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Committed to Doha Round
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The fate of the Doha Round of global trade talks and the multilateral trading system itself hang in the balance after World Trade Organization (WTO) members decided Monday to indefinitely suspend negotiations.


The talks broke up as a result of irreconcilable differences over farm subsidies.


Immediately after the unproductive two-day meeting, an exhausted negotiator said what he needed was a quiet night and a chance to reflect about what had happened.


However, after five years of haggling, countries with a stake in world trade will surely have more to think about.


First, WTO members the major players need to make calculations about whether a freer global trading system would benefit them.


It would not be difficult to reach a positive answer.


In places where visionary people can still make a case for an option in their long-term interests, the next point is: how to rally sufficient supporters that can outweigh protectionists.


In countries where electoral pressure can easily make politicians deviate from tracks leading to more prosperity for fear of short-term pain, or countries without much influence in WTO negotiations, decision-makers may prepare for a worst case scenario in which the multilateral framework is seriously weakened by the fiasco of the Doha Round.


It would not be difficult to work out a solution. In fact, after the failed talks in Cancun in 2003, many countries had already started their preparations. The result of this is mushrooming bilateral and regional trade arrangements, currently numbering nearly 200.


The plight or eventual collapse of the Doha Round will certainly encourage more such arrangements to come, making the complicated network of free trade deals dubbed a "spaghetti bowl" by some even more complicated.


Poor countries will be in a disadvantageous position in forging free trade agreements with stronger economies. What they can do is to boost domestic trade.


The sad part of the plethora of bilateral or regional free trade pacts is that it would corner not only less-developed nations, but also nations determined to champion free trade.


Trade will continue even if the trade talks fail although business will be conducted at higher costs.


However, it will be a shame for WTO members, especially for the rich nations who initiated the talks, promising that the Doha Round would provide poor nations with more growth opportunities.


Leaders of the developed nations now should ask themselves whether they are still sincere about that promise.


Leaders of the Group of Eight have answered that question twice in Gleneagles in 2005 and in St. Petersburg earlier this month, by jointly announcing their commitment to the Doha Round.


Leaders of the Pacific Rim nations may plan to repeat that vow at the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum Summit in November in Vietnam.


The world does not need that pledge to be repeated before they seriously ponder the future of the Doha Round, the future of the world trade system and their countries' roles in it.


(China Daily July 26, 2006)


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