Thursday, October 20, 2005

Gee, Trade Negotiations Are Confusing

There is lot going on in the lead up to the next meeting in the Doha round of trade negotiations. The U.S. is pushing what it calls the Doha Development Agenda which consists of four components:

  • Agricultural market access (with a limited emphasis on the elimination of subsidies)
  • Industrial products market access
  • Services
  • Trade facilitation
While trying to promote this agenda of trade liberalization, the U.S. and other developed countries have to balance the different economic needs of the developing world. There are more than a billion people in the world living in poverty. The Doha agenda includes a mandate that developing countries receive "special and differential treatment" to assist them in more fully integrating into the global economy. These countries can opt for more limited liberalization and longer phase-in periods for changes in trade rules.

There are lots of competing interests in these talks. The most obvious friction results from the facts that the developing world's agenda does not always match up to the desires of the developed world. There are also a lot of industrial sectors that come into conflict. For every industry willing to trade lower tariffs for access to foreign markets, there is another legitimately seeking to maintain tariffs to protect market share, jobs, capital investment, etc. At the same time, there are non-governmental groups seeking to ensure that trade negotiations support the environment, labor interests, human rights, and other interests. And, in the past few years, there have been vocal groups opposed to globalization as a concept.

Balancing all this is hard enough without the confusing fact every group of countries taking a position seems to become known as the G-something. There is the G8 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, U.K., and the U.S.) group of industrialized countries. Recently, the G20 has been active (along with Australia) in pushing for market access in agricultural goods. There is also a G4 (India, Germany, Japan, and Brazil) looking for membership in the U.N. Security Council. And now comes the G33 group of developing countries active in the WTO agriculture negotiations. Oddly, there is an 11-member G10 (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United
Kingdom and the United States) which issued an impressive report on financial consolidation. This may or may not be the same G10 that just got the support of Norway on on agricultural duty reductions. Then there is the Quad Group consisting of the U.S., Canada, Japan, and the EU.

I think people who pull together these groups need to be more creative in naming them. I suggest following the lead of college sports where the number of members is tacked on to something other than the letter G. There is, for example, the Pacific-10, Atlantic-10, and my personal favorite, the Big-10. Of course, the fact that the Big-10 consists of eleven schools does not do much for my effort to avoid confusion.

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