Trade Liberalization in Trouble

Article excerpt


If, as many observers argued, the Doha round on trade liberalization was on life support before highly regarded U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman left last week to become White House budget director, it is hard to imagine what can be done to resuscitate trade negotiations now. Although not a direct consequence of Mr. Portman's departure, the World Trade Organization , which is overseeing the talks, cancelled a ministerial meeting scheduled for this week. That means negotiators will miss their April 30 deadline, by which time they were to have reached agreement on farm subsidies and agricultural and industrial tariffs. The April 30 deadline was set after December's ministerial meeting in Hong Kong failed to achieve its goals. Before that disappointment, there was the fiasco in Cancun in 2003. And, of course, before the Doha round was ambitiously launched in 2001 shortly after September 11, there was the Seattle meltdown of 1999.

The WTO expects negotiations to resume in May and June. In the unlikely event that negotiators reach agreement on matters relating to agriculture and goods, the talks would then move on to trade liberalization in services, such as banking and insurance. While the issues both on and off the table remain bunched up, the time to solve them is becoming shorter. Trade Promotion Authority, which requires Congress to vote up or down on trade agreements without amending them, will expire in June 2007. …