The Doha Round of trade negotiations has collapsed once again, perhaps definitively this time. Whatever should come next, it is clear that the new dynamics in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) mean that developed countries can no longer force through a bad deal. The breaking point in the end was the conditions under which the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) could be used. The SSM provides countries with the right to increase tariffs to curb an import surge in order to protect a domestic industry from short-term swings in global markets, which is a crucial instrument for developing countries to promote their food and livelihood security and rural development. Whilst China and India vigorously defended the right of developing countries to use the SSM, the US condemned their position as placing the talks in the ‘gravest jeopardy’.
Civil society organisations and social movements have asserted over the last months and weeks that the Doha deal as it was proposed would not solve the food and energy price crisis and would in fact exacerbate it by making food prices more volatile and increase developing countries’ dependence on imports; it would furthermore severely restrict the policy space open to developing countries for pursuing agricultural and rural development. As highlighted by Bernd Nilles, Secretary-General of the Catholic solidarity network CIDSE in Brussels, “the right to protect small agricultural producers in developing countries was the litmus test of the Doha Round negotiations ability to deliver development outcomes.”
Whilst the collapse of the Doha Round has demonstrated once again the weaknesses of the WTO, it also showed the increased representation and weight of developing countries such as India and Brazil and that their interests can no longer be overruled. According to a CIDSE statement, the importance of a multilateral trading system should not be undermined as bilateral and regional trade agreements result in the implementation of advanced liberalisation arrangements, previously rejected at the WTO, that often have even more serious negative implications for developing countries. Rather than a return to rhetoric, CIDSE calls on governments and on EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson to now break away from a ‘business as usual’ approach in order to negotiate trade agreements that are equitable and socially just.