Despite Trade Talk Failure, Development Agenda on Track, Says Center for International Development Panel

October 7, 2003
Miranda Daniloff Mancusi

A global trade agreement is likely to emerge despite the stalemate in the recent World Trade Organization’s conference on trade, according Dani Rodrik, Rafiq Hariri Professor of InternationalEconomy at a panel discussion at the Kennedy School’s Center for International Development. “Failure in these trade negotiations is natural; eventually there will be an agreement,” he noted.  

Trade ministers from over 140 WTO-member nations met in September in Cancun, Mexico for the 5th WTO Ministerial Meeting to negotiate an agreement.  The trade talks, called the Doha Development Round, have yet to produce agreement around much needed benefits to poor countries. Negotiations in Cancun collapsed due to the polarization of the views on agriculture and the Singapore issues of investment, trade facilitation, government procurement and competition.

Panel participant Robert Paarlberg, professor of political science at Wellesley College, said a similar breakdown occurred during the Uruguay Round in Montreal in 1988.  Even though talks broke down over disagreements over US and European agricultural subsidies, those talks are now considered to have been successful and productive.

Richard Cooper, an economics professor at Harvard, reinforced that assessment. “Everyone of the multilateral negotiation rounds has had an experience like Cancun,” said Cooper.

Robert Lawrence, Albert L. Williams Professor of International Trade and Investment at the Kennedy School, said the Cancun meetings did advance Doha Round of negotiations in small ways. “[The Cancun meetings], spurred the US in the agreement to provide access to essential medicines [for developing countries], it simplified the agenda; and it clarified the power realities [between developed and developing countries],” he said.

Cooper remarked on the importance of market access between developing countries.  “While it’s true that rich countries are the big markets of today, the growth patterns indicate that the future markets will be in developing countries,” he said. “For developing countries, the round can’t be really called a success until trade barriers are reduced by developing countries for the products of [other] developing counties.”

Some of the main issues under discussion are: the phasing out of agricultural subsidies in developed countries, intellectual property rights for patented medicine, and the potential for trade law governing international investment.

Photo courtesy of Center for International Development

Dani Rodrik and Robert Paarlberg image

Panel participants Robert Paarlberg and Dani Rodrik discuss event proceedings.

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