Taide’s Weblog

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Doha Round: Which Failure?

with 3 comments

Justrecently gives us a nice explanation as to why blaming each other after the “failed” Doha round leads nowhere. I agree that a search for scapegoats is useless. What I do not agree with is the blanket assumption that the temporary end of the negotiations should be considered a failure.

This is going to be a long comment. That’s why I’m commenting here on my blog.

“World trade liberalisation serves all of us.” That’s the big statement we get to hear all the time. Let me ask you this, Justrecently: how have you benefited so far? How am I and my people benefitting? How is anyone we know personally benefitting? Or why else should we wish the negotiations success? Why should French farmers wish them success?

I have several objections. First of all, there are people in every society who like to take their own decisions – at work, and in their own lives. But in every society – developed societies are no exception -, there are also people who like to simply carry out orders, working on an assembly line, etc.. We both see candidates for this kind of work in our classrooms, and neither of us is entertaining the illusion that school can turn every simple mind into an expert. If division of labour on a global scale goes on and on like it has to date, they will never find jobs. Not in this developed country, anyway. And Burkina Faso probably won’t need them either.

Let me look at people at work now. Civil service is cutting down my income. It’s not like if I’m starving, but it isn’t what I expected to get when I came into the job. The same is true for most people in the civil service. The same is true for most employees of banks and insurances whose employers have indeed profited enormously – be it from globalisation, be it from other effects. Farmers have reasons to wonder where their income is going. How can Sarkozy make it clear to them that they will eventually gain from the trade liberalisation process? How would you convince them, Justrecently?

If the Economist, the EU Commission or our government want to make it clear to us that we are going to profit from a successful Doha round, I’m still waiting for a convincing presentation. I’m sure a minority has profited here. The majority hasn’t.

Sorry if this sounds cynical, but I can’t see how Burkina Faso’s gains should have been my gains, in case of more “successful” negotiations. It would certainly be great if hunger and genocide became a thing of the past. But the idea that growing prosperity would lead to less war or murder needs to be proven too. And I have the strong feeling that the bit of evidence that we are shown once in a while – “empirical” usually – is mostly a matter of choice and emphasis. Besides, as I said: I’m all for growing incomes – but only if mine grows along with such a trend.

You have shown that even one of the parties to the negotiations had a hard time of it – the EU, which was struggling with differing interests in France on the one hand, and Britain and Germany on the other. You should go one step further: there are differing interests within these national states, too. I’m not profiting. Most of the parents of my students aren’t profiting. The stance that our government is taking in international negotiations is leaving our interests out of account – not to mention the interests of German-Turkish sweat worker, the truck driver, or the unemployed.

Frankly, I believe that the Chinese government should pay good attention to their farmers at home before styling itself the shepherd (nice analogy) of African farmers – there we agree. But I also believe that every government – ours included – should take the interests of all its citizens into account before thinking about what to demand or cede to other governments. With a set of policies based on these interests at home, international trade negotiators may be much more goal-oriented – and successful – than those who listen to the corporations first, second, and to the majority of people only third.

Another question: if the state itself profits from rising incomes (they say that trade liberalisation leads to rising incomes, and we have already seen a lot of liberalisation, right?), how come that the state doesn’t invest into education? Aren’t individual competence and skills the things this country must build on “in a globalised world”?

Just asking.


3 Responses

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  1. Let me be frank, too: I don’t know if I should like the breakdown of the talks, or if I should deplore them. You mention a lot of reasons as to why one shouldn’t be sad about the collapse. I can see a lot of truth in them. That’s probably why I mentioned the Economist and its likely stance. If I was sure that I would have preferred an agreement among the trade ministers, I would have made a stance of my own in my worldshaking post, or at least have endorsed what the Economist usually has to say about the matter.

    But I think that no matter how one looks at it, one can only refer to the breakdown of the talks as a failure, because the ministers had come together to find an agreement – not to leave the talks after they had managed convergence on 18 topics, to fail at item 19 out of a total of 20. (You see, meantime, I’ve read some of it.)

