It's not easy - but somehow the WTO has kept its head firmly planted in the sand for over six years now, trying vainly to force down the throats of members a trade agreement based on an outdated and discredited model for globalization. The Doha Round at the WTO was launched in 2001 just a few months after the September 11 terrorists attacks. IATP was one of the few U.S. groups in the tiny country of Qatar during the negotiations and saw firsthand as WTO members grappled with the attacks and the uncertainty of what would come next. It was that uncertainty that brought member countries together for a tentative and vaguely worded deal allegedly to help design rules to promote development in the poorest countries.
But the goodwill from Doha was never based on a consensus for trade as a model for development. Or more specifically, that further trade liberalization was the answer. The conflicts that split the WTO apart in Seattle returned in Cancun in 2003. Some slow progress was again made in Hong Kong 2005, only to be split again last year when talks broke down.
This month, over 90 civil society organizations from rich and poor countries wrote WTO trade ministers calling for them to stop the charade and end the Doha Round. The groups wrote, "Instead of coming up with a set of multilateral trade rules designed to increase the capacities of developing countries to create new jobs, eliminate poverty and build sustainable economies, the Doha Agenda has been manipulated to primarily serve the interests of the northern industrialized powers to expand market access for their transnational corporations."
The letter cites a steady stream of research since 2005 from the UN, World Bank and academic researchers showing that the push within the Doha Round to further expand trade liberalization would not benefit the WTO's poorest countries.
As IATP's Trade Information Project points out in its latest Geneva Update, a break from the Doha Round is essential to understanding what has gone wrong with the WTO brand of globalization: "An honest reflection on the implementation experience, something governments committed to in Article 20 of the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture itself, would set the stage for quite a different agenda, one that included measures to redress the imbalances and inequities of the first agreement, and one that looked harder at the impediments to realizing a 'fair and market-oriented' trading system."
The Doha Round isn't going anywhere. As WTO members meet at the end of this month in a last gasp to revive the Doha Round, they would be wise to lift their heads out of the sand, take a deep breath of fresh air, and as civil society recommends in their letter, start a process to create "alternative trade regimes that are people, development, and environment centered."