Is Doha critical to surviving the crisis?


Joseph Francois says that the emphasis on the Doha Round is misplaced:

Approximately 30% of world trade is locked in at zero tariffs through various European agreements (the European Union treaties and the EEA), another 8% of trade is under zero tariffs locked in through NAFTA, and another 40% involves OECD importers where tariffs are at or very close to bound rates — i.e. there is no “binding overhang” (except for the OECD share involving food trade outside free trade blocks, which is roughly 2.5% of world trade).

On top of this, the commitments undertaken by China and Taiwan when they joined the WTO also limit their room for protectionist manoeuvres. If we also include Hong Kong and Singapore as “safe” importers (they are traditionally staunch free traders), this leaves around 20% of trade “at risk.” This involves Asian importers, Africa, Latin America, OPEC Members, and components of the former Soviet Union… What all this means is that the recent IFPRI study (which has been widely quoted) may greatly overstate the risk of Doha failing. Because of regional and multilateral bindings that really do bind, we will not get a massive unwinding of trade through widespread hikes in applied tariff schedules – unless the EU, NAFTA, and WTO themselves all unwind as well…

We need to devote energy to non-Doha issues in Geneva. These include the risk of rising and excessive use of antidumping, countervailing duty, and safeguard protection; misguided public subsidies (though some of the current ones may be justified on retro-Keynesian grounds); rising protection in the poorest countries; and temptation in the US Congress to violate existing treaty commitments. The WTO members should spend energy on these issues, but the Doha Round is not a critical part of the equation.