Friday, January 29, 2010

South Africa, Egypt: Time to Move On Without the USA

I guess President Obama's lukewarm SOTU "support" for the WTO's Doha Round didn't cause any leg-tingles in Pretoria:
The United States is not ready to conclude a world trade deal this year because of domestic politics, so industrialised countries should consider a special trade package for the poorest nations, South Africa's trade minister said on Friday.

"All the indications are that it's an incredibly controversial matter in the U.S. Congress and I don't think they have yet defined a sustainable approach to conclude the round," Rob Davies told Reuters at the World Economic Forum in Davos....

Davies said South Africa and some other countries wanted the World Trade Organisation to consider a partial agreement or "early harvest" that would bring forward benefits to the least developed nations by scrapping export subsidies on agricultural goods and on cotton.

While other nations accepted WTO compromise documents that have been worked out over nearly a decade of the so-called Doha Development Round of trade talks, the United States was unwilling to negotiate on that basis, he said.

"One of the bigger trading partners in the world is not indicating that it's willing to engage on the processes of these texts. It wants substantial revisions but hasn't developed any great clarity," Davies said.

"The pace in incredibly slow," he said.

Egyptian Trade Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid also said earlier this week he did not believe the United States was willing to conclude a global trade pact this year despite a pledge by G20 leaders including President Barack Obama last September

High unemployment rates in the United States and Europe would make governments afraid to open up global trade more for the benefit of developing nations, he said.
As readers of this blog already know, this type of international grousing about US inaction at Doha is nothing new, and it's entirely justified.  But I must admit that I'm a tad suspicious of South Africa's intentions here, considering that it just recently joined 21 other developing countries in completing and signing a regional trade agreement - begun long before Obama took office and the US started stalling on trade - that severely undermines the signatories' incentive to finish the Doha Round (more on that here). 

So although Davies' comments about the United States are undoubtedly correct, his concern for the Doha Round's survival might be a tad overstated, and it could just be an easy excuse for his country's decision to disengage from Doha and go in another direction.

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