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A hard look at Doha
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Even before the dust settles, the dire consequences of the failure to save the Doha Round will be widely felt and further buffet the already ailing global economy.

It would be a great pity for members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to lose such a close opportunity to seal a historic deal that could lift millions of people out of poverty in the long run and boost global growth in the short term.

Yet, we cannot afford to regret it without reconsidering the approach to deliver a "development round". A breakthrough of the Doha Round increasingly hinges on a new consensus on principles and priorities of the new global trade pact.

To make it a real development round and avoid repeating the kind of tragic failure that trade ministers have to face now after the nine-day marathon talks, all WTO members must reach an agreement on the underlying importance of a free and fair global trade system to facilitate the development of poor countries.

With such a consensus, negotiators from all sides can possibly get priorities right and make necessary compromises in the spirit of the "Development Round".

Without it, any minor factor can spoil all the collective efforts WTO members have made.

It was reported that the stiff position of some rich countries on special safeguard mechanism on agriculture to help poor farmers in developing countries deal with floods of imports had largely cost us the much-needed global trade pact this time. There may be profound and complex domestic reasons behind the deadlock, but lack of concession over such an issue concerning the security of livelihood in developing countries is still unfortunate and unbelievable in the trade talks dubbed the "development round".

The benefits of a full Doha Round trade deal will be enormous.

It is estimated that consumers and firms around the world can pay around $125 billion less in tariffs if a deal is struck.

The indirect gains from cuts and caps on trade-distorting farm subsidies to trade liberation that help developing countries move up along the industrial value chain are hard to quantify but will not be small.

In the face of a world economic downturn, serious inflation and imminent financial risks, a Doha deal is more needed than ever to defeat trade protectionism and boost economic growth.

Besides, the fact that soaring food prices are hurting the poor in many countries also calls for a big step toward trade liberalization. Though the removal of rich countries' subsidies on staple goods may inflate prices further for the moment, a distortion-free farm trade will address poor countries' underinvestment in agriculture and reduce their exposure to food crises over time.

(China Daily July 31, 2008)

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