Along with signs of spring, once again there are signs the global trade negotiations known as the “Doha Round,” may have a chance to be wrapped up this year. That would be good, because the talks have been going on for seven years, basically focused on agriculture – which is only 7 percent of world trade. Manufactured goods account for about 2/3 of world trade and services for about 20 percent. But the negotiations on these two sectors haven’t gotten very far.
It would be great to see a sudden burst of progress, particularly from the advanced developed countries such as Brazil, China, and India. These and other advanced developing countries collect about 70 percent of all the tariffs on industrial goods in the whole world. You simply cannot see a meaningful expansion of trade without these countries making significant cuts in the tariffs they actually assess – not the theoretical “list price” tariffs that nobody charges.
But unless the cuts are significant, there is little point in wrapping up the negotiations just to get them done this year. And it is not just tariff cuts that are needed. The U.S. auto industry has a great proposal on the table for slashing hidden “non-tariff barriers” around the world. We only do one of these trade rounds every 20 years or so, and as the Chief U.S. negotiator, Ambassador Susan Schwab, put it – if you can’t get substantial new trade flows, “why bother?”