- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2008

When President Bush hosts a dinner for the leaders of 20 of the biggest economies in the world Friday, it will mark the seventh anniversary of the start of the Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations. But nobody is expecting a breakthrough in Doha’s stalled talks during Saturday’s daylong economic summit, which was called to address the worldwide financial and economic crises.

The Group of 20 (G-20) leaders convening Friday and Saturday will bring together the key players in the trade talks, including the United States, the European Union, India, China and Brazil. Disagreements over manufacturing tariffs and agricultural trade barriers among these countries caused the Doha trade talks to collapse in Geneva in July.

Little progress has been made since. Most analysts agree that not enough progress will be made this weekend to justify another ministerial meeting of trade negotiators in the near future.

“There’s no question that there will be big statements at Saturday’s summit about the need to conclude Doha by the end of the year. Whenever a group of leaders meets, there’s always a rhetorical push,” said Christopher Wenk, senior director of international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “But it hasn’t translated down to the negotiator level.”

Now that the global economy is facing a serious downturn, a strong argument could be made that the successful completion of the global trade talks could dampen rising protectionist sentiments, Mr. Wenk explained. Increased trade barriers could make the global downturn worse, policy makers warn.

Indeed, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivered a speech Monday warning that trade protectionism could aggravate the world’s financial crisis.

“As the world’s financial system works through this night of uncertainty towards a new dawn, we must use the power of multilateralism to establish a global consensus on a new, decisive and systemic approach to strengthening the global economy,” Mr. Brown said. “My message is that we must be internationalist, not protectionist.”

Analysts who favor the expansion of trade expressed regret that little, if any, real progress on the Doha round was likely at this weekend’s summit. However, most agreed that simultaneously seeking to solve the world’s financial problems and its trade problems “seemed to be a bridge too far,” as Charles Freeman, a trade scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), put it.

“Not everything can be done at one meeting at one time,” explained Sherman E. Katz, director of outreach at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Other people were actively pursuing Doha at other forums. In an effort to jump-start trade talks, World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy traveled to the United States late last month to meet with U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Mr. Lamy also met with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to urge the powerful U.S. trade association to reconsider the tariff-reduction proposals from emerging-market economies.

NAM remained unconvinced. “Unfortunately, it’s become apparent over the last several months that a breakthrough isn’t in the cards,” said Shaun Donnelly, NAM’s senior director for international business policy.

Mr. Freeman of CSIS added another reason why leaders will likely make little progress on trade this weekend: During the campaign, President-elect Barack Obama “said ambivalent things about trade,” he noted. “Therefore, people at the table this weekend would be unlikely to commit to a sweeping pathway forward that could be undone January 21.”

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