Doha: No Hostage To American Politics

In an interview last month, Hillary Clinton said that she wanted a more “thoughtful and comprehensive trade policy for the 21st Century”–one, within the context of the Doha Round, that would build in stronger environmental protections than what were currently being offered. She closed by saying, “I think we need to take a long, hard look at [the Doha Round] and do it in the right way.”

I do not think Senator Clinton meant what she said. I do not believe this because what is being offered under the Doha initiative is not only “thoughtful and comprehensive,” but it creates an opportunity to help both the world’s poor and the environment.

We have to ask, what are the consequences of not doing Doha? And we have to ask political leaders: What will be the future consequences of not combating poverty throughout the world, or of not attempting to spur development in poor nations through trade, cultural understanding, education and technical assistance?

At the recent 2007 Global Creative Leadership Summit, Robert Hormats of Goldman-Sachs said it’s important to make Americans aware that an economically strong China makes a strong America; that a strong India makes a strong America; and that a strong Brazil makes a strong America. This is because of the great interconnection between these countries–and, indeed, the entire global economy–especially with respect to trade and industry.

In today’s world, we are truly interdependent, and we need to seek mutual benefits across national boundaries and borders. We need to make an effort to understand that, through globalization, poor people–those with different histories and from different cultures–are living with us, here, in our garden. We have to ask, how can we ensure that this relationship is one of harmony and peace, as opposed to antagonism and destruction?

The Doha Round is a positive and hard-fought step in the direction of mutual support and mutual benefit. It has to be acknowledged that World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy, through his tenacity and deft touch, has woven together a trade document that includes agriculture, manufacturing, services and the environment; it will work to benefit all 151 WTO members.

The Doha Round provides a rare and valuable opportunity to establish a new global trade framework that has, at its heart, principles of development, poverty reduction and equality. It is an opportunity that cannot be missed.

While the Doha Round would decrease the amount of subsidies available to a quarter of American farmers–a difficult but bold political decision to make during an election year in the U.S.–it would open up markets and provide hope for millions of farmers in the developing world. The World Bank has estimated that a realistic Doha agreement would bring 32 million people out of extreme poverty by 2015, and raise a further 64 million out of the $2-per-day bracket in the same time frame. This is because 63% of the gains to be made by the developing world are in agriculture.

But the U.S. also stands to gain from a successful Doha Round. Think about the new market opportunities created for American exporters. With the U.S. now much more reliant on exports to generate growth than in the past, more trade actually means more jobs. Current and foreseeable high food commodity prices also make it possible for American farmers, who experience a decrease in subsidies, to further profit from their production.

I met recently with Kalmal Nath, the Indian Minister of Commerce & Industry. India is a key negotiator in the final stages of the Doha Round. He expressed optimism that the negotiations would be successfully concluded. India’s requests for Doha include a hard cap on U.S. farm subsidies at current 2007 levels–$10 billion to $11 billion, down from $24 billion in 1999–as well as the exemption of “special” Indian agricultural products including soy, corn, and rice. All these guidelines are acceptable within Doha framework, but they have drawn objections from U.S. officials.

This point of contention must not block the Doha Round. Without the gradual trade liberalization brought about by Doha, this failure would be felt not only in agriculture, but also in manufacturing and services, including where India is becoming a world leader.

Our near future is filled with threats and challenges–bio-weapons, cyber-warfare and environmental calamity brought about by climate change. We can choose to sit back and take care of our own interests first, or we can actively confront these problems, seeking solutions that involve and benefit the greatest number of people possible. It must be remembered that the Doha Round was initiated after Sept. 11, 2001, when there was a strong belief among member nations that greater collaboration and cooperation was necessary to avoid future catastrophes brought about by inequalities.

In response to Hillary Clinton, the Doha Round is the “thoughtful and comprehensive” trade policy for the 21st century she is looking for, and it should not be used as a political tool for the campaign trail. Doha provides us with a window of opportunity that will both decrease extreme global poverty by 96 million by 2015 and increase economic development for developing nations at the regional and global level. Developed countries won’t be left out either, since they will have access to available new markets for export, innovation and exchange.

We can no longer afford to leave behind those most in need. Doha presents us with a win-win scenario. Let us take this chance, together.

Louise Blouin MacBain is chairman of the Louise T. Blouin Foundation and the New Globalization Platform, part of the Global Creative Leadership Initiative.

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