Doha Deadlocked,

TPP Takes the Stage


On this September 24th , the weather is absolutely awful in Geneva where the WTO’S Public Forum* is set to begin. Let’s say that it won’t be cheering up the forum’s organizers who, undoubtedly, are already depressed by the current state of the WTO, and which is eloquently expressed by the Forum’s theme: “Is Multilateralism in Crisis?”
We knew from the very beginning of the annual meeting that the Doha Round was going nowhere, but the WTO was evidently short of arguments to motivate the troupes. To succeed in this tour-de-force and speak well of multilateralism, they went as far as to cite the UN (why?) and its role in maintaining world peace. The WTO’s Director-General, Pascal Lamy, looks a like a wounded animal. He explained that the WTO was constituted to respond to the issues of 20 years ago. Its organizational processes and its culture are in effect remnants of an era long past. His candour borders on the unreal. He may have the merit of shaking up the prejudices of even the most tenacious diplomats’ political cant, but as the leader of the WTO, he has given up. Am I the only person wondering if he’ll resign on the spot? Regardless, he’ll most probably finish his mandate and stay until next August. For the time being, the disputes between the tenors of world trade, notably China, Brazil and the United States, seem irreconcilable. The fundamental question that should be asked of the WTO is “how to bury the Doha Round and on what basis could a new round of negotiations be launched? The next Director-General of the WTO will certainly have a lot on his plate. 

The WTO has not made any veiled threats to attack supply management. Faced with such an impasse, bilateral and multilateral accords (involving a limited number of countries) are multiplying. It’s the topic of the moment and, ironically, it even took over the headlines of the Public Forum. Imagine the following: The channel of multilateral trade that is the WTO’s headquarters in Geneva and a book launch for a tome addressing the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPP) in which Canada will soon be negotiating its membership. The thirty or so Canadian delegates in Geneva were pillaging everything they could get their hands on regarding this very ambitious accord that will potentially damage supply management. Other than an unfortunate menace to supply management, your humble servant is probably the only person to see commercial opportunities for our export sectors.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is crucial according to the Canadian government, is also a priority for the United States’ trade program. And strangely it is being glorified before it even takes shape: A high quality accord, a 21st century accord. Whoa there! The conclusion of an accord between ten or so players with occasionally divergent interests will not be an easy task. In fact, the more reckless predictions are saying, at least that’s what we are hearing through the grapevine, that unless Japan decides to join, the timeline for negotiations is November 2013. This does not seem realistic. We also hear that TPP must be broached arbitrarily and without blinders. Yet all of the players sitting in on the game have limits and sectors they want to protect. One would have to be a hypocrite to think otherwise. Without necessarily being afraid that the tariffs of our supply management sectors will experience a complete collapse, we must remain vigilant since any concession would have unwelcome impacts on the system.

* Annual meeting in Geneva where some 1,000 people attend to discuss trade issues.

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