- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 21, 2001

The representatives of the 142 countries who met in Qatar for trade talks last week brought with them agendas so diverse that the prospects for finding the consensus needed to launch another trade round seemed dim. Thankfully, those representatives of World Trade Organization (WTO) member countries also came equipped with a resolve steely enough to bridge sizable differences and were therefore successful in making the meeting a watershed event, not only in trade lore, but also in geo-political terms.
Increasingly, trade will be a critical factor in underpinning global stability and peace, not only by generating prosperity, but also in building and fortifying global partnerships. According to the World Bank, a new trade round, coupled with market reforms, could boost global income by $2.8 trillion over the next 15 years.
Negotiators in Qatar committed themselves to kicking off and completing a new trade round in three years. It is the first initiated since the 1987 round, which took seven years to complete. The new round could appropriately be dubbed the "emergence of the emerging world." For the first time, global trade negotiations will put the needs of Third World countries in focus. Surely, it is about time. While the world's wealthiest countries have maintained that free trade is the crucial catalyst for growth in poor countries, they have protected their economies from the very goods these nations have comparable advantages in producing, such as textile and agricultural exports. This time, WTO members pledged to negotiate tariff reductions "in particular, on products of export interest to developing countries."
As a concession to emerging economies, U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick promised in Qatar to review U.S. anti-dumping laws, which penalize countries for selling exports at "unfair" low prices, often below their production costs. But Mr. Zoellick also pledged his commitment to press for the elimination of the subsidies and other foreign government supports that make dumping possible.
Also quite important for emerging economies, particularly in Africa, was a loosely worded agreement that gives Third World nations leeway in interpreting patent rules when they face health crises of epidemic proportions, such as AIDS and malaria. But perhaps the most important concession made in Qatar by the developed world was a commitment to cut tariffs on agricultural and textile imports. While the former will present considerable challenges for the European Union, which gives about $4 billion in annual farm-export subsidies, the elimination of textile tariffs will resonate strongly in textile-dominated U.S. states, such as North Carolina.
Now the politically treacherous work of trade talks must begin. But the guiding principles agreed to in Qatar have allowed trade ministers to set the terms of negotiations over contentious issues. "Everyone appreciated the need to give a signal of confidence in the very difficult times we're going through," said WTO Director General Michael Moore. Indeed, it has never been clearer that, today, it's time to trade.

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