    Btw, I’m a bit indignant because of your attack out of the blue. Your suggestion that I had forgotten the good souls that have a hard time of finding semi-skilled work hurts my Confucian heart, and your suggestion that I should have left my own economic interests out of account is an outrageous case of infamy. Bugger. I’m cynical enough myself, thanks.

    Now that I’ve got this off my chest, let me go more into detail. Let me make it clear, for example, that I don’t subscribe to the idea that “World trade liberalisation serves all of us.” It could, in theory, but I agree with you that those who are negotiating international treaties have a lot of interests in mind, and that you, me, and those we meet in our daily lives are not foremost in their minds. I think that is even more true when it comes to many negotiators from some other countries and continents.

    As I said, I don’t subscribe to the lofty Economist ideas, and I do subscribe to this one of yours:
    “I also believe that every government – ours included – should take the interests of all its citizens into account before thinking about what to demand or cede to other governments. With a set of policies based on these interests at home, international trade negotiators may be much more goal-oriented – and successful – than those who listen to the corporations first, second, and to the majority of people only third.”
    And I happily admit that I didn’t think that far when I wrote my Post. It’s so coolly said that I’ll quote these lines in my place.

    Now, for the French farmers. I think the EU has given farmers all over the former EC a lot of assurances. It is only fair to keep promises concerning subsidies – and besides, it is also wise to do so, because planning reliability is essential. On the other hand, it has been clear for some decades that subsidies couldn’t go on the way they have done since the 1970s. A gradual change has happened and will continue to happen. Besides, the big agro industrials (who employ experts merely for skimming the jungle of subsidies most efficiently are profiting most from it (while the small ones lose track). If it was just for the small farmers, the EU wouldn’t provide that much dough for agricultural subsidies.

    In fact, our EU-agro complex is another good example for the mindset of those who claim that they are negotiating on our behalf. At the same time, I’d say that Sarkozy did miss an opportunity to bring some unhappy truths home to France’s countryside.

    I think it is a great idea to leave the “moral” question to the Chinese government. After all, they are experts on ethics. But I do believe that what is moral and what is practical (in the long run) often goes hand in hand. One can easily say that world trade is not ones own business as long as there are no immediate decisions to make. But when the EU starts negotiating with Libya and other Northern African countries about running refugee camps there (to keep them off our shores right from the start), it is becoming our immediate business. If our governments – democratically elected after all – make such shady deals, it becomes a question of integrity – or double standards. And in the long run, double standards don’t work. If the EU starts violating its own standards in such a blatant way, we are losing credit – which is bad for business. Moreover, if it becomes acceptable to treat our African neighbors this way, we are going to lose orientation. If we start to sneer at their human rights, we – and our governments even more so – will get used to sneering at human rights in general. Our own rights included. That would be very impractical and not in my, your, or anyone elses interest whom we know.

    In short, this world is more interconnected than we may want it to be. Then again, I think we can all see some advantages in this interconnection, too. And in the long run, I think that more international rules that bind the governments of big and small countries alike will be in our interest. The problem is the scale of the process. A lot of unwanted side effects are inevitable – and would be even if the negotiators really negotiated on our behalf. But if we leave the definition of trade rules to single trade blocks and countries alone, there would be side effects, too. I doubt we’d like those better.

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity of writing a contemplation essay this sunday. It sure helps to arrange my ideas. At least a bit.
    Taken together, right now I seem to see more reason to deplore the failure of Doha, than to like it.

    But yes, that’s only a snapshot. I may change my mind next week.


    August 3, 2008 at 4:50 pm

  2. […] Taide in response to my post about the Doha talks. […]

  3. Very silver-tongued, and no answer to my question. What can I buy from globalisation? Anyway. Here is your owl of the month.


    August 8, 2008 at 9:42 am

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