on the dying Doha Development Agenda (DDA) trade negotiations since the Hong Kong Ministerial Meeting in 2005. And, the second, the dubious role of the WTO and its current director general Pascal Lamy over the last four years in helping the US play havoc with the Doha round of trade negotiations.

Unlike previous ministerial meetings, particularly Seattle (1999) and Cancun (2003), both of which collapsed like a house of cards, the seventh ministerial did not face any controversy. This is not surprising given the “substance-free” preparation for the meeting that chose deliberately not to discuss substantive issues plaguing the organisation, particularly the stalled Doha round. Consequently, the meeting lasted a little over 48 hours with a plethora of “feel-good” speeches on the state of the global economy, the contribution of the WTO in resisting protectionist pressures, etc.

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