The Doha round of trade talks has ended without producing anything in the way of an agreement. Talks finally broke down after failing to reach a compromise over agricultural import rules. The FT provides details.
Yet unlike those who are now beginning to speak of "collapse," this writer wouldn't go so far as to claim that nothing productive has resulted from the week-long affair. Conversely, I'd argue that the WTO's failure signals important shifts in the international power structure, with some countries - China in particular - quickly rising in the ranks as a powerful force in global trade wrangling. Indeed, much to everyone's surprise China, together with India, took a prominent part in pressing for import safeguards to shield poor farmers. As Joseph Cheng, chairman of the Contemporary China Research Center at City University of Hong Kong, observes: "China intends to play a more active role as a Third World leader."
The question of China's rise prompts numerous questions, among them that of what this means for Africa. Indeed, many Africans walked away from the Doha talks frustrated that most of the key issues of interest to the African continent were not even discussed, especially the issue of cotton. With Chinese interests so deeply rooted in African soil, it will be interesting to observe the changing face of the international trade debate. I defer to the experts here to speculate on what we might expect.
Regardless, while Doha produced no formal agreements, I would like to proffer two:
1. It's time to reevaluate the effectiveness of the WTO as a trade negotiation and dispute mechanism. A tried and tested critique, to be sure, but this most recent failure gives us more reason to pause.
2. China is becoming an international force to be reckoned with. And, by the look of things, perhaps faster than we thought.