If You Can’t Reach An Agreement, Buy It

In a last ditch effort to salvage the WTO meeting in Hong Kong, rich countries are trying to buy their way to a face-saving deal.

This round of trade negotiations is called the Doha Development Round for a reason — because it is supposed to be about alleviating poverty in the developing world. But instead of trying to create a real agreement that would be true to this name — rich countries have failed to bring anything meaningful to the table.

So now, with the meeting on the verge of collapse, trade negotiators spent most of the day madly scrambling to cobble together what they are calling a “development package.”

In the proposed “development package” ministers from rich countries pledged to increase so-called “aid for trade” grants. While these commitments are welcome, they are simply an effort by rich countries — the U.S., EU, Japan — to prevent the round from completely falling apart. Speaker after speaker from developing countries warned the conference (and expressed their frustration in private conversations) that aid-for-trade was a supplement, and not a substitute, for meaningful reform of the dysfunctional global trading system.


They are also a stalling tactic. Because any progress in the negotiations would require rich countries to reform their domestic farm policies, and that would demand political leadership on the home fronts, especially in the United States. (For a plan of action see the Center’s Resources for Global Growth: Agriculture, Energy and Trade in the 21st Century.)

— Jake Caldwell in Hong Kong; Rebecca Schultz and Max Bergmann in Washington DC